Warriors stay hot and soar past HPU, 78-53

Senior guard Juan Munoz had another big shooting night Sunday, scoring a team-high 15 points off the bench to help UH blow past HPU, 78-53. (Photo by Chris Kadooka)

A week between games and preparing for Final Exams did not cool off the University of Hawai’i men’s basketball team’s shooting touch, as the Warriors stayed hot and soared past visiting crosstown rival Hawai’i Pacific on Sunday, 78-53.

An entertained and appreciative crowd of 2,021 in SimpliFi Arena at the Stan Sheriff Center watched Juan Munoz score a team-high 15 points off the bench to help the Warriors improve to 7-1 heading into this Sunday’s showdown against former Western Athletic Conference rival Nevada (7-1). Diggie Winbush scored 18 points to lead the Sharks, for whom the game only counts as an exhibition.

For Hawai’i, the game definitely counted, and not just for the won-loss record. The Warriors jumped out to a 13-4 lead in the first seven minutes, only to watch HPU rally to tie it at 20-20, and then UH responded with a 12-0 run and did not allow the Sharks to get closer than seven points the rest of the way.

“(I’m) pleased with the win, pleased with the way the guys came out of the gates, the way they finished the half and it bled into the second half,” Warriors coach Eran Ganot said. “Obviously disappointed in that stretch when we were up eight or 10 (and lost the lead), but credit HPU. We have a lot of respect for the programs here in Hawai’i — the coaches, the staffs, the student-athletes. We were ready to go, but they came back and fought back, and that’s the mark of a great team.

“Credit them, they’re going to have a great year.”

Noel Coleman added 14 points — putting him over 1,000 for his career at UH and San Diego — and fellow senior co-captain Bernardo da Silva contributed 13 points, five rebounds and four assists for the Warriors.

But for the second straight Sunday, it was Munoz who lit up the scoreboard and the fans’ energy level with his marksmanship from long range. After hitting on all five of his 3-point attempts in the first half of the Dec. 3 victory over Central Arkansas, Munoz kept going and swished his first three shots from beyond the arc in Sunday’s first half.

“Just shooting the ball with confidence helps a lot,” said Munoz, who finished 6-for-7 from the field overall. “I mean, I shoot those shots almost every day, so just making it translate to the game, shooting with confidence … I’m just doing whatever the team needs, if they need me to go out there and play defense, if they need me to go out there and set the team up, or help with 3’s … that’s what I would do.”

Justin McKoy hit a 3 from the right wing three minutes into the game to ignite a 9-1 run that helped the Warriors take a 13-4 lead, but the Sharks responded with a 16-7 run capped by Charlie Weber’s layup to tie it at 20-20 with 8:37 remaining in the first half.

Munoz then swished a 3-pointer to start that 12-0 run culminating in his layup off da Silva’s assist to make it 32-20 about three minutes later. That lead pretty much held as Hawai’i was up, 40-28, at halftime.

The Warriors then used a stunning 16-4 run early in the second half to push the lead to 56-32, on Coleman’s 3-pointer from the right wing just over five minutes into the period. That basket also pushed Coleman’s career point total to 1,001, including points scored his freshman season at San Diego.

“I’m just grateful for Hawai’i and the school, the coaching staff for giving me the opportunity in the first place,” Coleman said. “It’s a big milestone for me personally, but I just want to keep building with the team.”

Ganot said that “team first” approach embodies Coleman and serves him well.

“You can tell a lot about a kid by how he plays, too, and he’s a special young man,” Ganot said. “He’s a hard worker, he’s a competitor, a ‘slient assasin’ with a huge heart. You’re just happy for him … 1,000 points, in today’s day and age … sticking with it. Now being a guy who is targeted, and handling that. I know there was a nice hand (applause) for him (after the game) because of the accomplishment, but everything he embodies makes it that much more special.

“We’re really proud of him, appreciative of him … It’s a special moment.”

As a team, the Warriors shot 52.5 percent (32 for 61) from the field, including 38.1 percent (8 for 21) from 3-point range.

“The challenge for us this time of year is you gotta navigate Finals Week, which we have (Monday), you gotta navigate the holidays and you gotta navigate the game coming up — in our case Nevada,” Ganot said. “I think we have good maturity and leadership, and we’ll do that. We have to get better, we have to find a way to get better as we navigate this period.”

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