Warriors’ climb gets steeper versus Nevada

Hawai’i senior forward Justin McKoy has delivered steady production in his first season at Manoa, averaging 11.5 points and a team-high 6.9 rebounds per game after transferring from North Carolina. (Chris Kadooka photo)

The University of Nevada campus in Reno sits up high in the Sierras, near snow-filled mountains with challenging slopes for adventurous skiers and snowboarders alike.

For the Hawai’i men’s basketball team, Nevada represents a steeper incline compared to recent home opponents Hawai’i Pacific, Central Arkansas, Northern Arizona, Niagara and UH-Hilo. The Wolf Pack is off to a very fast start coming off an NCAA Tournament season and will put a stellar 8-1 record on the line at 5 p.m. Sunday against the Warriors (7-1) in SimpliFi Arena at the Stan Sheriff Center. The nonconference showdown will be televised live statewide on Spectrum Hawai’i Channel 12 and broadcast live via radio on ESPN Honolulu 1420AM.

UH is off to its best start since the NCAA Tournament season of 2015-16, but Nevada certainly looks to be the Warriors’ biggest home test to date.

“It’s gonna be a heckuva challenge, it’ll take us all to get it done, so we’ll need our fans,” Hawai’i coach Eran Ganot said. “They have the ingredients of great teams — they have experience, they have size. They’ve been one of the better teams in the country the past couple years in sharing the ball, getting to the free throw line. They have one of the most experienced backcourts in the country, because their two starting guards are fifth-year guys at this level, and maybe their third guard, as well. And they have significant size across the board.

“But that’s what you want, a great challenge that will prepare us for the Diamond Head (Classic) and league play. They’re well-coached, with Steve Alford there … their defensive numbers are really good and their offense can be potent. You can see why they had a good year last year and expect to have a good year (again).”

The Wolf Pack is coming off a 72-55 home victory over Weber State, in which Nevada shot 57.1 percent from the field, including 40.9 percent from 3-point range. Defensively, the Wolf Pack held the Wildcats to 40.4 percent shooting from the field.

Senior guard Kenan Blackshear led Nevada with 15 points, five rebounds, five assists and two steals. Fellow senior guard Jarod Lucas added 13 points, going 3-for-5 from beyond the arc, to go along with two rebounds, two assists and two steals. Lucas has reached double figure scoring in all nine games this season.

Sophomore post Nick Davidson scored 11 points, grabbed five boards, blocked three shots and had three assists. Forward K.J. Hynes added 10 points on 4-for-4 shooting from the field.

And another forward, senior Tre Coleman, scored 10 points with four assists and four steals. Nevada scored 16 points off of 15 Weber State turnovers.

“I think they’re a great team, they’ve made a lot of noise in the past, I’m looking forward to it,” said Warriors senior forward Justin McKoy, a transfer from North Carolina who is averaging 11.5 points and a team-high 6.9 rebounds per game. “I know they have some good forwards for us to match up against, it’ll be a good challenge for us. Like I tell the guys, we’re here to protect home (court), we don’t want to lose a game at home. So we’re going to try to keep that together.”

UH is coming off a home victory last Sunday over Hawai’i Pacific, in which guards Juan Munoz and Noel Coleman scored 15 and 14 points, respectively. Center Bernardo da’ Silva added 13 points, five rebounds and four assists. Ganot said that while Nevada definitely presents a big challenge, the Warriors aim for a consistent high level of all-around play, regardless of the opponent.

“Our whole deal has been, we prepare to play the best,” Ganot said. “So that’s why our practices have been battles, ‘iron sharpens iron,’ guys challenge each other. We know where we’re trying to get to. We’re constantly challenging our habits, our nature, to get to where we want to be consistently and not have to ‘rally up’ for a certain team. So we ‘respect all, fear none.’ That’s been our approach.”

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