Jankovic, Bobbitt lead Hawaii into Big West title game
ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) Stefan Jankovic and Roderick Bobbitt have carried Hawaii all season long.
With a second straight trip to the Big West title game on the line, the all-conference duo wasn't about to stop.
Jankovic scored 24 points, Bobbitt added 21, and the top-seeded Rainbow Warriors beat No. 4 UC Santa Barbara 88-76 in the Big West semifinals Friday night.
Hawaii (26-5) will face the winner of No. 2 UC Irvine and No. 3 Long Beach State in the championship game Saturday.
''Getting back to the championship game is something we've been working for,'' said Jankovic, the conference Player of the Year. ''We've been waiting for this all year.''
Bobbitt, an all-conference first-teamer, hit four big 3-pointers to lead the way. He hit a three as time expired in the first half to give the Rainbow Warriors a 37-34 halftime lead, and followed with three quick 3-pointers in a 21-3 Hawaii run to open the second half.
The Rainbow Warriors led by as many as 21 in the second half and snapped the Gauchos' nine-game win streak.
''Rod hitting that 3 at the end of the first half, that was the key play of the whole game,'' Hawaii coach Eran Ganot said. ''It really set the tone and carried us the rest of the way.''
Michael Bryson scored 22 points and Gabe Vincent had 17 to lead UCSB (18-13).
The Gauchos hung tough early, overcoming an early double-digit deficit with a furious 23-9 run to force a 34-34 tie.
Bobbitt swung the momentum back the Rainbow Warriors way though, sinking a long 3-pointer from the left wing at the buzzer to give Hawaii a 37-34 edge going into the locker room.
Bobbitt stayed hot out of the break, nailing three 3-pointers in the first four minutes to lead their 21-3 run. The surge put the Rainbow Warriors up 58-37 with 14 minutes to go, their largest lead of the night, and all but slammed the door on the Gauchos upset hopes.
UCSB rallied some, but never got back within three possessions.
''When you're down that much, it's just hard to come back,'' Bryson said. ''Give them credit. They made the all the plays.''
Aaron Valdes finished with 19 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists for Hawaii. Reserve Alex Hart hit three 3-pointers and finished with 13 points for the Gauchos.
''We know this feeling, we like this feeling,'' Valdes said. ''Last year getting to the championship game and coming so close, we have unfinished business.''
''They had two runs tonight we couldn't recover from and couldn't answer. The way they came out and played those first seven, eight minutes in the second half, they dismantled us.'' - UCSB head coach Bob Williams.
Hawaii's run this season has been historic in a few ways. In addition to winning their first regular season conference championship since 2001-02, the Rainbow Warriors are now one win away from tying the school record for victories in a season.
Ganot is in elite company as well. With Hawaii's 25th win of the season in the first round, he surpassed Hall of Famers Jerry Tarkanian and Lute Olsen for most wins by a first-year coach in conference history. Tarkanian (1969-70) and Olsen (1973-74) both won 24 games in their first seasons at Long Beach State.
Hawaii: The Rainbow Warriors shot 52 percent (26 of 50) from the field, including 43 percent (9 of 21) from 3-point range..Starting guard Quincy Adams left in the first half with an unspecified hip injury. His status for the championship game is unknown..Hawaii led for 35:01 of the 40 minutes of gametime.
UCSB: The Gauchos shot 30 percent (8 of 27) from 3-point range and 59 percent (16 of 27) from the free throw line..They won the conference tournament in 2012 but haven't been back to the title game since..Williams is in his 18th season at UCSB, making him the longest tenured head coach west of the Mississippi.
Hawaii: Plays in the Big West Tournament championship game Saturday
UCSB: Awaits a possible post-season bid.