UC Irvine’s tough ‘D’ denies Warriors, 60-50

UH center Bernardo da Silva had game-highs of 17 points and 14 rebounds against UCI on Thursday, but the Warriors struggled from outside, making only 3 of 17 shots from 3-point range. (Chris Kadooka photo)

Playing the type of game the University of Hawai’i is yearning for itself, visiting UC Irvine rode a tight defense and efficient inside-out offense Thursday night to deny the Warriors, 60-50, in Big West Conference men’s basketball action.

A hopeful and supportive crowd of 2,994 in SimpliFi Arena at the Stan Sheriff Center watched clutch point guard Pierre Crockrell II score a team-high 16 points with three assists and two rebounds to help the Anteaters improve to 12-5 overall and 5-0 in league play. Senior center Bernardo da Silva finished with a game-high 17 points and 14 boards with two blocks to lead UH, which fell to 9-7, 1-3.

The Warriors actually led, 15-13, just over nine minutes into the game, but Andre Henry put back his own miss after a blocked shot to ignite a stunning 20-3 run capped by Crockrell’s jumper at the three-minute mark to put UC Irvine ahead, 33-18. Only a jumper from the left wing by Justin McKoy with 17 seconds remaining saved Hawai’i from finishing the half under 20 points, and the 33-20 deficit at intermission proved too much to overcome.

Juan Munoz drained a 27-footer at the shot clock buzzer to cap a 16-6 run and close it to 48-45 with 8:18 left in the second half, but Carter Welling answered with a hook shot to spark a 12-1 surge capped by Crockrell’s dagger pull-up jumper that pushed the lead the 60-46 with 1:51 remaining.

“Our defense and rebounding gave us a chance, but our offense is killing us right now,” Warriors coach Eran Ganot said. “I think what causes that is our competitive spirit, and I do think when we hit a wall, we go on our own, and I and we need to do better with that. It happens over and over again.

“We’re not far off, as you can tell,” Ganot said, “but we’re not breaking through, either.”

Shortly after the Anteaters grabbed the lead midway through the first half, UCI coach Russell Turner turned to his bench and told the players, “From here on out, it’s about our defense! It’s all about our defense, from here on out!!”

That proved to be prophetic, as UH managed only two field goals in the final 11 minutes of the half.

“We just kind of got out of rhythm a little bit,” da Silva said.

The first half numbers told a dismal story, as the Warriors went 0 for 5 from 3-point range and converted just two of eight free throw attempts. They committed eight turnovers, which the Anteaters converted into nine points. UC Irvine’s bench also outscored Hawai’i’s reserves, 12-2.

“We certainly wanted to play inside-out, so we established Bernardo early, and we wanted to continue to get to Justin inside, ” Ganot said. “And then our penetration needs to help us. We missed some open 3’s. We didn’t get to the line much, and we didn’t convert when we did. That was a big difference in the game, as well.”

The second half began much the same way, with Henry swishing a 3-pointer from the left wing to push the lead to 38-24 two minutes in, but then Ryan Rapp answered with a 3 from beyond the top of the key about a minute later to start the Warriors on their crawl back to striking distance.

“We just had to play for one another,” said Munoz, a reserve guard who scored all nine of his points after halftime. “We kind of shot ourselves in the foot in the first half not doing that, but I felt like we picked it up in the second half. We just need to do it for 40 minutes, not 20.”

Crockrell, a 6-foot senior, was especially clutch down the stretch by hitting three straight pull-up jumpers to keep UH at bay.

“He’s got his spots — he’s an elite mid-range pull-up guy,” Ganot said. “We had done a good job with him in the past because we limited his assists, make him make plays. (Tonight) he took advantage of that in some ways … he got comfortable early, and then stayed consistent throughout. He understands his job is to run a high-level offense. He doesn’t care if it’s him making plays (for others), or at times he has to take it.”

As for the Warriors, Ganot said he is not pushing the panic button despite a rare four-game home losing streak.

“I think we’re gonna keep developing the group we have and putting them in better positions,” Ganot said. “It’s there with this group, we gotta work with them. I gotta do a better job, there’s no lack of faith, no pointing fingers. It starts with me, we own it, we don’t go crazy. There are teams who have struggles and they go crazy. We’re not going to do that. We’re gonna keep working.”

Hawai’i now faces another quick turnaround, with UC Riverside (7-10, 2-3) visiting SimpliFi Arena at 7 p.m. Saturday.

Munoz said the team understands the challenge, and is up to it.

“I think we have the pieces to be a special team, we just gotta figure out what we’re doing wrong and fix it,” Munoz said. “Once we do, I think we’ll definitely be on the right track.”


  1. UC Irvine (5-0)
  2. UC San Diego (4-0)
  3. UC Davis (4-1)
  4. Cal State Northridge (3-1)
  5. Long Beach State (3-2)
  6. UC Santa Barbara (2-3)
  7. UC Riverside (2-3)
  8. Cal State Fullerton (1-3)
  9. HAWAI’I (1-3)
  10. Cal State Bakersfield (0-4)
  11. Cal Poly San Luis Obispo (0-5)

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