Hawaii coach Benjy Taylor spoke to his team for many minutes on the Stan Sheriff Center sidelines Monday before the Rainbow Warriors (13-6, 1-2 Big West) took the court in their first practice since the 66-62 loss at UC Riverside over the weekend.
Then, assistant coach Brad Autry exhorted the Rainbows, particularly big men Stefan Jovanovic and Stefan Jankovic, to finish strong inside while battering them with a padded shield. Taylor reminded his players to get into a low stance with knees bent while awaiting rebounds, even airballs. Passive play was met with high-decibel rebukes.
“We gotta learn to switch gears. We worked on that a little bit today,” Taylor said. “And it’s good to have everybody back and everybody on the floor. That was the most exciting thing.”
“It’s just what Coach feels we need to work on, and we did it today,” said Negus Webster-Chan, who was back in action after missing last week (and the Riverside trip) with the flu bug.
Shooting guard Garrett Nevels did not participate in some shooting drills early in practice — instead using that time to run up and down the Sheriff Center steps — but he was in on some halfcourt work, the most he’s done since missing three games from his right hand/thumb surgery.
UH came out with plenty of energy at Riverside, building an early 13-point lead. But that was down to three by halftime and UCR made the biggest plays down the stretch to pull it out.
“It wasn’t playing passively, it was playing looser,” Taylor said. “We took early shots, we didn’t really make them work on defense. And their halfcourt defense was set, so we weren’t really getting steals at the time. We still should have been scoring on them, and we weren’t. That was a little disappointing. We didn’t let them back in necessarily defensively, we let them back by our poor execution offensively in the first half.”
Taylor also said he couldn’t afford to have his team press as much late in the game because of the shortened seven-man rotation.
“They still shot 50 percent in the second half. So, once they survived and they crossed halfcourt, we broke down a little bit defensively. We probably have the best offensive team in the conference coming in here Thursday, so we can’t let that happen again.”
Nevels’ presence on the court should help shore that up. The senior spent some time post-practice giving Jovanovic a body to post up against. He even put up some shots afterward with his hand in a brace, and was reasonably accurate. By all indications, he’s on course for a return to action on Thursday against league leader UC Davis (14-3, 4-0). Of course, he’ll have to wear something else in game action with added padding.
“It looked good, having him out there,” Taylor said, chuckling. “It looked really good having him out there.”
He said guard Brandon Jawato was out the UCR game with back spasms, something that kept the junior on the side at Monday’s practice. Mike Thomas also worked on the side Monday for undisclosed reasons, though it didn’t appear to be serious. Webster-Chan, meanwhile, slowly worked his way back in. He was away from the team for roughly a full week.
“I had the flu. It was terrible. (I was) sweating,” Webster-Chan said.
He didn’t seem particularly pleased about being left off the UCR trip. The team left for Los Angeles on Thursday morning.
“I was good before Friday, but they already left, so,” Webster-Chan said. He said he didn’t get the chance to watch the ESPNU-televised game.
“I just didn’t want it to go through the team again,” said Taylor, alluding to the illness that swept through the team around the Diamond Head Classic. “He was in the initial stages of taking antibiotics. I didn’t think it would be smart to fly him and be in a hotel with these guys, and be around these guys. We got so much basketball left. We really need him, but I had to think long term with that.”