Scrappy Bows dominate glass, execute late for massive win over UC San Diego

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED FEB 8, 2024

HONOLULU – That changes some math. 

The University of Hawai’i men’s basketball team opened a big week in Mānoa against some of the conference’s best teams in a clutch way, downing UC San Diego (15-9, 9-3 Big West) in overtime, 94-86, inside SimpliFi Arena at Stan Sheriff Center to pick up a massive win against a program that entered the night tied for second in Big West.  

Even more impressive, the Rainbow Warriors (13-11, 5-7 Big West) kept calm when the going got tough despite being down veteran floor general and captain JoVon McClanahan, who suffered a right shoulder injury earlier in the week during practice and was a late scratch as Hawai’i attempted to wait and see if the senior could go. 

In his stead, a group effort to replace the contributions of the emotional leader and spark plug for the ‘Bows was made as different players stepped up in big moments for the home squad. It was not smooth sailing for UH early as the visiting Tritons jumped out to an 8-2 lead just five minutes into action while the ‘Bows tried to figure things out. 

It would be the bench for the ‘Bows to start the momentum back as freshmen duo Akira Jacobs and Tom Beattie each got on the board early to get Hawai’i’s offense back on track and sophomore guard Kody Williams only energized the arena more by scoring seven of the next ten points to make it a two-point contest, 20-18, as the first-half clock ticked under seven minutes. 

With the electricity of Williams sparking the offense alive once again, Hawai’i kept the game within two possessions over the final five minutes of the opening half of play against UC San Diego and entered the locker room down by just three, 37-34. 

After trading points to begin play once again, Williams continued his career-night by delivering the team’s first lead since the opening moments of the game by getting the hoop-and-harm to go to make it 43-42 in favor of the ‘Bows not even five minutes into the second half. The sophomore guard finished with 13 points on the night on an uber-efficient 5-of-7 shooting from the floor (2-of-3 3PT) in his first extended action since January 20 when he saw 11 minutes in the Rainbow Warriors’ first matchup against UCSD. 

The momentum swing continued to favor the ‘Bows as they took their biggest lead of the game, 54-46, with 11:04 remaining in regulation as Harry Rouhliadeff put home a Williams’ assist. Unfortunately for the fans in attendance, the Tritons wouldn’t let the game slip away from them that quickly as UC San Diego worked over the next five minutes to knot things back up at 63-all with just over six minutes left. 

The trampling Tritons were stopped as Hawai’i re-found the footing that had led them to a second half lead, answering back from down three multiple times in the final minutes of regulation with Juan Munoz triples – the biggest coming with just over 10 seconds remaining in regulation to send the game into a free period with both teams knotted at 78 after 40 minutes of play. 

Hawai’i was on a mission on both ends of the floor in overtime, refusing to let an important upset win at home slip away like the program had seen a few times since conference play began as the ‘Bows never trailed in the extra time on the way to a massive 94-86 victory. 

UC San Diego was led by Tait-Jones Aniwaniwa’s 24 points and six rebounds as the UH-Hilo transfer continues to enjoy a nice season after jumping from the Division 2 level. Leading scorer and Big West Player of the Year candidate Bryce Pope was held to his second-lowest scoring output of the season, chipping in 10 points on 5-of-16 shooting from the floor as UH’s Noel Coleman pestered him all evening. 

Hawai’i was led by Justin McKoy’s big night as the UNC transfer matched his season-high in points, totaling 22 points while taking care of business at the charity stripe (9-of-11 FT) and snatching nine rebounds in the win. Noel Coleman added 16 points on efficient shooting while producing some of the biggest baskets of the night late in regulation and overtime. 

“I think Noel Coleman had his best game in a Rainbow Warrior uniform,” Hawai’i head coach Eran Ganot proudly stated postgame. “When you talk about his offense today, especially in big moments late, hit big shots early when we were struggling and defending maybe a Big West Player of the Year candidate in Bryce Pope [so well] … that’s no easy task.” 

In all, six different Rainbow Warriors finished in double-digits as the ‘Bows pieced together a win down two important rotation pieces.

The Rainbow Warriors will have a quick turnaround, taking the hardwood in Mānoa once again on Saturday night when Hawai’i hosts another top-notch Big West squad in UC Davis for the first time this season. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. HT.