The Hawaii basketball team adjusted well to a brand new starting lineup and matched its best start in Big West Conference play with a gritty 80-71 win at UC Riverside tonight.
UH (14-2, 3-0 BWC) picked up its first road win of 2015-16 and maintained its best overall start to a season since 2001-02.
Isaac Fleming and Sai Tummala stepped into the starting lineup in place of point guard Roderick Bobbitt and wing Aaron Valdes. Fleming was one of four Rainbow Warriors in double-figure scoring with 15.
Senior guard Quincy Smith scored a career-high 17 points with six assists and five rebounds, while forward Mike Thomas added 15 points and nine boards and center Stefan Jankovic fouled out with 15 on 4-for-7 shooting.
Valdes, UH’s leading scorer on the season, sat out with a turf toe he suffered last week against UC Santa Barbara. Bobbitt’s status was questionable as well as he rejoined the team this morning coming off two days of academic uncertainty. Bobbitt came off the bench and contributed six points and five assists.
UH continues play at Cal State Fullerton (8-7, 1-1) on Saturday.
The Rainbows led by 13 points at the break, saw the advantage get trimmed to five and made the necessary plays down the stretch to win.
Riverside (9-10, 0-3) was led by guards Jaylen Bland and Secean Johnson, who combined for 43 points.
Fleming scored seven quick points at the start of the game, but picked up a technical foul and took a seat until late in the first half.
Both teams encountered a field-goal drought of a few minutes late in the period, but UH extended its lead by getting to the free-throw line.
Thomas beat the first-half buzzer with a difficult shot in the post for a 40-27 lead at the break. Smith got off to a 4-for-4 shooting start and finished the half 6-for-9 with 13 points.
Jankovic connected on his third 3 of the game to start the second half, while UCR’s best big man, Taylor Johns, picked up his fourth foul early in the period and took a seat.
Fleming got fouled on a 3 and connected on two of three free throws to keep the lead at 48-34 with under 17 minutes to play.
Center Stefan Jovanovic scored consecutive hoops to build it to 54-39 with 11:47 to play.
UCR gambled with 10 minutes left and put Johns back into the game, but the preseason all-conference pick quickly fouled out guarding Jankovic on an inbounds play. He finished with just five points and four rebounds.
Bland hit a corner 3 to make it 58-50 with 8:25 to play.
Fleming missed the front end of a 1-and-1 free throw and Thomas picked up a foul on the rebound. Alex Larsson made UH pay with two penalty free throws, cutting it to six. The Highlanders made another free throw, making it a five-point game.
Thomas stepped up and hit a huge wing 3 with seven minutes left, his second of the game, for a 62-54 lead. It was the first time in his three-year career he hit multiple treys.
Bobbitt followed with two free throws and Jovanovic swatted consecutive shots by the Highlanders with under five minutes remaining.
Smith, a 33 percent foul shooter this season, stepped up to the line and hit two shots when UCR took a foul on purpose with 3:05 to play, pushing it to 66-55.
UCR struck back quickly with two free throws by Bland and a 3-pointer by DJ Sylvester, cutting it to 68-62.
Bobbitt got fouled again, made two at the line, and Fleming got ahead of the pack for a dunk and a 10-point lead with 1:39 to play.
Thomas maintained it with a layup then a dunk in transition as the Highlanders went to pressing.
Smith missed two at the line, keeping the UH lead at 76-69 with 50 seconds left.
Bland missed a 3 and Tummala leaked out and dunked it. UCR responded with a dunk.
UCR took a foul on Fleming, who made his foul shots for the final margin.