Big-West Leading UC Irvine Visits Hawai’i as ‘Bows Prepare to Honor Seniors


MANOA — For the last time as players in the Stan Sheriff Center, Kamaka Hepa, Samuta Avea and Juan Munoz will feel the mana of the Hawai’i ‘ohana.

The University of Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors (20-9, 11-6) will play host to the Big West-leading UC Irvine Anteaters (20-9, 13-4) for senior night, celebrating the program’s seniors.

The ‘Bows fell Thursday night, 54-52, to visiting UC Riverside after Zyon Pullin’s 18 second-half points propelled the Highlanders to the road win.

UC Irvine also lost Thursday night, with UC San Diego visiting Irvine to deliver the upset, 99-91. The loss keeps the ‘Bows mathematically alive for the conference’s top seed and three games remaining. 

The current Big West standings for men’s basketball sees UC Irvine atop the conference, with UC Riverside trailing by one conference loss. UC Santa Barbara sits in third, one full game behind the Anteaters. The ‘Bows sit in fourth, two games behind the top spot in the Big West. 

A win on senior night would re-spark Hawai’i’s odds at the league’s top spot heading into the Big West tournament, while UC Irvine needs to continue winning with teams hot on their heels.

What happened 1st time around?

UC Irvine took down Hawai’i back on January 19, 76-68, behind a great first half and Dawson Baker’s double-double (17 points, 10 rebounds).

The Anteaters had three players score in double figures, as DJ Davis led the way with 18 points, Baker scored 17 points and Akita McBirney-Griffin chipped in 11 points.  

The ‘Bows struggled shooting in the first half of the matchup back on 1/19, hitting just nine of 26 shots in game’s opening 20 minutes. Contrasted to UCI’s 15 makes on 31 attempts in the first half, UH headed to the locker rooms trailing by eight.

Much like many of the Hawai’i losses this season, the ‘Bows had one half of rough play and one half of equal or better play. Unfortunately for the Rainbow Warriors, the mistakes proved to be too much on the road despite playing UCI even in the second half.

Hepa had a double-double for UH, recording 17 points to go along with 10 boards in the loss. JoVon McClanahan had 14 points and four assists, while Noel Coleman scored 13 points and went 7-7 at the free throw line. 

UC Irvine Statistics of Note 

The Anteaters visit Manoa boasting two of the conference’s top 10 scorers in Baker and Davis, who score about 41% of UC Irvine’s points per game. UCI ranks second in the Big West in points scored per game, averaging 76.2 points per game. 

UC Irvine also visits the islands as the conference’s most efficient 3-point shooting team, hitting triples at a 37.6% clip this season. The Anteaters make seven 3-pointers a game, ranking fourth in total made threes in the Big West this season. 

While defense is more of the ‘Bows specialty, UCI does rank in the top three of the conference leaders in steals per game, forcing 7.03 per contest. The ‘Bows, while stingy when it comes to giving up points, rank last in the conference averaging less than five steals per game.

The Anteaters are also the Big West leaders in assists per game, averaging 15 helpers each night with 435 total assists on the season. 

UCI is also a team who plays in front of a decent crowd, ranking second in the Big West in average attendance with 2,532 fans showing up to home games on average. With reports of a sell-out crowd at Stan Sheriff Center for Saturday, that number will be nearly quadrupled in Hawai’i.

What to Watch For/Keys to the Game

UCI 3PT Efficiency vs. UH 3PT Defense

Much like UC Riverside, the Anteaters can knock down 3-pointers at an elite clip. Tops in the conference in percentage made, UCI also ranks top four in total threes made. 

The ‘Bows 3-point defense ranks among the ten best in all of Division I men’s basketball, as shown again in Thursday’s loss to UCR. The Highlanders came into the night with the most made triples in the conference, only to shoot 3-17 from 3-point range.

Against the likes of another elite program in UCI, Hawai’i could use a similar defensive performance on senior night. 

Second Chance Points and Opportunities 

Both squads come into Saturday’s matchup averaging 9.9 offensive rebounds a game. With both teams used to winning rebounding battles in their games, the fight on the glass (both offensive and defensive) could go a long way in deciding a winner. 

The ‘Bows have two of the top rebounders in the Big West in starting forwards Bernardo de Silva and Kamaka Hepa. The Anteaters pull down about 37 rebounds per game, compared to the Rainbow Warriors securing about 35 rebounds a night. Much like against UC Riverside, it will take a full team effort on the glass to win the rebounding battle against UCI.

Score Early, but Score Often

Sounds simple, but eight of the ‘Bows nine losses on the season have come from slow offensive starts with less than 30 points in the first half.

While Hawai’i is among the elite defenses in the country, the Rainbow Warriors can struggle at times playing complementary basketball. Against one of the best offenses the Big West has to offer, it is important the ‘Bows capitalize on stops with points.

UH leads the conference with 111 blocks this season, 15 more than the next closest team (Long Beach State, 96 blocks). With the stingy interior defense forcing opponents to settle for more jumpers, long rebounds will provide opportunities for UH to get into transition.

While getting the offense going early can sometimes be a struggle for the ‘Bows, UH can find similar scoring droughts coming out of the locker room. Even if Hawai’i can grab a lead on Saturday, UCI will not go quietly. Playing a full 40 minutes on both sides will be vital for the ‘Bows. 

Senior Night Festivities

For the first time since 2016, the Stan Sheriff Center is expected to be the host of a sold-out crowd for a University of Hawai’i men’s basketball game.

About 10,000 fans are expected to be in attendance for the ‘Bows senior night, where Kamaka Hepa, Samuta Avea and Juan Munoz will be honored for their time and contributions to the program.

It has also been themed a “White-Out” as Hawai’i fans are encouraged to wear white when they attend Saturday’s game against UC Irvine. 

The first 3,000 fans will receive a free senior night t-shirt to wear, and the game will be nationally televised on ESPN2 with tip-off around 5:00 P.M. HST.