‘Bows Second-Half Surge Comes Up Short in UCSB Heartbreaker

By: Paul Brecht

MANOA — Ajay Mitchell’s left-handed runner with 1.9 seconds remaining lifted the visiting Gauchos over the Rainbow Warriors, 65-64, Thursday night.  

The win kept UC Santa Barbara at the top of the Big West conference, as Hawai’i fell into fourth in the conference standings from the setback. 

“Tough loss. A great basketball game in the second half,” Rainbow Warriors head coach Eran Ganot said following the game. “A horrible basketball game in the first half.” 

The ‘Bows started the game positively, jumping out to an early 6-2 lead and feeding off the energy of the crowd. The Gauchos promptly responded with a 14-0 run, finding penetration lanes against a normally stingy Hawai’i defense. 

“I feel in the first half we weren’t really dictating, like they were getting downhill too much and doing what they wanted to do,” Bernardo de Silva responded when asked about what went wrong in the first half. “Then on offense, we had a hard time finishing. When we have nights like that, we have to get stops.”

The Rainbow Warriors scoring drought would end after nearly six minutes of action, as Beon Riley came off the bench and had an and-one to cut the lead from 10 to 7 points. The Riley bucket helped take the lid off the basket for the ‘Bows, as the home team traded buckets back and forth with the Gauchos. 

Each time it looked as though Hawai’i might have found something, UCSB answered back with a run of their own. The Big West leaders extended their lead to 13 points with under five minutes remaining in the first half.

The ‘Bows offensive woes continued over the final minute of play, but a well-timed Justus Jackson triple at the buzzer helped give Hawai’i some momentum heading into the locker room, down 36-27.

“That was the worst half we’ve had in a couple of years, I think. That’s how bad it was,” Ganot continued. “Nothing positive offensively, nothing positive defensively, nothing positive on the boards. That’s all three phases.” 

The frustration regarding the first half of play was warranted, as the ‘Bows shot just 24% from the field and hit just two three-pointers in 13 tries, the second of which came in the waning moments of the half. Defensively, UH allowed penetration from the wing and top to allow for kick outs and easy chances in the paint for UCSB. 

For all that went wrong in the first half for the ‘Bows, Ganot’s squad came out of the halftime break firing on all cylinders. 

After a silent first half scoring from Kamaka Hepa, the 6’10 forward drilled a pair of 3-pointers in the first three minutes of the second half to help lead a Hawai’i 8-0 run to cut the deficit to one. 

The Gauchos would try to hold on to the lead as best they could, though the energy of Manoa and rejuvenated Hawai’i unit continued to push the visitors. As the time continued to tick away, UCSB had an answer for each UH run. 

Following a 9-2 UC Santa Barbara run to open a 59-51 lead for the away team, Ganot took a chance in re-inserting starters JoVon McClanahan and Hepa. Two of the ‘Bows key engines had been stuck to the bench after finding themselves in foul trouble. 

The gamble paid off for Ganot, as the ‘Bows went on a 10-2 run to take a 61-60 lead after a Samuta Avea pull-up jumper in the paint. It was the ‘Bows first lead since the opening minutes of the game and the massive comeback had Manoa rocking.  

“Man, shoutout to the crowd, they were going crazy,” Avea said postgame. “We just can’t have the first half like we did. It was a good fight in the second half, but we can’t spot teams points like that.” 

UC Santa Barbara answered right back with a two-point bucket of their own, but Hawai’i stayed calm under the pressure. The ‘Bows entered the ball down low to forward Bernardo de Silva, who showed off his patience and footwork on the block to give UH back the one-point advantage. 

“Tonight felt really loud. It was getting rocking at some points, some important points too,” Avea continued on the crowd. “Really disappointed we couldn’t get the win because [the crowd] deserved it and they came out and showed out. I really want [the fans] to stick with us because we’re going to clean these things up and keep it moving.” 

“The support, it is amazing. I don’t remember the last time it got as loud as tonight,” de Silva added. 

The ‘Bows got stops down the stretch, resulting in a possession that ended with a good look for the team’s leading scorer Noel Coleman at the rim that would not go down. The shot, which would have given Hawai’i a three-point lead, was rebounded by the Gauchos and the visitors called timeout with just 20 seconds remaining in regulation. 

“We got our best player in the paint, driving right into the paint. A better situation than they got. He got in [the paint], but the concern is [our] turnover before then.” Ganot explained. 

With 5.9 seconds remaining after a Hawai’i deflection, UCSB guard Ajay Mitchell drove to his right and finished a tough runner off glass to give the Gauchos the lead, 65-54, with 1.9 seconds remaining. 

“That was one of the toughest shots I think he took,” Ganot opined. “Give him credit, we got a lot of respect for him. 

Coleman got a shot off from three-quarter court that would not go and the ‘Bows valiant comeback effort ended up falling just short. 

“The second half was one of our best second halves. Good offensively, good defensively, good on the glass, took care of the ball and gave us a chance,” Ganot pointed out. “You got to play 40 minutes at this point of the year, against anybody. It’s a tough one, but I think that game will help us moving forward if we use it right and I have guys that have consistently used it right and I expect the same.” 

UC Santa Barbara was led by Mitchell, who finished the night with 24 points. Cole Anderson came off the bench to contribute 13 points on three 3-pointers for the Gauchos, who will host Cal Poly next Thursday, February 2.

Hawai’i was led by Avea, who came alive in the second half to finish the evening with 13 points. Bernardo de Silva also found his offensive touch in the later half, as the forward chipped in 12 points and 9 rebounds in the loss. The ‘Bows look to get back on track Saturday, January 28 when they host CSU Bakersfield at 7:00 PM HST for another Big West matchup.