Hawai‘i Rainbow Warriors Wins First NCAA in 95 Years

Making President Obama look good, the 13th-seeded UH men’s basketball team bust No. 4 UC Berkeley in the South Regional NCAA Playoffs on Friday, March 18.


First the Eddie went, now the ’Bows will go—on. With the University of Hawai‘i’s  77-66 dismantling of the UC Berkeley Bears on Friday, 2016 is shaping up to be a very good year for Hawai‘i sports teams, and fans.


Jinx-wary fans feared that everything seemed to be breaking for the Rainbow Warriors before the South Regional game, held in Spokane: A Bears assistant coach was dismissed after a sexual harassment complaint; its point guard and lead scorer, Tyrone Wallace, broke his hot hand in practice; and the team’s second option, Jabari Bird, didn’t play due to back spasms.


Add to that the overall weak caliber of play in the PAC-12 this year, and it seemed like a peaking Hawai‘i’s game to grab. Stacked with veterans, blessed with an NBA-prospect center in Stefan Jankovic, and playing with the knowledge that there was no next year because of a forthcoming NCAA playoff ban, the Rainbow Warriors went inside early and often, building a six-point lead by halftime.


But Cal burst out of the box in the second half, traditionally Hawai‘i’s weakest, and clawed within a point with 11 minutes to go. The air seemed to get sucked out of sports bars and offices across the Islands as a minute ticked by and the teams stayed locked at 47-46 Hawai‘i. A full 55 seconds and nine possessions followed before Mike Thomas snared a defensive rebound and Aaron Valdes hit a jumper to make it 49-46.


From there the lead steadily widened, as tight defense and Mike Thomas rebounds and putbacks made the Bears pay. When Thomas hit a 3-pointer on an assist from Roderick Bobbitt with 6 minutes on the clock, the lead widened to 64-53 Hawaii and the game again seemed all but iced.


But Cal didn’t get the word and successfully broke for layups as Hawai‘i missed on outside shots. With 3:42 the scored tightened to 66-60. Getting timely rebounds and a jumper from Quincy Smith, who led Hawai‘i scorers with 19 points, putting the ball in Jankovic’s hands inside, the Warriors let the Bears make fouls and Jankovic make free throws. A Bobbitt rebound and jumper pushed the score up by 10, then 12.


The Gatorade was on ice and waiting in the locker room. First-year coach Eran Ganot had taken the Rainbow Warriors to the Big Dance and got a win, the first in the NCAA playoffs in a decade. Now the show goes on, taking an entire state with it.


Besides Quincy Smith’s breakout game, the Rainbow Warriors got 17 points and 7 big defensive rebounds from Roderick Bobbitt, 16 points and 5 rebounds from Jankovic, 9 points and 6 rebounds from Mike Thomas, and 8 points and 3 rebounds from Aaron Valdes. The top bench contributor, Sai Tummala, added 5 points.


Next up for the Rainbow Warriors is No. 5 Maryland, winner in a tight game over North Dakota State. Hawai‘i should give them a fight. If they win, they will probably face No. 1 Kansas, which plays No. 8 Connecticut; since Kansas is President Obama’s pick to win it all, we have a definite conflict of interest.


Saturday also will see the opening round match of the No. 14-seeded Rainbow Wāhine women’s basketball team, going up against No. 3 seed UCLA in Los Angeles. Time for a twofer?