Those seeking a reversal of fortune are generally not advised to play UC Irvine, especially at the Bren Events Center.
Especially when the Anteaters have won five games in a row.
That, however, is exactly the situation Hawaii (13-10, 4-6 BWC) finds itself in today. The Rainbow Warriors are 6.5-point underdogs in the building they lost by 28 in last season. They’ll look to surprise everyone — including their own fan base — by snapping their five-game slide and solidifying their standing near the middle of the Big West.
Second-place Irvine (13-14, 8-3) is the last league foe UH has yet to play this season. The Anteaters have won six of the past eight in the series, claiming an 11-7 overall series lead.
Last week was about as disappointing a scenario as you could draw up. Home games against UC Riverside and Cal State Northridge presented on a platter. Except, the would-be meals objected and bit back, threatening UH with its longest losing streak since it dropped nine in 2009-10 if it can’t upend Irvine tonight.
And Cal Poly, CSUN and now even Riverside (UH’s road foe Saturday) are not that far behind.
The broadcast is on ESPN3, tipping off at 6 Hawaii time. (UPDATE: The game has been pushed back a few minutes based on a BWC women’s hoops game.)
UCI may not be as singularly huge as Mamadou Ndiaye of a few years ago, or even Ioannis Dimakopoulos last season at 7-2. But the young Anteaters’ stable of bigs remains strong, and they’re still the best defensive and rebounding team in the conference. Their overall record is deceiving, as they played, by one metric, the fifth-toughest nonconference schedule in the country.
They spread around their scoring about as much as UH does when the ‘Bows are at their best. Guards Evan Leonard and Eyassu Worku are double-figure guys and Tommy Rutherford, the top inside threat offensivley, is improving by the game. Reigning BWC defensive player of the year Jonathan Galloway anchors, well, the defense.
The UH bigs, Mike Thomas, Gibson Johnson and Jack Purchase, will have to be on their game, likely with some help from Zigmars Raimo and even Ido Flaisher. And the Rainbows will have to knock down their share of 3s against what could be a healthy dose of zone.
Good luck to them.