UH hoops drops 2 of 3 but continues to improve

The up and down nature of Hawaii’s early season continued over the holiday weekend, but the Rainbow Warriors continue to show flashes of success and promise.

Three games in three days is never an easy task, especially for a team still maturing. But the ‘Bows were impressive, despite losing two of their three contests from Saturday to Monday. Different guys are stepping up, which shows some depth that was a question mark before the season. But nobody has been completely reliable each and every night.

Hawaii’s best effort of the three contests was its Christmas Eve victory over Davidson, 79-71. It was another strong outing for Sheriff Drammeh, who scored a career-best 22 points with seven rebounds and four assists. Drammeh is growing from a reluctant shooter to a willing one. As a freshman, we saw him defer to his more experienced teammates on a 28-win squad. He needed to be completely wide open to even look for his own shot.

Now, Drammeh is the leader for Eran Ganot’s refurbished team and he’s taking that role seriously. His field goal percentage is up to 43 percent from 36 percent last season and he’s getting to the foul line more than four times per game. Rarely has his aggression been out of control and the team needs for him to continue attacking.

But Drammeh was mostly bottled up in Hawaii’s Christmas Day loss to Princeton, 77-63. Just like Saturday’s loss to Miami, the ‘Bows played a good first half and were tied after 20 minutes. But the Tigers pulled away in the second half, mostly at the free throw line. After getting to the line just three times in the first half, Princeton was 14 for 18 in the second period to prevent any Hawaii runs.

Mike Thomas took the reins on Monday, but his 22-point, seven-rebound effort wasn’t enough to keep Hawaii within striking distance. Like his team as a whole, Thomas is having an up-and-down start to his final season at UH. He had only scored nine points in the three prior games combined. It’s been a challenge to fully re-acclimate him after missing all of last season, but Thomas has the potential to be the backbone of this team. He just hasn’t been able — or been asked — to do it every night just yet.

The ‘Bows have one more tune-up game against Howard (3-12) on Friday. That should be a comfortable win before conference action begins on Jan. 4. Not only does Hawaii begin its Big West slate at that time, but it opens with a pair of road games. They will have played 12 of their 13 games at home before then, so hitting the road will be a much different matter.

The problem has remained trying to get solid outings from everyone each night, but that’s something that most teams struggle with. However, it’s been a challenge to get the frontcourt trio — Thomas, Gibson Johnson and Jack Purchase — going all at once. Purchase has probably had the most difficulty to this point, but he’s too good a shooter to continue at just a 24 percent clip from long distance. As his shot begins to drop, things should open up for everyone else.

The team really does have the pieces and they continue to get better against solid competition. Getting on to a more regular schedule will help in the coming weeks and Hawaii looks to be a real contender in the upper half of the Big West.


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


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