Hawaii men’s basketball: Rainbow Warriors turn over new leaf against Cal State Fullerton

Hawaii guard Drew Buggs drove to the basket around Cal State Fullerton forward Davon Clare on Thursday. Buggs scored a team-high 20 points in the UH win. / Photo by Jamm Aquino, Star-Advertiser

Hawaii’s first attempt at a small-ball lineup didn’t go so well on Thursday night.

The quicker lineup — UH started three guards, and two quicker post players — quickly fell behind Cal State Fullerton. UH reverted to its larger lineup after a few minutes, but that, too, was at first only marginally effective.

Some honest-to-goodness fullcourt pressure, though? That did the trick in igniting the Rainbow Warriors back in the game, and ultimately to a 70-59 win over the Titans at the Stan Sheriff Center. It was the first win for UH (16-11, 7-6 Big West) in its last three games in the building, a stretch that included an unsightly 50-49 loss to Long Beach State two weeks ago.

“We forced 22 turnovers. That ignited a spark after that (15-8) deficit that kind of helped us the rest of the way,” coach Eran Ganot said.

After the dose of fullcourt pressure that contributed to CSF’s 14 first-half turnovers, UH settled in to some traditional D.

For the game, UH was minus-nine on turnovers with CSF, a season-best margin. Only 10 times in 26 games heading into the night had UH forced more turnovers on its opponent than it committed. The steals count was 8-0 in UH’s favor, also the best UH fared in that margin all season.

Point guard Drew Buggs set the tone of aggressive backcourt play by scoring a team-high 20 points on 7-for-12 shooting, his second-highest total of the season. He did it on a night his teammates all wore pink warmup shirts bearing “Mrs. Buggs” on the back in honor of his late mother, Mary Buggs.

Turnovers were a wash, 12-all, in the Rainbows’ 75-69 win at Titan Gym to open up league play on Jan. 9.

“We sensed some weaknesses we could exploit, but we wanted to pick up our energy and effort in total,” Buggs said. “I felt like we’ve been too soft the past couple games, and teams were too comfortable. So we made it a focal point in practice to pick up defensive intensity and pick up our ball screen coverages and make that sure teams really worked to score.”

The word “turnovers” barely had to be uttered for CSF coach Dedrique Taylor to sigh and opine on those shortcomings — particularly how they aborted a run his team was making in the second half.

“Down the stretch there, I think the game at one point was 50-44 (UH) for a long time, and neither team could get off that number. Defensively I thought both teams did a really, really good job,” Taylor said. “I thought in that stretch … we turned the ball over quite a bit and that allowed them to get out and get some easy baskets for themselves. When you’re playing a game like that, when possession is so important, you can’t turn the ball over and right now, my group, again, 22 turnovers is inexcusable.”

UH hosts UC Riverside (15-15, 5-9) on senior night Saturday. It will send off seniors Eddie Stansberry and Zigmars Raimo.