Warriors hit the Big West road at Bakersfield

Hawai’i’ senior point guard JoVon McClanahan sliced through the Cal State Fullerton defense for this layup last Saturday, and will lead the Warriors into their Big West road opener at Cal State Bakersfield on Thursday. (Chris Kadooka photo)

Bakersfield, Calif., can be a tough place to describe: It’s not near Los Angeles, and not near the Bay Area. It’s definitely not near the Central Coast. It lies in the southernmost end of the Central Valley, but is over 100 miles from the heart of it, in Fresno.

But it is in this remote outpost that the University of Hawai’i men’s basketball team will try to find itself at 5 p.m. (Hawai’i time) versus Cal State Bakersfield in the Warriors’ first Big West Conference road game of the season.

The game can be viewed via livestream on ESPN+, and will be broadcast live via radio on ESPN Honolulu 1420AM.

UH (8-5, 0-1 Big West) is trying to snap a three-game losing streak coming off a heart-breaking 63-61 overtime home loss to Cal State Fullerton last Saturday. The Roadrunners (5-8, 0-2) have lost two straight and are coming off a 75-56 home loss to UC Irvine.

The Warriors have been bitten by the turnover bug in their past two defeats, committing 19 in a loss to Texas Christian on Dec. 24 and 17 last Saturday. Fullerton scored 19 points off of those turnovers, something Hawai’i knows it can ill afford on Thursday.

“Those are anomaly plays that you just can’t have, especially late-game,” said Warriors point guard JoVon McClanahan. “It’s really tough to say (why), I don’t think anybody is wanting to do that in that moment, of course. But it is what it is, it’s basketball, and that’s where we’ve got to be better. I think we’re making the wrong mistakes at the wrong time.”

UH coach Eran Ganot said the Warriors’ ability to learn from those mistakes and fix them will be tested on Thursday.

“The game is very humbling — you can have veteran groups that have that or don’t have that, or new guys who have that or don’t have that,” Ganot said. “If we use it right, we’re better today than we were earlier in the year or a week or two ago. But if we want to do what we want to do, we can’t let some things go against us and let that bleed into what’s next.

“So that’s the challenge that every group is going through at different times of the year, and we’re going through it now.”

Cal State Bakersfield presents a different type of challenge in terms of physicality and being disruptive on defense.

The Roadrunners also feature point guard Kaleb Higgins, who scored a team-high 18 points with four rebounds in the loss to UC Irvine. Forward Ugnius Jarusevicius, a 6-foot-10, 220-pound sophomore, scored 12 points with five boards and forward Fidelis Okereke (6-6, 260) added 10 points and 10 rebounds.

“The physicality will be there, the offensive rebounds will be there, they’ll play a lot of their depth, they’re at home … they brought the big kid from (Cal State) Northridge, who is as physical as anybody in our league,” Ganot said. “There’s going to be a lot of battles. The hope is that we’ve been through enough of them that there’ll be a breakthrough, and that’s our plan.”

For the Warriors, center Bernardo da Silva scored 15 points and grabbed 10 rebounds last Saturday, and Justin McKoy added 12 points and eight rebounds.

But another factor was free throws — Hawai’i made just 12 of 21 attempts (57.1 percent) from the line. By comparison, Cal State Bakersfield shot 68.2 percent (15 of 22) from the charity stripe on Saturday.

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