May the force be with the ’Bows

Hawaii faces UC Santa Bar­bara, an emerg­ing power in the Big West

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - - SPORTS - By Brian McIn­nis bm­cin­nis@starad­ver­tiser.com

The Hawaii Rain­bow War­riors need some­one to show them their place in all this.

On the latest “Star Wars”themed night at the Stan Sher­iff Cen­ter, that some­one could be UC Santa Bar­bara, an emerg­ing force in the Big West.

Beat the po­tent Gau­chos, and UH (11-5, 2-1 BWC) can stake its claim as a power in the con­fer­ence. Drop a game at home to UCSB (12-4, 1-1 BWC), and the ’Bows could be fight­ing to master their own des­tiny the rest of the way.

“These guys have been play­ing as well as any­body,” UH coach Eran Ganot said of the vis­i­tors’ most im­pres­sive turn­around.

How much have the Gau­chos im­proved? Guard Gabe Vin­cent, their best player over the past two years, is still pro­duc­ing … and is their fourth-lead­ing scorer.

Tipoff is at 8 p.m., fol­low­ing Wahine basketball’s 5:30 p.m. game against Long Beach State.

UH’s past two op­po­nents, Cal State Northridge and Cal Poly, were held un­der 50 points, a first for UH since

2008-09, while shoot­ing a com­bined 33 per­cent.

But those teams won’t con­tend for a Big West championship. By con­trast, UCSB turned heads un­der a new coach, top­ping re­spectable mid-ma­jors like Mon­tana, San Fran­cisco and San Diego. UCSB is No. 15 in the latest Col­legein­sider.com Mid-Ma­jor Top 25, the only Big West team to re­ceive votes.

Hawaii took no­tice. It knows it may take more than a rock fight tonight.

“I’m al­ways locked in with who’s play­ing who,” for­ward Gib­son John­son said. “(Their non­con­fer­ence) was re­ally strong. … They proved that they’re a tough matchup and there’s a rea­son they’re ranked No. 1 in our con­fer­ence right now. So it should be a fun

game for us.”

The Gau­chos’ el­i­gi­bil­ity and in­jury-plagued sea­son of 2016-17 re­sulted in the pro­gram’s most losses ever, at 6-22.

UCSB chose to let the past die, fir­ing 19-year coach Bob Wil­liams fol­low­ing the sea­son and hir­ing Joe Paster­nack, the for­mer as­so­ciate head coach at Ari­zona.

He is off to the best start of any coach in UCSB his­tory, and the pro­gram has its best mark through 16 games.

With an im­pres­sive blend of re­turn­ing and im­ported tal­ent, the Gau­chos lead the league in scor­ing and scor­ing mar­gin, 3-point ef­fi­ciency, as­sists and as­sist-to-turnover ra­tio. They play ex­clu­sively man de­fense in­stead of their tra­di­tional zone, and play faster, look­ing to shoot early in the clock.

“I think that our guys were re­ally want­ing to have the op­por­tu­nity to be suc­cess­ful and win,” Paster­nack said. “I think they’ve all blended to­gether very well. … It’s kind of like a new team. And I think our chem­istry is as good as it can be.”

Though he brought in two tal­ented grad­u­ate trans­fers in for­ward Le­land King II (Ne­vada) and point guard Mar­cus Jack­son (Rice), home­grown guard Max Hei­deg­ger has been the big­gest rev­e­la­tion.

The 6-foot-2 sopho­more av­er­aged 7.6 points on 26.8 per­cent shoot­ing as a fresh­man but now leads the con­fer­ence with 21.6 points per game (46.7 per­cent shoot­ing), with a league-high 50 3s made.

“Credit to him, he worked very, very hard this sum­mer and the fall on im­prov­ing his

They (the Gau­chos) proved that they’re a tough matchup and there’s a rea­son they’re ranked No. 1 in our con­fer­ence right now.”

Gib­son John­son UH for­ward

game,” Paster­nack said. “I think a lot of it was men­tal. He would tell you that. And he’s had a heck of a first 16 games. And I think he de­serves his suc­cess, be­cause of how hard he’s worked.”

King (17.1 ppg, 10.4 rpg) is only the Big West’s re­bound­ing leader with nine dou­ble-dou­bles. For­ward Jalen Canty was in­el­i­gi­ble at this time last year but is back and av­er­ag­ing 11.6. Vin­cent (10.4) is as dan­ger­ous as ever.

In Big West play, the Gau­chos have shown some vul­ner­a­bil­ity.

In UCSB’s opener against ri­val Cal Poly, the Mus­tangs surged back from 23-2 down to deal UCSB an 80-79 loss in con­tro­ver­sial fash­ion when Luke Meikle was fouled on a heave just in­side half­court with 0.7 sec­onds left.

Then, the Gau­chos gave up an 18-0 sec­ond-half run to UC River­side but held on to win 65-57 last Satur­day.

UH has gone to cap­tain Mike Thomas for its re­cent pro­duc­tion. Thomas (12.8 ppg, 6.4 rpg) has con­sec­u­tive dou­ble-dou­bles for the first time in his ca­reer and is shoot­ing 21-for-24 (87.5 per­cent) in three Big West games.

JAMM AQUINO / NOV.24

UH’s Gib­son John­son looks for­ward to play­ing against UCSB at the Stan Sher­iff Cen­ter to­day.

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