Sunday | December 10, 2017
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Reardon: Ganot’s got a lot of guys and it’s working

If you’re a player or a fan you can’t wait for the next time the University of Hawaii basketball team gets out on the Stan Sheriff Center court for a game.

That’s what a 3-0 start will do.

If you’re a coach, though, you like the idea of 10 days off to regroup and tighten up some things.

That’s what nearly blowing a 22-point lead one night and then being forced into overtime after leading by 11 with five minutes left the next will do.

Third-year coach Eran Ganot said he doesn’t mind the premature gray hairs his Rainbow Warriors are giving him, as long as they continue to win. But it’s obvious some practice time to work on putting away opponents on the ropes will help this team.

With balanced, unselfish offense and sometimes smothering defense, UH got the job done all three nights. That was fully expected in the opener against Arkansas-Pine Bluff, the opponent that has become the poster child for anyone who wants to point out that Hawaii’s schedule is weak year-after-year. The Rainbows beat the Golden Lions 82-70.

But while North Dakota and Troy aren’t brand-name powerhouses, both won 22 games and were in the NCAA Tournament last year. Hawaii held on to beat the reigning Big Sky champions 81-78 on Sunday, and then needed OT to beat the Sun Belt kingpins 72-67 on Monday.

Hawaii has had three leading scorers in its three games: Gibson Johnson and Mike Thomas with 19 each in the opener, Thomas with a career-high 29 against North Dakota, and Sheriff Drammeh, who scored 15 off the bench in Monday’s tournament finale.

They move the ball around and don’t seem to care who scores, as long as they win. Eight players are averaging 10 minutes or more in playing time.

And that’s why it seems strange that in the three games UH has been outscored by a combined 16 points in the second halves after building leads from 8 to 15 before the breaks.

Let’s just say they made it more interesting than it had to be on Sunday and Monday.

They’re not really a fast-break team, but they looked good finishing in transition … just not in finishing off their foes.

The 15 turnovers in each game Sunday and Monday weren’t the result of over-passing as you might expect with an unselfish team.

The ball movement against non-pressure defenses was crisp and efficient. The problems came when North Dakota and Troy put the heat on.

“We weren’t aggressive against it,” Ganot said. “Good teams, they smell blood. … Two things: Credit them (the opponents), and we have work to do.”

Also, Hawaii could’ve closed out the Trojans despite the late turnovers if not for Drew Buggs’ two missed free throws.

The second-year freshman’s talent is evident, but his shooting — from the floor as well as the line — will have to improve.

The more experienced Brocke Stepteau stabilized the Rainbows, and also made the big plays in OT against Troy — as did Jack Purchase with his hustle. Purchase came up with a key rebound and a loose ball to help seal the win.

These were my notes after the first half Monday: Ferocious defense … frustrating Troy … Balanced and consistent offense, not allowing Troy to get any runs … Solid free-throw shooting. … Leading in all pertinent stats, including taking care of the ball. … Wesley Person is missing person (just three points, came in averaging 21).

Yes, much of that had to be revised when Jordon Varnado’s long 3-pointer with three seconds left in regulation completed the Troy rally and forced overtime. The Rainbows are entertaining, but definitely not without their flaws.

But after UH regained control in the extra session to win going away there was yet another revision to be made. It takes heart to bounce back after that kind of late-game fade.

They hadn’t lost their confidence, said Ganot, noting the team’s body language going into OT.

“The look, the belief, was rock solid.”

 

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