Men's Basketball -
Men's Basketball

'Bows Earn Historic NCAA Tourney Win; 77-66 Over Cal

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Courtesy of Hawai'i Athletics

The No. 13-seeded University of Hawai'i Rainbow Warriors basketball squad earned its program-record 28th win, gutting out a tense second half over fourth-seed Californa, 77-66, Friday afternoon in the opening round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Championships at the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena.

The win marked the program's first NCAA Tournament victory as the Rainbow Warriors (28-5) advance to the second round, Sunday, against fifth-seeded Maryland, who escaped an upset bid by South Dakota State. UH was 0-4 in four previous appearances before Friday's historic win, which featured a pro-UH crowd including many fans of other schools pulling for the upset along with the several hundred Hawai'i fans in attendance.

Senior guard Quincy Smith scored a career-high 19 points, including many clutch takes to the basket, to lead Hawai'i, who was making its first appearance in the Big Dance since 2002. Fellow senior guard Roderick Bobbitt added 17 points while forward Stefan Jankovic chipped in with 16 points despite being plagued with foul trouble.

In fact, the 'Bows played most of the game in foul trouble as five players picked up two fouls before the half and Jankovic, guard Aaron Valdes, and forward Sai Tummala picked up their fourth fouls midway in the second period.

Cal's Jorden Matthews scored a game-high 23 points as the Golden Bears close out their season 23-11.

A theme throughout the season, the 'Bows shrugged off adversity when things grew tense in the second half, as Cal's Kameron Rooks used a three-point play to draw the UH lead to a single point with 11:56 remaining at 47-46.

Instead of hitting the panic button, the 'Bows put their composure on display before the national stage, as Valdes sunk a turnaround jumper down the baseline to end a four-minute scoring drought and launch UH into a 7-1 run. The 'Bows outscored the Bears 17-7 over a six-minute stretch in the back half of the second period to regain their momentum.

Closing out the game, UH hit 9-of-10 free throws in the final 3:32 to ice the victory and make program history twice-over under first-year head coach Eran Ganot. 

Matthews, who started in place of late scratch Jabari Bird, countered Bobbitt's early score with back-to-back drives and the Bears took off to a small run before Jankovic split the lane to trim the Bears' lead. As the teams battled under a two-possession game for the next 10 minutes of action, UH began to gain the upper hand with sound defensive play, holding Cal without a field goal over a five-minute stretch.

Bobbitt's running floater from the free throw line at 11:40 gave UH its first lead since the opening score and Jankovic followed in the lane, as the Rainbow Warriors hit four straight shots and a pair of free throws to expand the lead to five points at 20-15.

The Cal defense showed its might as well late in the first half, but fifth-year senior guard Sai Tummala hit a clutch three from the corner to give UH its first bucket in five minutes and push the lead back to four points. Bobbitt followed with a long fade-away jumper in the closing seconds, rebuilding to a six-point halftime edge at 36-30.

The 'Bows spread the floor in the first to gain the advantage early, as the three-pronged attack of Jankovic (10), Bobbitt (nine) and Smith (eight) combined for 27 of UH's first half points.

Fouls were a heavy factor in the flow of Friday's contest, with UH registering 25 to Cal's 24. Although UH saw its share of early foul trouble that put key players on the bench, Cal's Jaylen Brown and Sam Singer went into the break with a trio of fouls. However, Jankovic registered two fouls in 15 seconds during the opening minutes of the second half, sending him to the bench with four personals for 13 minutes of the period. Brown and Singer would eventually foul out down the stretch.

Moving to 21-1 this season when leading at the half, in the absence of Big West Player of the Year Jankovic, the 'Bows rallied up, extending to their first double-digit lead on an Valdes inbound dunk at 15:48 at in the second half.

Singer sparked the Bears to a 12-2 run to counter, racking up six of points over a four-minute stretch to trim the UH lead to 47-46.

Forward Mike Thomas scored all nine of his points in the second, hitting 3-for-5 from the floor and 2-for-2 from the line, while also grabbing four of his six boards in the second.

UH proved to possess the most consistent shooters throughout the contest, averaging 51.9 percent from the floor and 80 percent (20-of-25) at the line. In the meantime, the 'Bows pressured Cal into 16 turnovers and limited the Bears to 41.1 percent field goal shooting.