Hawaii strug­gles in road loss to Santa Bar­bara

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - - SPORTS - By Barry Pun­zal

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.

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