Rainbow Warriors confident heading into Big West tournament

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KHON2 sports director Rob DeMello is in Anaheim, Calif. for the Big West Conference tournament. He filed this report from nearby Fullerton College, where the Rainbow Warriors are currently training.

It may be now or never for the University of Hawaii men’s basketball team.

With a postseason ban and scholarship restrictions on the horizon next season, the Big West Conference regular-season champions have three games in three days to capture a bid to the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament.

After recording 24 victories in the program’s first regular-season conference title since 2002, those three days will determine whether the Rainbow Warriors make it to the big dance for the first time in 14 years.

Despite having celebrated a conference crown last week, elation quickly turned to motivation as UH ended its regular season with a loss at Long Beach State last Saturday.

Facing a quarterfinal round against Cal State Fullerton Thursday, the ‘Bows call it a wake-up call that will be answered.

“Especially with this team, we don’t like losing,” said junior guard Aaron Valdes. “Anytime we lose, we come back strong and play hard the next game, so I know the guys are hungry to get out there and play again, so we’re excited to get out there and play Fullerton.”

“Good teams will lose. It happens. Champions lose,” said BWC Player of the Year Stefan Jankovic. “(MMA fighter Conor) McGregor just lost couple of days ago, so it’s, you know, how you come back from that loss.”

“When you look at Cal State Fullerton, a team you guys went 2-0 against but had to scratch and claw in those games, what did you learn from those two outings and what’s it going to take to make it three and advance in this tournament?” KHON2 asked head coach and Big West Coach of the Year Eran Ganot.

“It’s always difficult,” he said. “We learn all the time with every team in our league, if they’re tough, it’s dog fights, and again, when conference tournament hits, everyone is 0-0. Anything can happen and that’s what’s great about March Madness.”

“We have to realize it’s three days, three games, one-by-one, so we’re focused on Fullerton, but obviously the big prize is making the NCAA bid and making the tournament, so we’re definitely excited and we’re super confident,”Jankovic said.

Wednesday’s workout last about an hour and a half and was closed to the media after the first 15 minutes to try and keep things as normal as possible on the road. Practice was sandwiched between study hall and team meals.

On Thursday, the Rainbow Warriors hit the court at 12:30 p.m. Hawaii time against Cal State Fullerton in the quarterfinal round of the BWC tournament. You can watch the game on FOX Sports Prime Ticket.

Click here for more tournament information and live stats.

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