For more than a few minutes, a special Saturday night for the University of Hawaii men’s basketball program appeared to go awry.
During its 100th anniversary game against UC Davis on Saturday night, an 8-point lead in the second half turned into a 9-point deficit for the Rainbow Warriors with less than five minutes remaining. Following a frantic rally, Eddie Stansberry’s 3-pointer with 3.3 seconds remaining proved to be the last basket of the game and sealed the win for the ‘Bows.
“I was just glad to get it off and see it go in,” said Stansberry, who dropped a game-high 23 points. “Still in shock. It was a comfortable shot and glad to see it go in but still a little bit shocked. It’s a game-winning shot.”
Before Stansberry’s heroics, a halftime ceremony that honored past members of the team took place. The ‘Fab Five,’ which suited up for UH from 1971 to 1972 and featured the likes of Bob Nash, Al Davis, John Penebacker, Jerome Freeman and Dwight Holiday, was present. So was Riley Wallace, whose 334-265 record from 1987 to 2007 makes him the winningest coach in program history. Even Jay Goo, the team’s trainer for over 30 years before retiring in 2019, was there.
Generations of ‘Bows from all over the world lined the Stan Sheriff Center court during the intermission and were there to witness the finish. To current head coach Eran Ganot, getting a win with them in attendance made the night that much sweeter.
“Is there anything cooler? To have this have this happen on that night, on this night? That’s unbelievable. To see guys from different eras, it’s a special week, a special year,” Ganot said. “There’s been guys coming in and out. We have a unique job. It’s far, so things have to work with families. You’ve got alums, former players, former coaches sharing stories, talking story, bringing their families, bringing them around our guys.
“We talk about it first, then you go from seeing it with the plaques and the pictures and we show moments and all that. And then you feel it. That’s the culmination. How do you feel it? When you see them roll in and out and talk to your guys and just their presence. You sit back as a coach and take it all in because that’s what it’s all about.
“You got a growing alumni base, our alumni base and the connection, because there’s a lot of people that reached out that couldn’t be here that would have liked to be here. It’s been our deal from day one. I couldn’t be prouder and I know I speak for our players and our staff to see people grow and to see people connected from so many different eras.”
The 2019-2020 Rainbow Warriors improved to 13-6 overall and 4-1 in Big West play on Saturday. They’re 5-1 in games decided by six points or less this season. Even when they’re down, they never consider themselves out.
“It’s just amazing that we are able to celebrate a night like that and come out and get a good win against a good team in that fashion,” said point guard Drew Buggs, who dished out 11 assists to go with seven points and eight rebounds. “We would like to win the game controllably but to win in that fashion, it was great. It was a great moment. I think it’s something people will remember for a long time coming and celebrating 100 years and then a type of finish to a game like that, it’s one of a kind.”
The ‘Bows donned retro warmups to go with their throwback jerseys. The entire team also wore pink shoes and socks to commemorate Buggs’ mother, who passed away from cancer in October. The program has always been one to pay its respects.
Even before Saturday night, Ganot has made it clear how much he reveres the history of the Hawaii basketball program from the day he got the job. He saw some of it during his stint as an assistant coach with UH from 2006 to 2010.
He then made some history of his own during the 2015-2016 season, when he guided the Rainbow Warriors to the program’s first-ever NCAA tournament win in his first year at the helm.
While Saturday’s festivities honored the program’s history, Ganot hopes the current ‘Bows can enhance it down the line.
“A special year, a special week, a special game that these guys added to the history with that finish. That’s gotta be one of the better finishes in our program’s history. I’m really proud of this group. I was proud during the whole course of this game,” Ganot said. “The way they finished, the resolve they showed, to continue to fight to give themselves a chance. Because that’s really all you can do.”