It was Hawai‘i men’s basketball senior night, but it was also junior guard Zach Buscher’s night. Although the Kailua native has one year of basketball eligibility left, he will graduate the University of Hawai‘i with a degree in travel industry management.
“[The fans have] been there for me since day one,” Buscher said. “Those are all people who've helped me become who I am – aunties and uncles, teachers and coaches. To have them all be here and celebrate this night with all of them is special and I'm going to cherish this forever.”
The Rainbow Warriors (16-11, 7-7 Big West Conference) previously defeated UC Irvine in a 62-61 upset on the road on Feb. 15 and was hoping to bring that momentum into senior night with a rematch. But the Anteaters (16-15, 11-4 BWC) had other plans in mind, as they dominated and won 66-57 at the Stan Sheriff Center on Feb. 24.
Besides the loss, Saturday was a night to celebrate Rainbow Warrior forwards Gibson Johnson, Mike Thomas and Buscher on Senior Night.
Moving forward, the ‘Bows are seeking redemption on the road.
“Definitely it really boils down to three days in the Big West Tournament,” Johnson said. “You get three big wins and you get in the NCAA tournament.”
Both UC Irvine and UH came out with electrifying starts the first half. UH started off with a quick jump shot at the 19:49 mark to give the ‘Bows a quick 2-0 lead. UC Irvine sophomore guard Evan Leonard scored 10 points at the 7:45 mark to give the Anteaters’ a 24-16 lead. ‘Bows freshman guard Drew Buggs hit a three-pointer at the 5:27 mark, cutting the deficit to 29-19. UC Irvine was dominating the boards with 21 total rebounds at the end of the half while UH had 16 rebounds. UC Irvine maintained a steady lead throughout the first half, although the game was tied for 35 seconds. UH trailed 33-24 going into halftime.
The second half started off slow with UH going on a scoring drought for three minutes. Buggs ended the drought with a jumper at the 15:57 mark making it 35-29. The ‘Bows defense came out with extreme intensity holding the Anteaters to only five points, seven minutes into the second half. Junior guard Sheriff Drammeh hit a jumper at the 12:47 mark making it 38-36, the closest the ‘Bows got to tying the game since early in the first half. UCI controlled the lead for 38 minutes of play while UH only led for 47 seconds.
Although Buscher had a brief appearance in the game, the junior guard made those final moments count as he shot 4-for-4 at the free throw line and had 1 steal.
“I was so proud of my team continuing to fight,” Thomas said. “To see Buscher out there to go score and play is ridiculous.”
Ultimately, the Anteaters took the win and spoiled UH’s Senior Night, 66-57.
Regardless of the outcome, head coach Eran Ganot was proud of the team’s effort.
“[It was] not the outcome that we wanted, but I thought it was a good defensive battle both ways. They were just a little bit better, defensively, than we were,” Ganot said. “We got to do some things offensively to be a little stronger at the rim.”
Leonard led UCI with 19 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 steal. Edgar Jr. also helped the Anteaters with 14 points and 8 rebounds.
Buggs led the ‘Bows with 11 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists and 1 steal. Drammeh also contributed with 10 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals.
UH travels to California next to play UC Davis in another BWC matchup on March 1. Tipoff will be at 5 p.m. HST.