Warriors seek to snap home skid versus UCR

Reserve guard Juan Munoz scored all nine of his points in the second half of Thursday’s 60-50 loss to UC Irvine, but hopes UH does better overall in Saturday’s home game vs. UC Riverside. (Matt Osumi photo)

There really is no such thing as a “must-win” college basketball game in mid-January … but Hawai’i’s home showdown against UC Riverside on Saturday might come close.

Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. in SimpliFi Arena at the Stan Sheriff Center, where the Warriors have lost four straight games.

The Big West Conference contest will be televised live statewide on Spectrum Hawai’i Channel 12, and broadcast live via radio on ESPN Honolulu 1420AM.

UH, which began the season at 7-1, is now 9-7 overall and 1-3 in league play. That puts the Warriors in ninth place out of 11 teams, with a road trip to Long Beach State and UC San Diego looming next week.

“It’s disappointing, it’s hard to go through,” Hawai’i coach Eran Ganot said. “But there needs to eventually be a breakthrough … these guys have never wavered. I expect them to handle their business, come to work and stay together. We have work to do. You have to combine the faith and conviction with doing something. You gotta go get it.”

History has shown that UC Riverside (7-10, 2-3) won’t make it easy, either.

Although the Highlanders are 0-8 on the road this season, they have won five of their past six visits to Manoa, including a 54-52 victory last February.

In that last meeting, the Warriors were held to 38.5 percent shooting from the field, including 4-for-15 (26.7 percent) from 3-point range. In Thursday’s loss to UC Irvine, UH shot 36.8 percent from the field, including 3 for 17 (17.6 percent) from beyond the arc.

Ganot said the Warriors can try to counter that perimeter pressure by making the Highlanders pay for their aggressiveness.

“I think that’s one of things you always want to do,” Ganot said. “If people are gonna take us off the three, use the way they spread the floor for each other.

“The sooner we figure it out, the better. Part of it is we’re going to be looking for different combinations, and more consistency and competitive spirit and leadership … playing more like who we actually are. I understand the intent to get us back in the game on our own (individually), (but) that has never worked.”

Defensively, UC Riverside presents challenges both inside and out. The Highlanders are coming off a 71-56 home win against Cal Poly San Luis Obispo on Thursday. Sophomore guard Isaiah Moses led the way with 15 points, six rebounds and three assists, freshman forward Kaleb Smith added 14 points and nine boards off the bench and senior forward Kyle Owens contributed 10 points, 10 rebounds and two assists.

Hawai’i guard Juan Moniz said the Warriors showed they can play solid defense Thursday against UCI.

“I thought defensively we were doing pretty well — anytime you hold a team to 60 points is pretty good,” Munoz said. “I think our defense war right there, minus some lapses. Every team in the Big West is different, so we’re going to look at the film and see how we can attack them on the offensive and defensive end.”

Offensively, Ganot again said the biggest challenge might be maintaining what he calls the Warriors’ “competitive spirit,” especially when the shots are not falling like on Thursday. And he did not rule out lineup changes, if that is what it takes to provide a needed spark.

“In all honesty, you feel like your searching,” Ganot said. “I do think we’ve had more of the blank stares when those (scoring droughts) happen, and it’s hard because I feel like we get a little sad and feel sorry for ourselves, and as we all know, that’s never worked … and there’s been guys who just say, ‘Hey get tough, grind through, fight through.’

“That’s where I maybe gotta find a different combination that will have that competitive spirit.”

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