By the time Friday had come to a close, Hawaii’s upset of fourth-seeded Cal seemed like one of the least surprising moments in one of the tournament’s most historic days.
When all was said and done, wins from two 10-seeds, an 11-seed, a 13-seed, a 14-seed and a 15-seed highlighted a day punctuated by a buzzer-beating tip-in, a game-tying dunk that wasn’t and a half-court heave that sent Northern Iowa to round two. Pre-tournament favorite Michigan State is gone, as are most of America’s brackets.
So 13th-seeded Hawaii getting its first NCAA Tournament win in program history seems tame in that context.
But as the ‘Bows put the finishing touches on their deserved result, they could have justifiably displayed much more satisfaction than they did. Eran Ganot and his battle-tested group did something never before accomplished, but they seemed content to savor it quickly before looking toward their next task.
It was not the prettiest of games. Whistles plagued both Cal and UH and neither team was able to put their optimal lineups on the court for much of the day. The Bears were shorthanded even before the opening tip and Stefan Jankovic played just 18 minutes with constant foul trouble. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder and for us, there have been few more beautiful outcomes.
If Hawaii is to pull another stunner today, it will need a more consistent performance from Roderick Bobbitt. I might expect too much of Bobbitt, but it’s only because I see how tough and effective he can be at his best. Despite not having one of his best games Friday, he still finished with 17 points, seven rebounds, four assists and no turnovers.
But it was the aggressive play of Quincy Smith, both offensively and defensively. It was the second-half effort of Mike Thomas on the glass and running the floor. It was the defense and offensive facilitating of Stefan Jovanovich and Sheriff Drammeh, each pressed into extended action. Hawaii managed to work its way to a win by grinding out 40 minutes in a true team effort.
What I’m most looking forward to is today’s point guard matchup between Bobbitt and Maryland’s Melo Trimble. It has the potential of being a very feisty battle and Bobbitt plays with a chip on his shoulder to begin with. He could put on a display like he did against Buddy Hield and Oklahoma, when he had 32 points and six assists.
Or he could try to do too much, as he has done for some stretches this year. If things aren’t rolling early and Bobbitt wants to prove he’s just as good as Trimble, it could take Hawaii out of its offense.
Every time UH has been challenged this year, the ‘Bows have come through. They survived a stretch without Aaron Valdes, going 4-0 in conference without their second-leading scorer. They lost Isaac Fleming’s 10 points per game off the bench and have gone 5-1 since he left the program. They knew they had to win the Big West Tournament with no postseason opportunity next season.
So despite the difference in seeding, there’s not much evidence to suggest that Hawaii will shrink to the challenge. Today’s game will be a bigger test than Cal, because of everything the Bears were carrying into that game. But if we’ve learned anything these past three days, it’s that no favorite is safe.
Hana hou, UH!
David Simon can be reached at email@example.com.