This was the type of game Gib Arnold has wanted to see for quite some time. The Hawaii Rainbow Warriors are off to a solid start at 5-2 on the young basketball season and displayed a complete effort in a 72-61 win over Montana, Friday night at the Stan Sheriff Center.
Coach Arnold and UH picked up their third straight victory and jumped all over the Cowboys early in the contest, starting the game on a 15-2 run and going on to lead wire to wire. Senior Christian Standhardinger was the early catalyst and finished the night with a season-high 26 points to go with seven rebounds, three assists and a pair of steals.
In his first three years at Hawaii, Arnold has compiled season records of 19-13, 16-16 and 17-15 last year. After a few down seasons, UH has played a pair of postseason tournaments under Arnold, making two CIT appearances. Now the ‘Bows are eyeing something a little grander and with the team they have, they should be a Big West Conference contender right now.
While the past few seasons have included some solid talents in the green and white, this collection of players has a comfort level and chemistry those others have not. The quick start they had against Montana was a welcome sight for a team that hasn’t been known for its early-game success, but all five starters were on the same page from the opening tip. Guards Keith Shamburger and Garrett Nevels got the offense into a good flow and kept feeding Standhardinger when he had the hot hand.
While neither player lit up the scoreboard with their scoring on Friday, they are each capable of putting points on the board. Shamburger is more the facilitator, averaging 9.4 points and 4.3 assists. Nevels is scoring 12.6 points per game, third best on the team. He’s knocked down 14 of 28 of his three-point attempts this season. Each forces the opposing defense to account for their whereabouts, allowing the wings and forwards better looks.
Swing man Brandon Spearman averages 11.5 points and 3.5 boards a night. The 6-foot, 3-inch senior will be looking for his offense more in this, his second year at UH. He’s shown flashes of inside and outside scoring ability and like his backcourt counterparts, he’s a threat.
Forward Isaac Fotu is the heart and soul of the team, averaging 13.3 points and 8.0 rebounds a game. Fotu, also a great follow on Twitter (@ifotu42), is currently playing with a small break in his right hand, but still scored 13 in the Montana victory.
Standhardinger leads the team with 18.4 points a night. He finishes tough shots and makes a few circus plays around the rim that always seem lucky, but as he continues to make them over and over again, it’s more likely he just has a great feel for the basket and exceptional body control.
In the recent past, the ‘Bows have had lineups featuring one or two scoring threats, one or two defensive specialists and one or two ball handlers. While balance is good, defenses that can key on just a few players at a time have such an advantage.
Now Arnold has a starting five that can hurt defenses from all different areas. Not only that, they play well together. They know where each other are comfortable with the ball and they seem to trust one another. Chemistry is more important in basketball than just about any other team sport, so seeing a team have it early in the season is a very promising sign.
Some greater challenges are on the horizon as UH will play a pair of road games in the coming weeks, but while nobody is going to confuse the ‘Bows with Kentucky or Kansas from a talent standpoint, the early results allow for some rational optimism.
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