Hawaii struggles in road loss to Santa Barbara
SANTA BARBARA, CALIF. >> March Madness is just around the corner, but the Hawaii men’s basketball team played Thursday night like it was early in the season and suffered a 56-54 loss at last-place UC Santa Barbara.
Alex Hart went over Gibson Johnson and tipped in a 3-point miss by Clifton Powell with 2.5 seconds left to give the Gauchos the lead. Brocke Stepteau missed a 40-foot desperation shot at the buzzer and the Rainbow Warriors dropped their second straight game, falling to sixth place in the Big West at 6-6 and 12-13 overall. This one was especially painful because it came against a team that had won just one conference game coming in and was on an eight-game losing streak. UCSB is 2-10 and 4-20.
“Give them credit,” UH coach Eran Ganot said of the Gauchos. “Give their coaches, their players a lot of credit. I think we’ve been battling some things recently, but we’ve had to fight through it. Leland Green one day, the last couple of weeks he’s been out. Today, it was Jack Purchase (scoreless for the second time this season) who was really limited. So are a lot of teams in our league. Welcome to college basketball, welcome to Division I, welcome to February. “I was really proud how we fought through some of that over the last couple of weeks. Obviously, today we didn’t fight through well enough.”
The win was the 500th in the overall coaching career of UCSB’s Bob Williams, who is in his 19th year at the helm of the Gauchos and is the dean of Big West coaches.
Playing against a 2-3 zone, UH shot just 36 percent (18-for-50) from the floor and was just 6-for-25 on 3-pointers. Noah Allen, who torched UCSB for a career-high 34 points in the first meeting at the Stan Sheriff Center on Jan. 28, scored just six points on 2-for-11 shooting (0-for-7 from 3) against the zone. Johnson was the only UH player to score in double figures, finishing with 16 points on 6-for-10 shooting and a perfect 4-for-4 from the freethrow line. He led the team in rebounds with 10 for his first career double-double. Sheriff Drammeh scored nine points.
Hart, a 6-foot-10 center, led UCSB with 16 points and eight rebounds.
“After the last two games, the reality is we’re not a very good team right now because of where we’re at right now,” Ganot said. “We went backwards in terms of our physicality. We’ve lost the last couple of games on the boards, we’ve become 3-point heavy the last couple of games. It wasn’t the recipe for the success we had during the stretch we had success. When things get tight we get further and further away. When we made our move we got tighter in terms of attacking
the rim, getting in the post. The zone doesn’t have to dictate your tempo. We had success when we pushed the ball.”
But there were several instances when UH pushed the ball only to give it right back to the Gauchos. The ‘Bows committed 16 turnovers and UCSB had nine steals.
“We played on our heels and they didn’t, and we’re not very good on our heels,” said Ganot. Stepteau and Drammeh hit consecutive 3-pointers to cut the UCSB lead to 5047 with 6:21 left. UH rebounded a Gauchos miss but had the ball poked away while in transition and Hart scored after picking up a loose ball following a blocked shot.
Allen made two free throws to make it 52-51 and forced a turnover. The Rainbows worked the ball and threw it into Zigmars Raimo, who was cutting to the basket. The ball was fumbled and UCSB recovered and Hart scored at the other end to put the Gauchos up 54-51. Green gave UH new life when he buried a 3 to tie the score with 1:09 left. Drammeh then stole the ball from Eric Childress, giving UH a chance to take the lead and possibly escape with a win.
Green drove to the basket and attempted a tough shot against three defenders. Johnson grabbed the rebound but was tied up. The ball was awarded to UCSB on the alternate possession with 32 seconds left.
Ganot was livid no foul was called on the play. The Gauchos worked the ball before Powell hoisted a 3. Hart crashed the board and went over Johnson for the winning tip-in. Ganot said Purchase’s struggles and early foul trouble made it tough for the ’Bows.
“He was not himself today and we had to play through that. He changes things up against the zone because of his ability to shoot and pass. But he picked up three fouls in the first half, and he’s the one who is fighting through some things.
“In reality, you got to keep fighting through those. Everybody’s got to. We learn the hard way.”
UH plays at Cal Poly (8-17, 3-8) on Saturday.