By WES NAKAMA
Stephens Media Hawaii
HONOLULU – It was a rare perfect week for the University of Hawaii men’s and women’s basketball teams, which went a combined 4-0 against UC Davis and UC Irvine to set up a potentially pivotal midseason stretch and opportunity to make a big move in the Big West Conference championship race.
The Rainbow Warriors pulled away from UC Davis, 90-73, last Thursday to break a five-game conference road losing streak dating to 2013, then pulled off a stunning 90-86 overtime upset at UC Irvine on Saturday to improve to 14-5 overall, 3-2 in the Big West.
UH now enters a rare four-game homestand starting with Thursday’s showdown against Long Beach State (7-12, 3-2), followed by Saturday’s game against Cal State Northridge (10-11, 2-4). Next week, the Rainbow Warriors will play host to UC Santa Barbara (12-6, 3-2) on Feb. 6 and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo (8-11, 4-2) on Feb. 8.
A seemingly achievable four-game sweep would put Hawaii at 18-5, 7-2 when it hits the road again for games at UC Riverside (7-13, 2-4) and Cal State Fullerton (7-12, 2-3).
Long Beach State is likely better than its overall record would indicate, considering its 10 nonconference losses were against Arizona, Loyola Marymount, Kansas State (twice), Michigan, Virginia Commonwealth, Washington, Creighton, North Carolina State and Missouri. The 49ers defeated USC, 72-71, and won at Nevada in overtime, 80-77.
But UH’s three nonconference losses also were to quality opponents – New Mexico State, Missouri and Boise State. The common nonconference opponent, Missouri, defeated Hawaii, 92-80, in “neutral” Kansas City, Mo., and Long Beach State, 69-59, in its campus arena in Columbia, Mo.
Comparing common Big West opponents, Long Beach State also had a decisive victory over UC Davis (99-74) and also beat Cal Poly San Luis Obispo (63-62) and Cal State Northridge (76-62), whereas UH lost to both teams on the road.
But the Rainbow Warriors won at UC Irvine (13-8, 4-1), which beat Long Beach State at home, 46-44.
So if anything, the 49ers certainly are beatable.
And although Cal State Northridge edged Hawaii, 79-78, the game was at Northridge and the Matadors sank 28 of 31 free throws – something they would be unlikely to repeat in the Stan Sheriff Center.
The Rainbow Warriors thumped UC Riverside, 100-69, at home on Jan. 18 and although they lost at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, 77-65, that came on a rare poor shooting night for both point guard Keith Shamburger and Brandon Spearman, who play much better at home.
For the Rainbow Wahine, 10-7 overall and 4-1 in the Big West, they are coming off a home sweep of UC Davis (64-50) and UC Irvine (85-59) but head to the road this week and next, starting with games at Long Beach State (10-9, 2-3) on Thursday and Cal State Northridge (8-12, 4-2) on Saturday.
Next week, UH travels to UC Santa Barbara (6-12, 1-4) on Feb. 6 and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo (11-8, 5-1) on Feb. 8.
While a four-game road sweep may be unlikely, it would not be unrealistic to hope for. Long Beach State lost to UC Davis and Cal State Northridge – two teams the Rainbow Wahine have already beaten. UCSB also lost to Cal State Northridge.
Cal Poly San Luis Obispo edged Hawaii in overtime, 78-74, on Jan. 8 at the Stan Sheriff Center, but only after converting an improbable putback at the regulation buzzer. The Mustangs also lost to Cal State Northridge, which the Rainbow Wahine defeated, 54-44, at home on Jan. 12.
So a 4-0 road trip or even going 3-1 would help UH return to the islands at 14-7 or 13-8 overall and 8-1 or 7-2 in the Big West upon a two-game homestand vs. UC Riverside (4-15, 0-6) on Feb. 13 and Cal State Fullerton (7-11, 3-2) on Feb. 15.
Again, like the men, right there smack-dab in the middle of the conference title chase.
Of course, this is college basketball – “Upset City, baby” as Dick Vitale is famous for pointing out – so anything can happen and the UH men and women could also go 2-2, 1-3 or even 0-4 if things somehow don’t go right.
But entering this critical stretch, both teams and all Hawaii fans should at least know that the opportunity is there for the taking.