Taken in concert, that was a wallop of a week for the Hawaii men’s and women’s basketball teams.
The Rainbow Warriors and Rainbow Wahine entered it with identical 7-4 records in the Big West Conference. In the case of the Warriors, that was good for third place, behind only UC Irvine and Cal State Fullerton, with five games to play. In the case of the Wahine, it was even better — good for a tie for second place with Cal State Northridge, excellent position to be in for a bye or two in the Big West tournament.
The Wahine were coming off rousing home wins over UC Santa Barbara and Long Beach State, and had positioned themselves for a three-game homestand sweep. The Warriors had blown out UC Riverside and Cal Poly in consecutive games at the Sheriff knowing they had a challenging trip coming, logistically and competitively (at least on the front end) to UCSB and Cal Poly.
Alas. The two teams still sport identical Big West records, but for the wrong reasons (7-6). That’s not where they hoped to be with both facing two road games in their last three before tournament time.
It all shifted without warning Tuesday with the announcement that Wahine junior forward Makenna Woodfolk was leaving the program immediately because she is pregnant. UH played hard Thursday in a winnable game against UC Irvine but came up a little short in some key areas, notably ball control and late shot selection. Would Woodfolk have made the difference in what was a 53-48 loss? It’s possible.
The Wahine were then asked by the Big West to fly up to UC Davis for a Saturday afternoon game — patently ridiculous under the best of circumstances — and predictably got steamrolled by the first-place Aggies, 72-46.
UH (11-15 overall) is now in fifth, on the outside looking in at the teams with projected tournament byes (Davis, CSUN, UC Riverside and Irvine). If they cannot move up, the Wahine will be asked to win four times in five days in order to win the tourney.
Coach Laura Beeman would not blame the travel but spoke about fractured team chemistry — “a missing puzzle piece” — after both games in a whirlwind handful of days following Woodfolk’s abrupt exit.
“Absolutely,” she said of chemistry as the immediate focus. “Sit down and watch some film, talk some things through. And yes, really work the chemistry. That’s the big thing.”
As for Eran Ganot’s ‘Bows, it was going to be a tough ask for them to come away with a win at UCSB, a team that won by 21 in Honolulu while outdoing UH in pretty much all facets. However, you could’ve expected the rematch to be a little more competitive, and for the ‘Bows to get a better handle on freshman forward Amadou Sow and guard Max Heidegger.
Heidegger was kept under wraps, but Sow wasn’t — he nearly went for 20 and 10 again — and the Gauchos’ talented complementary players like Armond Davis, Devearl Ramsey and JaQuori McLaughlin went off in what was basically another 20-point blowout, 79-61.
The Cal Poly back-ender was the designated opportunity to salvage something and stop the bleeding. The Mustangs entered the game at 5-19 overall and 1-10 in the Big West — clearly the worst team in the league, a team Hawaii spanked by 21 in Honolulu. Well, Mustangs guard Donovan Fields was allowed to go off and, compounding matters, UH point guard Drew Buggs landed awkwardly on his right ankle with under five minutes left in the first half. He did not return. UH made a go of it in the second half but could not slow the ‘Stangs in an 88-80 defeat.
If Buggs and his nine points and five assists per game cannot return for senior night or beyond, that is a huge loss — even given how well Brocke Stepteau played offensively at Mott Gym as the primary point guard (11 points, 11 rebounds, no turnovers). An extended absence by Buggs would have a huge domino effect on the guard rotation.
Seeding doesn’t matter quite as much in the men’s tournament as the women’s. No byes are in play. UH (16-11 overall) is in fourth at the moment, with UC Davis (6-6) just behind in fifth. Even if those two flip-flopped over the next two games, they’d still face each other in the opening round. At this point the biggest thing for the Rainbows is getting healthy and avoiding UCSB in the first round.
That said, you don’t want to be losing to teams of Cal Poly’s caliber — Buggs or no Buggs — knowing a loss in a couple weeks means you’re done for good.
The good news for both teams is they have a solid week apiece to regroup. They have byes during the week then host Cal State Fullerton (women) and CSUN (men) on a double senior night Saturday.
Time to lick the wounds.