By Brian McInnis
It was surely coincidence. And it's definitely happened before, here or there. But having back-to-back games at the College Summer League played with one team suiting up just five guys ... well, it was at once unfortunate and remarkable.
Particularly in the first game, when Grantco Pacific played without two of its best players — Julian Sensley and Geremy Robinson — and still beat Solar Universe 111-101.
"Bit of a surprise," quipped freshman UH guard Michael Harper after he hit four 3-pointers and dropped 24 in the win. "We still managed."
Grantco's win to snap a three-game losing streak, with two of its best guys away in Las Vegas no less, was pretty inspiring. UH freshman center Caleb Dressler had perhaps his best outing with 28 points and Harper spaced the floor well with his shooting. UH alum Ryne Holliday started lighting it up from long range and finished with 25, and Chaminade's James Francisco should be commended for keeping his team running the whole 40 minutes. Coach Gilbert Hicks was ecstatic and animated on the sidelines.
Solar cut a 13-point Grantco lead to one in the second half, but the resolve of Grantco (5-3) was unwavering this time. Solar (4-5) was coming off a 46-point rout of National Fire two days prior, but couldn't muster the late-game shooting it needed.
"I was scared (of the comeback) but we worked well as a team at the end," said Dressler, who through these games and UH's workouts appears in better shape than when he arrived at the start of the month. "They came in the game thinking they would destroy us."
Instead, it ended with the crowd at the Manoa Rec Center gym giving the upset winners a nice round of applause.
"We just tried to get defensive stops, hog the ball, milk the clock," Harper said.
There's an art form to conserving energy with such a short (in this case, nonexistent) bench. Grantco dropped back on almost every teammate's free throw and made smart use of its timeouts.
"Any points we could slow down ... we'd stay back and catch our breath," Dressler said. "(My conditioning) is getting better. It's nowhere near what I want it to be, but it's 100 percent better."
It was frustrating for Solar, which missed a golden chance to post a winning record with only one regular-season game left. Bobby Nash scored a team-high 28.
"They came to play," said UH junior Brandon Spearman, who finished with 12 points for Solar in the loss. "Caleb's been playing real strong (in open gym) this week. Mike too. ... (Going against an outmanned team) you just play it like every game. But you gotta give it to those guys."
Amazingly, it was more of the same in the second contest.
Central Medical Clinic momentarily dropped to four players when Brad Anderson went out with a sprained ankle against National Fire Protection. Derrick Low, watching after playing for Solar in the first game, was conscripted from the sidelines to suit up for CMC ... and it worked for a time.
But Isaac Fotu was the reason there would be no back-to-back wins for five-man teams.
National Fire kept lobbing the ball inside to the incoming UH freshman, and he delivered time after time to finish with 31 points in a 114-109 NFP victory.
Fotu has been a reliable presence in the league. When his teammates are looking to get the forward the ball inside, something good almost always happens. The 6-foot-8 New Zealander has exhibited a deft touch around the basket, both receiving passes and dishing back out when necessary. He capped off his night with a tip dunk in the final minute to ice the win.
"I had my size advantage against them and I tried to use that," Fotu said.
As for the hands ... (which are massive, by the way)
"People say I have soft hands," he said, smiling and holding a huge mitt up for inspection. "It's a good compliment to have. But I wouldn't be able to do it without those good passes from my teammates."
UH senior Hauns Brereton scored 42 for CMC (3-4) in a losing effort. It was his third 40-point game of the summer. Kyle Pape added 24 for CMC.
The summer league regular season concludes next week with two games each on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday (6 and 7:30 p.m.) The playoffs happen the following week.