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Hawaii falls again on road, losing to UC San Diego

Jan. 21—The Hawaii basketball team exhausted its allotment of comebacks in falling to UC San Diego 67-61 in La Jolla, Calif.

A Saturday matinee crowd of 1,558 in LionTree Arena saw the Tritons continue their surprise season to improve to 12-7 overall and 6-1 in the Big West. The 'Bows fell to 10-9 and 2-5 in losing both games of this road trip.

In the final season of a four-year transition to Division I, the Tritons are not eligible to compete in the postseason Big West Tournament in March. But they have impressed on their home court, where they have won eight of nine times this season.

On Saturday, the Tritons parlayed 20 UH turnovers, including 11 on steals, into 26 points. The 'Bows managed seven points off the Tritons' 10 turnovers.

"Twenty turnovers, that's hard to overcome that," UH coach Eran Ganot said. "That's something that's reared its ugly head this year."

The 'Bows relied exclusively on outside shooting early, taking a 15-11 lead with five 3s. Their first 2-point basket came on JoVon McClanahan's jumper with 9:35 remaining in the half.

Led by Bryce Pope's creative scoring and Aniwaniwa Tait-Jones' hustle plays, the Tritons closed the first half with a 19-2 run to expand their lead to 35-26 at the intermission.

"That stretch was a big killer for us," Ganot said.

The 'Bows scored 14 of the first 17 points of the second half to take a 40-38 lead. But UCSD's Tyler McGhie scored the next six points — on a 3, a free throw and a hook shot — and the Tritons would not trail again.

The 'Bows cut a nine-point deficit to 59-55 and, with 1:48 to play, 61-57 on Justin McKoy's driving layup.

But Pope padded the margin with a floating jump shot. Pope, who drew three fouls in the final 30 seconds, scored the Tritons' final six points.

It was a disappointing setback for the 'Bows, who fell into an eighth-place tie with Cal State Fullerton.

"We missed some open looks — that affected us at both ends," Ganot said. "Give them credit. ...We're in the struggle. We're going to keep working, keep fighting. I thought there were some things we're still learning about our team, which is ridiculous in January. But that's where we're at. We found some things this week we'll try to build off of."

The 'Bows altered the starting lineup, with Juan Munoz making his first UH start. Munoz, an eighth-year senior, did not play the previous two seasons because of injuries. But Munoz accounted for the 'Bows' first nine points when he hit three 3s. Munoz finished with 21 points on 7-for-12 shooting, including 5-for-8 from behind the arc. Munoz, who began his college career at Longwood, also reached the 1,000-point milestone.

"I thought he deserved to start, we started him, and he gave us a good start both halves," Ganot said. "It was good to see. Something to build off."

With UCSD forward Francis Nwaokorie planted in the low post, the 'Bows relied heavily on outside shooting in the first half. While that opened 3-point opportunities, it also resulted in drawing few fouls on drives. The 'Bows did not attempt a free throw in the first half, and finished 6-for-10 from the line. The Tritons hit 14 free throws, including all six attempts in the first half.

McGhie finished with 14 points and Tait-Jones, who transferred from Hawaii Hilo, contributed 13. UCSD point guard Hayden Gray had four steals.