Warriors lose Seck, then fall to UCSB, 78-61

Two of college basketball’s best players from Belgium — UC Santa Barbara’s Ajay Mitchell, left, and Hawai’i’s Noel Coleman, right — faced off in Thursday’s Big West Conference showdown in SimpliFi Arena at the Stan Sheriff Center. (Chris Kadooka photo)

An already challenging season suddenly got a lot more daunting for the Hawai’i men’s basketball team Thursday, when they first learned that backup center Mor Seck will be lost for the year due to a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered in Tuesday’s practice.

Later in the evening, a stunned crowd of 2,721 in SimpliFi Arena at the Stan Sheriff Center watched UC Santa Barbara use a shocking 26-0 run in the first half to blow past the Warriors, 78-61. Reigning Big West Player of the Year Ajay Mitchell scored a game-high 25 points with six assists, four rebounds and two steals, Yohan Traore added 20 points and eight rebounds and Josh Pierre-Louis contributed 14 points, 10 boards, three assists and two steals to help the Gauchos improve to 12-7 overall and 5-4 in league play.

Noel Coleman tallied 19 points, Bernardo da Silva added 13 points and Juan Munoz chipped in with 12 points and four steals for UH, which dropped its third straight game and fell to 10-10, 2-6. After starting the season at 7-1, the Warriors have now lost nine of their past 12 outings, including six of their past seven at home. UH is also now in 10th place out of 11 in the Big West standings.

Thursday’s loss basically came down to a miserable 11-minute stanza that saw UCSB turn a 7-2 deficit into a 28-7 lead that proved too tough to overcome.

“That (26-0) stretch, in a year of some bad offensive stretches … was the most disappointing, we deserved what we got,” Warriors coach Eran Ganot said. “I appreciate the guys making up a 10-point differential to end the first half, and the second half was kind of back-and-forth for the most part, a pretty close game. But you can’t spot anybody that many points and that kind of differential.”

Hawai’i missed 15 shots in a row during that drought, which also saw Mitchell, Traore and Pierre-Louis slice and dice through a sometimes porous Warriors defense, scoring mostly in and around the paint. UH’s goal of making Mitchell uncomfortable and work hard for tough shots never really materialized.

“(Mitchell) backed us down on the first possession — that’s setting the tone,” Ganot said. “First possession, he just took it right to the rim and said, ‘I’m gonna be the more physical player tonight.’ … Even when we’ve struggled over the years, rarely do people get too comfortable because defensively we’ve been there, (and) rebounding we’ve been there. Over the course of the year we’ve been good defensively, but you are who you are today, you are who you are in the most recent of stretches.”

After JoVon McClanahan finally broke the string with a baseline jumper at the 6:41 mark before halftime, the Gauchos stretched the lead to 32-9 on Mitchell’s driving layup off a steal 40 seconds later. Coleman then answered with a 3-pointer to ignite an 18-9 surge capped by Munoz’s layup to close it to 41-27 with 12 seconds remaining in the first half.

Ben Shtolzberg then scored on a layup while falling to the ground with three seconds left to make it 43-27 at the break.

The Warriors could not get closer than 16 points in the second half.

“Plain and simple, we just gotta get better,” Munoz said. “I don’t think we handled that well, while they were on that (26-0) run. We started transitioning into one-on-one basketball, and it didn’t work out for us. We got some good shots, but I thought Santa Barbara was sharing the ball, they were getting whatever they wanted down in the paint. I think we gotta be better as a collective there, just playing as a team and locking down.”

Ultimately, Ganot said UCSB showed more of what Hawai’i is striving for.

“Santa Barbara was the special team tonight,” Ganot said. “We had some moments, we have potential. We aren’t there, clearly. I’ll always believe the potential is still there, and (will) work towards that, but we haven’t been that. So you give credit to the teams that are doing that.”

Big West Standings

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

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