Drew Buggs really, really didn’t want to give UC Davis any life. On Wednesday against UC Irvine, he’d seen what could happen when that happened.
So when Davis was hanging around within 10 points in crunch time, Buggs slammed the coffin shut on the Aggies and reigning Big West player of the year TJ Shorts II.
He unleashed several minutes of scoring and playmaking that represented some of the best ball of his young career, taking the Rainbow Warriors home for their important 80-60 win. In a blur of dribbles into a spin move and layup, followed by a fadeaway over Shorts, he’d scored back to back buckets.
Drew Buggs (@stonecolddrew) was 🔥🔥🔥 tonight (12 pts, 4 rebs, 12 assts)….Buggs helped @hawaiibasketball bounce back big time tonight over UC Davis, 80-60#HawaiiMBB #GoBows 🌈🏀 pic.twitter.com/0krzjkeqXG
— Spectrum Sports HI (@specsportshi) January 27, 2019
Then he went into distribution mode, finding Zigmars Raimo on consecutive close-range hoops and Eddie Stansberry on a transition 3.
Bam. Twenty-point game with four minutes left. In effect, ballgame.
Buggs finished with 12 points and 12 assists, four rebounds, three steals, and a block. It was the second double-double of his career and a new best in assists, surpassing the 11 he dished in a win at Cal State Northridge last season.
Given the matchup, it amounted to an announcement that he is, in fact, one of the best point guards in the conference.
When asked afterward to analyze the matchup with Shorts — who finished with 11 points, eight assists, four steals and one turnover — Buggs gave his opponent his due.
“TJ’s a really good player. He’s the reigning player of the year in our conference,” he said. “It’s definitely a matchup I took to heart. A lot of people like to say he’s the top point guard in the conference, so that’s something I want to come out there and prove (otherwise) and just compete. He’s a really good competitor and he’s the head of their team, so I really tried to focus on not letting him get going too much. He had a pretty good game today, but just trying to stay locked in on him for a full 40 minutes and make him work for everything, regardless of whether he made a shot, missed a shot. Just make him work. But like I said, he’s the head of the team, so just really trying to control him and hopefully in a sense that will control the team and slow them down.”
The sophomore wasn’t perfect. He had six turnovers. He was 0-for-3 on 3s. But the pick and roll was there for him most of the night, and he employed it to devastating effect when it counted.
“That was part of the game plan, to put them in ball screens and play off their tags,” Buggs said. “UC Davis, they like to play to shooters and stay home on shooters, so the roll guys are really open. In the first half, Dawson (Carper) did a really amazing job rolling to the basket, and I was able to find him. In the second half, Zig (Raimo).
“Just credit to my teammates for having confidence in me and making shots when I pass them the ball. That’s my job, is to get people open shots.”
Carper flourished with 13 points and five rebounds, his best game by far, and Raimo scored 12 of his 14 in the second half. Sheriff Drammeh poured in 15 of his 18 in the first half (and taking a charge apiece on Davis’ seniors Shorts and Siler Schneider) in getting UH off to an energetic start.
UH coach Eran Ganot saved his must effusive praise for his floor leader afterward.
“I think it’s impressive to ask me about a kid like that who’s a sophomore, who’s doing what he’s doing, at the most important position. I think (I’m) proud, probably.
“You’re at your best when your players have earned the right to take (command). Those are steps for Drew, to see him lead a huddle, to see him talk to guys in those lapses. Just really proud of him. He’s only doing this as a sophomore, but we’re going to keep pushing him because I think he’s got room to continue to grow. That’s the challenge and I think he’s up for it.”
For some perspective, here’s where Buggs’ assist count stacked up against the highest in program history.
Highest assist games in the UH records:
19 — Reggie Carter vs. San Francisco, Dec. 12, 1975
18 — Victor Kelly vs. Centenary, Feb. 22, 1975
14 — Roderick Bobbitt vs. Montana State, Nov. 13, 2015
13 — Troy Bowe vs. Wyoming, Jan. 31, 1991
13 — Anthony Carter vs. Ball State, Dec. 15, 1996
13 — Miah Ostrowski vs. New Mexico State, March 9, 2012
12 — Drew Buggs vs. UC Davis, Jan. 26, 2019
Assists is one of those stats that wasn’t tracked too thoroughly in UH records for a while there in the pre-internet age, so it’s possible other such games exist. But Buggs’ mark will stand as the new sophomore assist record, breaking the eight of Kareem Nitoto against Chicago State on Dec. 15, 2008, and Julian Sensley against Rice on Feb. 29, 2004, and Sensley again vs. IUPUI on Dec. 29, 2003.
(Reggie Carter’s 19 as a freshman probably will never be broken.)