The University of Hawaiʻi Rainbow Warrior men’s basketball team (11–5, 2–1 Big West Conference) will have to channel its jedi power to hold off the visiting UC Santa Barbara (UCSB) (12–4, 1–1 BWC) in another conference matchup on Saturday, Jan. 13 at the Stan Sheriff Center.
Tip-off is slated for 8 p.m. and will be part of a doubleheader alongside the Rainbow Wahine who will play Long Beach State at 5:30 p.m.
UH is coming off a 57–45 win over Cal Poly on Thursday to improve 11–5 overall and 2–1 in the conference. The Gauchos are coming off a 1–1 start in the Big West after posing one of the best non-conference records of 11–3. UCSB’s only game this week will be against the ʻBows.
Senior forward Mike Thomas continues to carry the team after scoring two consecutive double-doubles in past games. Thomas averages 18.7 points per game while shooting 87.5 percent in the ʻBows first three conference games.
“I think the key for Mike has always been the best defenses against him is when he’s in foul trouble,” head coach Eran Ganot said. “You’ve seen when he’s played up in the 30 minute range, he’s a force, and he’s been on a good stretch right now where he’s starting to see where he can defend without fouling. And then we’ve had to step up because we had a flurry of our bigs and foul trouble when Jack was limited. Mike stepped up and obviously really needed.”
The ʻBows will have harnessed its defense after holding its last two opponents to under 50 points and 33 percent shooting. UCSB poses an offensive threat for the ʻBows.
The Gauchos leads the conference in scoring (78.0), field goal percentage (.471), 3FG percentage (.388) and assists (15.6). Sophomore guard Max Heidegger leads the force, averaging a league-best of 21.6 points per game.
“They have the balance,” Ganot said. "They have great guard play, experience, and they have an inside force. Jalen Canty, Leland King, those are two guys who are right now probably all conference players. This is a program that has been good for a long time. Lot of respect for that program.”
UCSB has a 9–8 advantage in its all-time series against the ‘Bows.
“People will say, obviously [the game against Cal Poly] wasn’t the prettiest game, but it sure as hell was defensively,” Ganot said. “Looking forward to getting back to work and getting ready for the big game Saturday.”
Saturday’s game is a “Star Wars” themed night. Game-sponsor Coca Cola will distribute “Star Wars” cups and have a “Star Wars” selfie station. H-Zone will also be selling “Star Wars” T-shirts.
May the best team win, and may the force be with them.