Hawai’i’s Big West free-fall continues after loss to Mitchell, UC Santa Barbara

Hawai’i’s Big West free-fall continues after loss to Mitchell, UC Santa Barbara

UCSB guard Ajay Mitchell misses a free throw during the Gauchos’ 78-61 win over Hawai’i.

Hawai’i’s Big West free-fall continues after loss to Mitchell, UC Santa Barbara

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED JAN 25, 2024

HONOLULU — Mor injury, more problems. 

After announcing earlier in the day that 7-foot-1 sophomore center Mor Seck would miss the remainder of the 2023-24 season after suffering an ACL injury to his left knee in practice Tuesday, the Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors (10-10, 2-6 Big West) fell once again Thursday night at home as defending-conference champion UC Santa Barbara (12-7, 5-4 Big West) won for the fourth straight time against UH, 78-61, inside SimpliFi Arena at Stan Sheriff Center. 

Hawai’i opened the evening strong with another new starting lineup, this time the three-guard lineup that found success in the second half of the UC San Diego loss last Saturday, grabbing a five-point advantage to the delight of fans. 

It was the last smile for a while. 

Hawai’i’s offense, one that has been inconsistent for much of the year, went lifeless for the next nine-plus minutes of action as the Gauchos rattled off an incredible 26-0 run to take full control, 28-7, with 7:40 left in the first half. JoVon McClanahan would snap the scoreless streak for Hawai’i with a late-shot clock pull-up on the baseline as the ‘Bows rattled off ten points over the next three minutes to keep the game within 20 with four minutes remaining before half, 36-17. 

The Rainbow Warriors closed the half strong offensively, making seven of their final eight attempts but continuing to see struggles stacking defensive stops as Hawai’i entered the locker room trailing, 43-27. 

Defending Big West Player of the Year Ajay Mitchell showed off his NBA-pedigree all evening, continuing the performance into the beginning of the second half with the first six points out of the locker rooms before fellow Belgian Noel Coleman knocked home a triple to get Hawai’i started once again. 

The team stabilized from there, trading baskets with USCB to keep the margin around 18-20 as time wound down in the ‘Bows sixth loss in eight tries in Big West play, eventually falling 78-61. 

UCSB’s Mitchell dropped home 25 points and added six assists as he imposed his will on the Hawai’i defense all night. Fellow backcourt mainstay Josh Pierre-Louis added a double-double, posting 10 rebounds to go along with his 14 points while Yohan Traore dominated inside en route to 20 points on 8-for-12 shooting. The Gauchos dominated inside all game long, outscoring UH in the painted area, 54-30, while winning the rebounding battle, 33-21, to help spotlight the loss of Seck for Hawai’i.

UH was led by Noel Coleman’s 19 points as one of three starters to finish in double figures, along with forward Bernardo de Silva’s 13 points and Juan Munoz’s dozen. The other seven Rainbow Warriors that saw time combined for 17 total points on 6-of-24 shooting as the offense struggled through multiple extended droughts throughout the night. 

Hawai’i will host Cal Poly on Saturday, January 27 inside SimpliFi Arena at Stan Sheriff Center with tip-off scheduled for 7:00 p.m. HT as they face an increasingly-steeper hill to climb out of the cellar.