Well, how about that last 20 minutes?
Fifty-two points and 58.8 percent shooting in the second half was an impressive way for Hawaii to close its 85-57 win over Arkansas-Pine Bluff in the 2014-15 season opener on Friday night. Acting head coach Benjy Taylor was all smiles afterward, capping off his press conference with “The program’s in good shape.”
Aaron Valdes (28 points, 11-15 shooting, 9 rebounds) was out of his mind in the best game of the sophomore’s still-young career, connecting on 3s, floaters, putbacks and an emphatic alley-oop. Negus Webster-Chan (16 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists) and Roderick Bobbitt (11 points, 7 assists, 3 steals) had effective UH debuts, helping overcome poor shooting nights from Garrett Nevels (11 points, 4-12 shooting), Mike Thomas (0 points, 0-5 shooting) and Isaac Fleming (7 points, 2-9 shooting).
Yes, Pine Bluff hails from perhaps the worst league in the country in the Southwestern Athletic Conference. Yes, the Golden Lions looked like they could steal it after the first half, when they trailed by just one.
After all the team went through over the last few weeks, though, it really was a credit to the UH players (and coaches) the way they came together late to turn it into a blowout. After turning it over 11 times in the first half, they gave it up just six in the second.
And how about that opener of the 50th Outrigger Resorts Rainbow Classic? High Point and Cal State Bakersfield dueled to four overtimes, causing the arriving crowd to gasp a number of times on big shots. An hour after it was scheduled to end, HPU pulled it out when CSUB gambled and fouled intentionally up three in the final few seconds. The Panthers made both foul shots, forced a turnover on the inbounds pass and scored inside with about four seconds left. After all that, the Bakersfield Roadrunners still nearly won on a desperation 30-footer at the buzzer that rimmed out.
Bakersfield has a burly presence in the paint in Aly Ahmed, who went for a career-high 26 points. He could be a handful for the ‘Bows.
But look for a bounce-back night from Thomas, if he can avoid foul trouble. He’s better than he showed in the opener.
The lineup that UH used to blow it open late could appear more often … but maybe not against CSUB. The 6-7 swingman Webster-Chan was the biggest guy on the court for the ‘Bows. That time it worked, as Pine Bluff had no one inside to punish the strategy.
The following didn’t make it into the paper today for space reasons. Most notable is the bit about Sammis Reyes, who will suit up Saturday but is still pretty unlikely to play after returning to the team on Thursday.
Taylor elected to go small with the starting lineup of Bobbitt at point guard, Nevels at shooting guard, Webster-Chan at small forward, Valdes at power forward and Mike Thomas at center.
The 6-foot-11 center Stefan Jovanovic came out to start the second half.
“The guard lineup we made the run with, I just have to commit to playing that lineup before guys get in foul trouble,” Taylor said. “I can’t use that as a failsafe when we get into foul trouble.”
Only 10 ‘Bows were active and dressed to play. Forward Sammis Reyes, who left the team in the wake of Arnold’s firing but rejoined it on Thursday, was among the inactive. Taylor said he will suit up Saturday but doubted Reyes will play.
UAPB made its third trip to the islands in five years, and seemed right at home. The Lions trailed just 33-32 at halftime as the ’Bows struggled offensively in the period, shooting 33.3 percent and committing 11 turnovers.
Valdes led UH at the half with 11 points on 4-for-5 shooting with five rebounds.
Taylor was 39-53 in three years as coach of Division I Chicago State before coming to Hawaii.