1 down, 2 to go? Hawaii tops LBSU to reach Big West semis

I mentioned Wednesday that Garrett Nevels would likely be the barometer for Hawaii’s success at the Big West Conference tournament. Well the senior certainly led the charge Thursday as the ‘Bows picked up the first of what they hope to be three wins in three days, knocking off Long Beach State, 79-72, at Anaheim’s Honda Center.

Nevels scored a team-high 17 points on 7 for 12 shooting, including three 3-pointers to keep Hawaii’s dreams of an NCAA Tournament berth alive. Two more wins today and Saturday would send the ‘Bows to the Big Dance for the first time since 2002. But all four teams left share the same dream. Nobody is getting an at-large bid from the Big West, so the tournament championship is the only remaining avenue.

Top seed UC Davis also won its quarterfinal contest, knocking off Cal State Northridge, 71-67. Hawaii’s next opponent was dependent on Thursday’s final two outcomes and unavailable as of press time.

The win was the 21st of the season for the ‘Bows as they have now bettered by one last year’s victory total. Head coach Benjy Taylor spoke after the game about the continuing character shown by his team that has been through so much, on and off the court, since before the year even began.

“This is a resilient group of young men,” Coach Taylor said. “I couldn’t be prouder because of the way we won. My two captains here (Nevels and Quincy Smith), it really shows a lot about our season when our two co-captains play the biggest game of the year today.”

Smith has probably had a less impactful season than he had anticipated, but he came up huge off the bench Thursday, finishing with 10 points on 4 for 4 shooting and five rebounds in 17 minutes.

He and Nevels are two of the team’s most experienced players and they controlled the pace against the 49ers. It’s going to have to be a similar scenario for Hawaii to continue its ideal path, since experience almost always wins out in the postseason. Nevels returned as the only starter from last year’s team and has taken on a lot of responsibility.

“It feels great to win on the first day, but at the same time, we’ve got to regain our focus and get ready for tomorrow, because we didn’t just come here to win one game,” Nevels said.

Nobody wants to face Hawaii in a one-and-done situation. The ‘Bows are capable of beating every team in the Big West and would be a nightmare for any NCAA Tournament team to face in the first round. Whether it’s wishful thinking or true analysis, I have a good feeling about how today and Saturday will conclude.

Tati tops Malia, finishes 3rd at Roxy Pro

After a few days off, Tatiana Weston-Webb won her paddle battle with fellow Kauai wahine Malia Manuel to reach her first ever Championship Tour semifinal at the Roxy Pro Gold Coast. Those results will be solid starts for both as they look to establish themselves in the rankings during this first world tour contest of the season.

Weston-Webb, the only rookie on the women’s CT this season, will take an Equal Third after a very impressive week at Snapper Rocks in Queensland, Australia. Her run to the quarterfinals had already included head-to-head wins over Bianca Buitendag and a last-second topping of Dimity Stoyle.

Tati and Manuel traded jabs for much of the heat until Weston-Webb, needing a 4.93 with 10 minutes left, got into a good sized wave. She kept her composure throughout, staying steady in the pocket and crushing the lip multiple times. She finished on her feet and got a 7.23 to back up her early 7.00. That jumped her into the lead and suddenly Manuel needed a 7.30 with eight minutes to go.

Malia’s final and best chance came with just a minute left, but after a strong start, the wave fizzled out. Manuel had to settle for a 4.70 but the Equal Fifth gives her a keeper result right off the bat. It presents a good opening to her yearly account in her attempt to improve upon last year’s fifth-place finish.

Tati had her chances to make it to the final, but defending world champ Stephanie Gilmore had the better semifinal heat. Despite picking up an early lead, Tati wasn’t able to put any real distance between she and her favored opponent and Gilmore took control late with a pair of textbook rides. She came away with a 16.26 to 11.53 win.

Gilmore was set to take on Oahu’s Carissa Moore in the final. Moore knocked off Tyler Wright in the second semifinal to set up the matchup of the winners of the past eight world championships.

Results from the final were unavailable as of press time.

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David Simon can be reached at dsimon@thegardenisland.com.

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