ANAHEIM, CALIF. >> The Hawaii Rainbow Warriors showed their resilience one more time.
Fifth-seeded UH rallied from a six-point second-half deficit to defeat No. 4 Long Beach State 79-72 in the quarterfinals of the Big West tournament on Thursday at the Honda Center.
It was the first Big West tourney victory in three tries for UH (21-12), which will play top-seeded UC Davis (25-5) in a Friday semifinal at 3:30 p.m. (HST). The Rainbows and the Aggies split their regular-season series home-and-home, with each team prevailing on its home court.
A few hundred green-clad Hawaii fans were on hand at the 18,000-seat Honda, though they were outnumbered about three-to-one by the 49er faithful. It was the Hawaii fans who were heard at the end, though.
UH won for just the second time in its last 11 conference tournament games. The only other time UH won such a game dating back to 2005 was in the 2012 WAC quarterfinals against Idaho, just before the university departed the WAC for the Big West.
Twenty-one victories for Hawaii is the program’s most since the Michael Kuebler-led 2003-04 squad went 21-12 and reached the NIT quarterfinals.
“We haven’t been in this situation a lot the last 12 to 14 years,” UH coach Benjy Taylor said. “That is the first time we have won a first-round game in a while. This is a resilient group of young men, I couldn’t be prouder of how we won.”
Four Rainbows scored in double figures in the win, led by senior Garrett Nevels’ 17 points on 7-for-12 shooting. Aaron Valdes (6-for-9) had all of his 14 points in the first half, Isaac Fleming (5-for-9) came off the bench to score 11 and Quincy Smith chipped in 10 points on a perfect 4-for-4 from the field.
Nevels had the go-ahead basket on a runner with 3:52 to play.
“It feels great to win on the first day, but we also have to get ready and gain our focus for what’s next,” Nevels said.
With its big men in foul trouble most of the way, UH seized control down the stretch with a smallball lineup.
UH shot 51.7 percent from the field and held LBSU (16-17) to 37 percent.
The 49ers got 27 points from point guard Mike Caffey, but only six came in the second half as the Beach had its Big West streak snapped. It had won at least one conference tournament game in each of the last five years and made the semifinals six straight times.
Forward David Samuels added 19 points and 10 rebounds as the Beach outrebounded UH 42-31.
The Rainbows’ pressure defense occasionally flummoxed the 49ers, who finished with 17 turnovers — 10 were Hawaii steals. UH limited its turnovers to 11.
“It’s tough to go out this quick,” LBSU coach Dan Monson said. “We struggled early defensively. (Hawaii is) a very talented team, they certainly deserve the win. They hit us early and we didn’t have an answer. Giving up 47 points in the first half is just about the most we’ve given up all season. We kind of slowed them down with the zone and the last 10 minutes (when UH rallied), I don’t know if it was fatigue.”
Point guard Roderick Bobbitt extended UH’s late lead with a late scoop shot and steal. Fleming sealed it with a free throw with 9.4 seconds left, making it a three-possession game.
A six-point UH halftime lead evaporated to just one a few minutes into the second half.
Nevels ended an 8-0 Beach run with a second-effort floater to keep UH ahead 52-49.
LBSU kept coming, and took the lead back, 58-56, on a Samuels dunk followed by a driving hoop by McKay LaSalle with under 12 minutes to play.
The Beach went up six, 64-58, but Fleming went behind his back and hit a tough runner in traffic, and Bobbitt followed up with a steal and layup. Fleming scored inside to tie it back up at 64 with 7:20 to play.
Bobbitt scored inside on a third effort to tie it up at 68. Smith had a huge steal and hit two 1-and-1 free throws for a 70-68 lead with 4:24 left.
After Caffey tied it up for the last time on a jumper, Nevels put his team up for good at 72-70.
Caffey, an All-Big West first-teamer, was kept in check in the teams’ two regular-season meetings. But he exploded in the rubber match for 21 points before halftime.
“They were aggressive. We were tentative,” Caffey said. “We weren’t attacking, we were scared of their press. … I don’t think the press slowed us down, it was just us on offense.”
With UH clinging to a one-point lead, Smith stole it from Samuels and converted a layup, and scored again on a baseline layup on UH’s next possession for a 76-71 advantage.
Smith also grabbed five big rebounds — including one on a putback dunk in the first half.
“We play small a lot so I just wanted to go in there and get the ball, rebounding was key for us so whenever I was in just wanted to get the ball,” Smith said.
UH missed its first six free throws, while LBSU went 12-for-15 from the line over the same span. LBSU finished 27-for-36 from the line compared to 13-for-24 for UH.
Big men Stefan Jankovic and Stefan Jovanovic each picked up three fouls before halftime, and would battle foul trouble the rest of the way, along with Mike Thomas. Jovanovic fouled out with eight points.
After picking up two fouls, Jankovic took a breather, came back into the game and made UH’s first free throws of the game with 5:44 left in the first half. But on UH’s next possession, he was called for a costly double foul, his third personal before the break.
UH scored on eight straight possessions late in the period in building its lead to 45-33, its largest.
LBSU went on a 7-0 run to get within five, until Valdes ended the spurt with an open-court steal and slam with 17 seconds left in the period.
UH was poised to take some momentum into the break on that play, but the 49ers got a two-handed Eric McKnight dunk on a baseline inbounds lob with just 1 second left to get the Beach fans cheering as the teams headed into the locker rooms.
Fleming appeared to tweak his right ankle in the second half, but he returned after only a minute of game action elapsed.