Warriors face this season’s first ‘road test’ Friday versus Texas-Rio Grande Valley

Senior center and co-captain Bernardo da Silva scored eight points, grabbed seven rebounds, made two steals and had one assist in 17 minutes Tuesday against Northern Arizona. (Matt Osumi photo)

In this non-conventional start to the 2023-24 season, the University of Hawai’i men’s basketball team now finds itself on a first “road trip” in a California desert resort area known more for golf courses, spas and the Coachella Music and Arts Festival.

But on this Thanksgiving weekend, Greater Palm Springs is the home of the inaugural Acrisure Invitational, with Friday’s first game featuring the Warriors (3-0) against Texas-Rio Grande Valley (2-3) at 3 p.m. (Hawai’i time). The game will not be televised, but will be broadcast live via radio on CBS 1500AM.

UH fans might remember Texas-Rio Grande Valley by its former name, Texas-Pan American. The Vaqueros played the Warriors seven times under that label, the last time in 2000.

This year Texas-Rio Grande has notched victories over NAIA members Southwestern Adventist and North American University, with losses at South Dakota (100-79), TCU (88-55) and Oklahoma (90-66).

Junior guard Sherman Brashear scored 20 points — including a career-high six 3-pointers — and senior forward Ahren Freeman added 16 points, eight rebounds and two blocks in the win over North American on Monday. Freshman guard J.J. Howard scored 14 points and junior guard Elijah Elliott contributed 13 points, five boards and four assists.

UH, meanwhile, is coming off an up-and-down 70-61 home win over Northern Arizona on Tuesday. The Warriors were down briefly, 25-21, late in the first half but recovered quickly and led 35-29 at halftime before pulling away late thanks to a 12-2 run.

Among the bright spots was the breakout performances of starting wing Matthue Cotton, backup center Mor Seck and reserve guard Juan Munoz. Cotton and Munoz each scored 10 points, and Seck scored seven points.

“I thought when they took the lead, I credit our guys for locking in,” Hawai’i coach Eran Ganot said. “We hit some big 3’s — Juan, Juan, and then Matt, and that separated things for us. (But) the big change, the big dynamic for us was Mor Seck’s entrance into the game at that time, because we were not physical, we were not tough enough, we were not finishing around the rim, we were not strong around the ball, and we were not protecting the rim. (But) he did all of that.”

The next test will be playing away from the islands for the first time this season, and away from the mostly familiar towns and venues in the Big West Conference.

“We don’t have the crowd behind us (this weekend), but I have the utmost belief in our guys,” said Munoz, who has missed the past two seasons due to injuries. “Something that we want to be is road Warriors, and put on a good performance. Travel is different, and I haven’t traveled (during the season) for a long time, so I’ve got to do some different things to keep myself at 100 percent. But I know the training staff will help me out with that.”

Ganot said the goal is to take “next steps” with each game, and playing well on the road is one of those strides the Warriors need to take.

“I think this is a good test for us, we did a good job taking care of home court, we’re better today than we were going into these (past) three games,” Ganot said. “A big part of doing well on the road is us traveling well, professionally, putting ourselves in a good position. So we’re excited to make that next step … it’s a good opportunity for us.”

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