Every year the Big West tournament’s been at the Honda Center, there’s been a different champion.
UC Santa Barbara. Long Beach State. Pacific. Cal Poly. UC Irvine. Hawaii.
That streak, which begin when the event moved to the “Pond” in 2011, is bound to end before long. Can Hawaii be the team to do it? Three wins in three days is a lot to ask of a team that didn’t know it’d be here a week ago.
For the moment, put aside the widely shared belief that it’s top seed UC Irvine’s tournament to lose. UPDATE: However, the winner of UH-LBSU gets UCI in Friday’s semifinals.)
It starts with Long Beach State tonight, the team that beat UH by nine in the regular-season finale last Saturday. The 49ers undoubtedly will look to punish UH inside again (they won the paint battle by 26 last time behind Temidayo Yussuf’s 9-for-9 outing) and push the pace.
LBSU is presently favored by 4.0. Tipoff will be at 6:30 p.m. HST (8:30 PST) and televised on Fox Sports Prime Ticket (Oceanic Ch. 1228).
Of course, there’s a big question mark hanging over this one.
Jack Purchase has made strides since rolling his right ankle at LBSU. He’s been described as “questionable” but it’s looking increasingly likely that he’ll see action. We won’t know for sure until warmups.
UPDATE: Purchase is dressed to play and will take his usual place in the starting lineup. Huge for Hawaii if they get something close to the usual “Purch.”
Purchase doing his thing pregame. Athletic trainer Jay Goo worked his magic. pic.twitter.com/HRAxGCPmOQ
— Brian McInnis (@Brian_McInnis) March 10, 2017
That’s a big swing factor if he can’t go. Zigmars Raimo is the next man up, and the burly Latvian hasn’t had to play anything near starter’s minutes.
But remember, anything’s possible in this one-and-done setting. UH found a way to get it done in last year’s championship game against The Beach even when stars Stefan Jankovic and Roderick Bobbitt were plagued by foul trouble. The UH reserves, led by Niko Filipovich and Stefan Jovanovic, stepped up big time.
UH players were up front this week that they don’t want to fall into the trap of running for long stretches with LBSU. They are aware that depth isn’t their greatest asset.
The ‘Bows will need Noah Allen to have an All-Big West first-teamer kind of game, another solid performance from Gibson Johnson and complementary performances by Leland Green, Brocke Stepteau and Sheriff Drammeh.
For LBSU, inconsistency has been the season-long deal. That’s started with Evan Payne. Defense, particularly in the paint, has been lacking for the 49ers as well — although they sure swatted a couple of UH’s inside shots emphatically in the Pyramid.
As a side note, 19-year UCSB coach Bob Williams will not return for a 20th season. Williams’ Gauchos had difficulties with two frontcourt players academically ineligible for the spring and lost Gabe Vincent to a season-ending knee injury. They tied the program mark for fewest D-I wins at six, and with Hawaii’s participation in the tournament, were the odd team out.
Best of luck to Williams in his next venture.
Here’s what happened in the first two games of the day:
No. 2 UC Davis 66, No. 7 Cal Poly 55
The Mustangs made several charges at the favored Aggies, but were turned back. Brynton Lemar scored 18 for UCD and Chima Moneke had 11 points and 18 rebounds.
Ridge Shipley scored a game-high 19 points in his final game as a Mustang, but he lost his composure and got T’d up in the final minute.
No. 3 Cal State Fullerton 81, No. 6 Cal State Northridge 68
In a rematch of the teams’ regular-season finale won by CSUF, the Titans were again too much for the sliding Matadors. Kyle Allman and Lionheart Leslie scored 24 points apiece, while Tre’ Coggins added 21 to lead CSUF into the semifinals for the first time since 2010.
CSUN, which was vying for first place in the standings at the midpoint of conference play, lost its sixth straight to end the season. Kendall Smith scored 21 points and had seven assists in the loss.
No. 1 UC Irvine 76, No. 8 UC Riverside 67
Despite a second-half challenge by the Highlanders, there would be no stunning upset of the top seed on Day 1. Riverside cut it to three midway through the second half but the Anteaters rallied and will face the winner of Hawaii and Long Beach State.
UCI’s two All-Big West first-teamers, Luke Nelson and Jaron Martin, scored 19 points apiece to pace the ‘Eaters.
Secean Johnson scored a game-high 22 points in the loss for the Highlanders.
A couple of other shots from the day: