RIVERSIDE, California —The University of Hawai’i at Manoa basketball team hopes to take advantage of added preparation time for their upcoming Big West conference schedule.
The Rainbow Warriors’ first conference game on Dec. 27 against Cal Poly never happened after a Mustangs player tested positive for COVID-19.
Twenty days have passed since the University of Hawai’i’s last game, and 29 days for UC Riverside, who last played Dec. 10.
The Highlanders won both of their non-conference games over Denver and Northern Arizona, and won both contests convincingly.
UC Riverside defeated Denver 83-69 and Northern Arizona 74-50 to start the season with a flawless record.
Hawai’i coach Eran Ganot hopes the added preparation time to play conference foes will pay dividends.
“It’s not something that you want to say, but the first half is about playing together, and game two was about playing with energy,” Ganot said.
In several Zoom press conferences, Ganot expressed his concern with his team’s first-half performances against two NCAA Division II opponents including Hawai’i Pacific and the University of Hawai’i at Hilo.
“We shouldn’t be talking about execution at this point, but learning about the chemistry of our team,” Ganot said. “Learn from those first halves of those games and continue to jump on the fact of how we have started out in the second half.”
Slow out the gate
During the first two games of the season, Hawai’i start in the first half was slow.
Against Hawai’i Pacific, the Rainbow Warriors’ led 30-25, and in the second victory against the Vulcans, they went into the half with only a 10-point lead.
Hawai’i understands they must start fast against conference opponents because they won’t get away with the mistakes they made in their two non-conference wins.
History on their side
The Rainbow Warriors hold the recent series advantage over the Highlanders.
Hawai’i won four of the last five games against UCR, but their record in conference openers isn’t as good.
During the COVID-19 shortened schedule, the win-loss record seems to be inconsequential.
Of all of Hawai’i’s conference opponents, the Rainbow Warriors have played the least Big West games.
The lack of conference play is mostly because of the unique set of travel logistics Hawai’i faces that their California foes don’t.
UC Irvine, UCSB, and CSU Bakersfield have played the most games of Big West experience.
A work in progress
The Hawai’i men’s basketball lineup is a revolving door for a team still getting used to playing together.
COVID-19 significantly altered the Rainbow Warriors’ basketball roster headed into the 2019-2020 season.
Hawai’i has two leading scorers including Mate Colina, who scored a career-high 17 points, and Justin Webster, who is averaging 13.5 points per game including a team-high 15 in the second game against Hilo.
Ganot said the Rainbow Warriors will continue to keep things in perspective as they prepare for conference play.
“There is a real part of the identity, and that is a part of the theme we are focusing on with only two basketball games under our belt,” Ganot said. “We are in a better place than we were (at the start of the year) when you have a perspective.”
Playing the conference schedule will be different this year for Big West. They will play two games on back-to-back nights against the same team.
“Playing against the same team back-to-back is not normal,” Ganot said. “I’ve worked with guys who have coached in the Ivy League, and this is a sound plan to continue with the number and focusing on us first.”
Ganot talked about one major adjustment to make playing back-to-back nights with his teams.
“We will have to find ways to stay fresh for that game, display really quick execution and fire back fresh physically for the second game,” Ganot said.
Who: Hawai’i at UC Riverside
When: Friday, Jan. 8 (2 p.m. HT/4 p.m. PT) & Saturday, Jan. 9 (2 p.m. HT/4 p.m. PT)
Where: SRC Arena – Riverside, Calif.
Streaming Video: BigWest.TV
Radio: Live on ESPN Honolulu (1420 AM/92.7 FM), KRKH (Maui), KPUA (Hawai’i Island), and KTOH (Kaua’i) with Josh Pacheco.
Audio Webcast: ESPNHonolulu.com/Sideline Hawai’i App.
Live Stats: GoHighlanders.com
Coaches: Head coach Eran Ganot is in his sixth season at UH (88-56). Mike Magpayo is in his first season at UC Riverside (3-1).
Series Information: Tied, 7-7.
Jason Blasco, reporter, can be reached at 245-0437 or firstname.lastname@example.org.