Hawaii heads into its final two road games of the season with a chance to finish anywhere from fourth to sixth in the conference and the potential for a winning Big West record in its sights.
But its 66-57 home loss to UC Irvine on Saturday has made things much tougher to finish at or above the .500 mark. The result dropped UH to 7-7 in conference play and closed out the home schedule in somewhat disappointing fashion. While they have managed to go a very respectable 3-3 on the road to this point, finishing just 4-4 at home has put them in a more uncertain position than was probably necessary.
With eight teams making the Big West Tournament and no teams receiving a bye, seeding isn’t all that important. But for this team to be able to finish 8-8 or even 9-7 in conference play would be a huge accomplishment for the players and head coach Eran Ganot.
To do so, the ‘Bows will need to pick up at least one win in the final two games at UC Davis and Cal State Fullerton.
Thursday’s matchup against Davis will be Hawaii’s only chance at a season sweep. The ‘Bows took the home contest, 77-72, on Jan. 20. That night was junior Jack Purchase’s time to shine as he went for a game-high 21 points and iced the win with four late free throws.
But the Aggies (19-9, 10-4 Big West) are 7-2 since and seem locked in as they head into their home finale and Senior Night. Even after the team suspended its leading scorer and rebounder, Chima Moneke, the team has held things together, winning four of the six games since he violated unknown team rules.
This matchup should be much different than the first meeting and Hawaii has not swept any opponent all season. But trying to free up Purchase from the three-point line again certainly seems like a worthy goal on Thursday.
Hawaii will finish up the regular season on Saturday in a road date with Cal State Fullerton (16-10, 9-5). The teams’ first meeting was a memorable one, but ultimately very disappointing for the ‘Bows. Hawaii gave up an 11-point second-half lead in the 69-66 home loss on Jan. 27. The night belonged to Fullerton guard Kyle Allman, who went off for a career-high 40 points on 16 for 19 shooting.
Allman was unstoppable and carried the Titans to the comeback win. He’s been the most dynamic scorer in the conference, but that night was something otherworldly. Hawaii is typically strong when it comes to its perimeter defense. Allman made it look like he was experiencing absolutely no resistance.
Saturday’s game will be Hawaii’s chance at either an even 8-8 record, or a 9-7 winning conference mark. Both scenarios are meaningful as the ‘Bows continue to build up this program. But some of the tough losses at the Stan Sheriff Center are much more magnified now that the regular season is reaching its conclusion.
Whether Hawaii finishes with the four, five or six seed for next week’s Big West Tournament (March 8-10), UH will still be considered a contender. The ‘Bows have already defeated each of the top three seeds once, so there is no clear favorite heading into Anaheim’s Honda Center. Lots of teams adopt the “why not us?” slogan this time of year and Hawaii should be feeling the same sentiment.
David Simon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.