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Dave Reardon: Hawaii relied heavily on senior guile, leadership

Mar. 10—By the time Hawaii and Cal State Bakersfield tipped off at 7 :05 p.m. Saturday, all the Big West results that mattered were already in.

By the time Hawaii and Cal State Bakersfield tipped off at 7 :05 p.m. Saturday, all the Big West results that mattered were already in.

Win or lose, UH would be assured a first-round bye in the upcoming conference tournament.

But of course it mattered, especially to the 4, 877 fans who made their way through the turnstiles—this was senior night for seven Rainbow Warriors. I'm including Bobby Curran, a UH graduate who handled radio play-by-play for his alma mater since the 1980s and called his last game Saturday.

It only seems like some of the seniors on the roster have been here as long—and two of the biggest contributors to a 74-57 rout of the Roadrunners, Justin McKoy and Juan Munoz, played just one season for Hawaii.

McKoy showed early why he was good enough for North Carolina, scoring 17 of his 23 in the first half.

UH dominated the last five minutes of the first half and first five of the second half to build a 20-point lead. but anyone who saw the Warriors nearly blow a late 13-point lead Wednesday night before beating Cal State Northridge wasn't counting this as a W yet. Indeed, Bakersfield cut it to 57-52 with nine minutes left, as UH's shooting went frigid.

One reason Hawaii came into this one winning eight of its previous 11 was Bernardo da Silva staying out of foul trouble. But the Warriors post got called for his fourth with a little less than six minutes left, and the Roadrunners still in striking distance at 61-52. But two missed free throws, and a pair made by McKoy on the other end put UH's lead back to double-digits and started a strong finish for the home team.

McKoy was 10-for-10 from the line, including four key throws in the closing minutes. Still, no one was completely sure of the outcome until Noel Coleman's corner bomb around the two-minute mark. Coleman, another of the seniors, scored 18.

This is the time of year you especially hope all that senior experience and leadership comes to the forefront.

Going into Saturday's game, UH's six seniors had combined for the vast majority of this season's starts (88 %), points (79 %), assists (77 %), minutes (71 %) and rebounds (64 %).

Hawaii was a team left for dead less than two months ago. It has now won nine of its last 12 games—and finished over.500 in the conference regular season—largely thanks to the seniors.

There will still be many doubters, though : In the Big West Tournament, UH has won just one and lost six games since 2017. The closest they've gotten to the conference's lone NCAA bid was a 58-46 semifinal loss to Cal State Fullerton two years ago.

The Warriors hope history doesn't repeat itself—unless you go back one more year, to 2016, when UH won the Big West in coach Eran Ganot's first season, and didn't stop there, also securing the program's first NCAA Tournament win.

That's probably asking too much of this team that severely lacks front-court depth.

The Warriors do, though, have a shooter's chance. And, with three wins in a row they've got momentum, too.

How long they can keep it is anyone's guess.