First-place UC Irvine plays host to Warriors

Junior guard Ryan Rapp scored 11 points and grabbed five rebounds off the bench Thursday to help Hawai’i defeat Cal State Fullerton, 76-68, for its second Big West Conference road victory of the season. (Chris Kadooka file photo)

UC Irvine’s Bren Events Center is only about 20 miles south of Titan Gym at Cal State Fullerton, usually just a half-hour drive down the 57 and 55 freeways.

But for the University of Hawai’i men’s basketball team, the journey looms as a rough road ahead and the destination promises to be a not-so-friendly confine as the Big West Conference’s first-place team, UCI, awaits.

Tipoff for Saturday’s showdown is set for 5 p.m. Hawai’i time, and the game will be available for viewing via livestream on ESPN + and broadcast live via radio on ESPN 1420AM.

The Warriors (12-10 overall, 4-6 Big West) are coming off an impressive 76-68 victory at Cal State Fullerton on Thursday, in which they led for all but the first three minutes. UC Irvine is riding a three-game winning streak including a 73-59 victory at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo last Saturday.

The Anteaters are unbeaten (8-0) at home this season.

At Cal Poly, freshman guard Derin Saran led the way with 17 points and junior forward Devin Tillis added 15 points and nine rebounds.

In a 60-50 win at Hawai’i on Jan. 11, UC Irvine held the Warriors to 36.8 shooting (21 of 57) from the field, including just 17.6 percent (3 for 17) from 3-point range.

“It’s a long year, it’s a journey, it’s a grind,” UH coach Eran Ganot said in Thursday’s postgame radio interview. “We understand the reality of the situation we put ourselves in, (but) there’s no home run play we can do to get it back. It’s easy to say, hard to do, but we gotta start having good practices and put some good games together and build off of it.

“We gotta just continue to improve and give ourselves a chance.”

Big West Standings

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

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