There are setbacks, and then there’s what happened to Hawaii on Saturday night.
UC Santa Barbara thoroughly demolished the Rainbow Warriors in the second half in rolling to a 75-54 road victory, turning what was a battle for temporary top-three standing in the Big West into a referendum on who can and can’t compete for a title in the conference.
The lackluster way UH played, and as sound as Santa Barbara was at both ends, led one to believe that it’s only UC Irvine and UCSB in that class. Maybe Cal State Fullerton, with the way the Titans are playing right now. And that’s it. That’s how demoralizing this defeat was for Hawaii, which had played well for most of its four-game homestand, and league play in general, compiling a 4-2 record going into Saturday night.
It was a four-point game at halftime, seemingly as competitive as it should’ve been. Then UH got blitzed in the second half, allowing 65 percent shooting and a 16-0 run.
“Credit them,” UH coach Eran Ganot said. “They’ve obviously … got a very balanced team. They’ve been the best defensive team, the best rebounding team. Take care of the ball at a high level, and they did all those things tonight.
“Very disappointing effort for us. As bad as we’ve played all year.”
Consider that UCSB was coming off an overtime loss at home to Irvine in a late-starting game Thursday night to accommodate ESPN. The Gauchos had to bus it to Los Angeles on Friday, fly out to Hawaii and got in a very brief practice in Gym II that night.
“You know, we just did what we had to do, right?” UCSB coach Joe Pasternack said. “The game was on the schedule. We had to take the crazy travel. I thought our guys handled it very well.”
You could say that. Or you could say the ‘Bows “laid down” when the going got tough, as Ganot did.
The 21-point margin of defeat represented UH’s most lopsided home defeat in seven Big West Conference seasons, surpassing the previous mark of 14 set twice (UC Irvine on Feb. 11, 2017, and Long Beach State on Jan. 30, 2016).
There was 6-9 Amadou Sow — a true freshman — demolishing UH inside to the tune of 20 points and 11 rebounds on 9-for-15 shooting.
There was Max Heidegger — he of the supposedly broken shot — rediscovering his touch at the worst possible time for the ‘Bows, lighting them up for another 20 on just nine official field-goal attempts.
And, most disturbingly, there was seemingly little the Rainbows could do about it.
Sow, a 235-pound Mali native, finished capably with either hand and was a load down low, moving UH defenders out of the way like a mild inconvenience. Forward Zigmars Raimo was justifiably bothered by this.
“We can play against strong, good teams,” Raimo said. “We proved that against Long Beach. We proved that against other teams. … We’ll bounce back. We have strong big dudes as well. Dawson (Carper), Mate (Colina), me. We’ll bounce back. We’ll beat them on the road.”
Heidegger, the centerpiece of the Gauchos’ offense last season who’s been limited this year due to injuries, missed his first few, but fed off a tough, banked and-1 bucket in the first half. Last year’s All-Big West first-teamer got closer to his lost form seemingly with every shot in the second, recalling his explosive second half in a narrow Gauchos loss at the Stan Sheriff in 2018.
“We knew coming in that Heidegger was a really good player,” point guard Drew Buggs said. “Even with his numbers down, a guy like that who averaged nearly 20 a game last year, you gotta be a good player to average that over a whole season. So we knew he was going to be good and there was a chance he could get going in here and shoot well. We tried to do our best to cover on him, but I gotta do better. He got me for a couple shots in the second half. I let him get loose and that’s on me. All credit to him, he hit some tough shots and he’s a really good basketball player, but I gotta do better for the team.”
There was plenty of blame to go around. Like Raimo and Buggs, primary rotation players Eddie Stansberry, Jack Purchase, Sheriff Drammeh and Brocke Stepteau were at a loss most of the night.
Sophomore Samuta Avea was one of the only bright spots, with 13 points on 4-for-7 shooting and a some distinguishing energy plays.
UH will need plenty more where that came from if it is to compete with the likes of Irvine — and especially UC Santa Barbara — on the road in conference play’s second half.