HONOLULU — Entering last Thursday’s home game against Long Beach State, things were looking great for the University of Hawaii men’s basketball team:
The Rainbow Warriors were 14-5 overall, 3-3 in the Big West Conference coming off a rare road sweep of UC Davis and UC Irvine, including an amazing overtime comeback victory at UCI. Earlier Thursday evening, first-place UC Irvine was upset by UC Santa Barbara, meaning a UH win over Long Beach State would vault the Rainbow Warriors into first place.
Then Long Beach State guards Mike Caffey and A.J. Spencer torched Hawaii for a career-high 29 and 24 points, respectively, as the 49ers sped their way to an ego-busting 92-83 victory.
After the postgame handshakes, most of the Rainbow Warriors headed straight for the locker room — bypassing the customary “fist bumps” with fans and those seated at press row — and left head coach Gib Arnold and co-captains Davis Rozitis and Brandon Spearman singing the alma mater by themselves at the free throw line.
Apparently there were words exchanged in the hallway and locker room soon after, and Arnold told the media he was not pleased with his team. Not just for the poor defensive effort, but also for the post-game conduct.
“I wasn’t happy, wasn’t happy with them at all,” Arnold said. “I thought the (lack of) effort was enough to get beat, and we probably read too many press clippings about how good we are and didn’t realize it took us hard work to get there. That’s not how you play at home … And when you lose, you go shake their hand, you thank the crowd for being there, you sing the alma mater and then you walk off. That’s how you do it. It’s not always going to be roses, so you gotta to have character in wins AND losses.
“This team’s better than that — we didn’t show it tonight, but we’re better in a lot of ways than we were tonight.”
Fortunately for Arnold, the Rainbow Warriors and their fans, it took only 48 hours for his team to prove him right in a 77-63 victory over Cal State Northridge.
Junior Keith Shamburger, UH’s starting point guard for all 20 previous games, was benched for the entire first half in place of sophomore Quincy Smith, who produced seven points in 15 minutes. Redshirt freshman walk-on Dyrbe Enos provided five minutes of solid point guard relief as the Rainbow Warriors overcame an 11-2 deficit to lead 34-32 at the break.
“It was strictly a coach’s decision,” Arnold said of the changing of the point guard. “We kept (Shamburger) out for a half, and it was my decision on that. I thought Quincy did really well, he hit a big 3, his push was really good offensively, he got us going. I was pleased with how he played.”
Shamburger then came off the bench three minutes into the second half and contributed seven points, four assists and three rebounds in 16 minutes of action.
“Keith Shamburger makes this team go, we feel more comfortable when he is in, he just runs the show so well for us,” said sophomore forward Isaac Fotu, who led the team with 20 points and eight rebounds. “He does a lot of things for us, and (makes) a huge impact.”
Reserve center Davis Rozitis also played a key role, scoring six points and grabbing seven rebounds in 18 minutes off the bench and leading Hawaii’s “point zone” defense which helped limit the Matadors to just 12 points over the final 9 minutes, 35 seconds.
“I thought Davis was really good in that point zone, he kind of changed the tempo,” Arnold said.
Change —in defensive effort and strategy, starting lineup, bench utilization — did the Rainbow Warriors good throughout the game, and it resulted in a big change from Thursday after the game.
This time, the entire team made the rounds for “fist bumps” and then lined up to sing the alma mater. Later, the players and coaches greeted the fans upstairs and signed autographs.
Arnold’s immediate evaluation was much different from Thursday’s as well:
“I like the fact we’re in the mix, I like the fact we’re one game out (of first place),” Arnold said. “I like that we took care of business (against) a team that beat us by one up there. We’ve got two good teams coming in (UC Santa Barbara on Thursday and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo on Saturday), they’re good teams, and if we hold home court we’ll be right there. I do like how we’re playing.”
Then, he added:
“Obviously I wasn’t pleased with the Long Beach State game, defensively. But to me, it’s more about how you bounce back, and the character of your team. I hope we learned a lesson against Long Beach State, that’s what I told them, is if we start relying too much on offense, we’re not going to be as good. Now, we’re gonna make sure we don’t ever forget the defensive end, and I think that will make us better in the long run.”