'You gotta embrace it': Rainbow Warriors ready for first road test of the season against Utah

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The time has come for the Rainbow Warrior basketball team to leave the comfort of home and travel to the mainland to take on the Pac-12's University of Utah for the their first away game of the season, tomorrow afternoon.

Utah (5-1) is as a stiff test as it is for Hawaii (4-1), but don't ask Warrior head coach Eran Ganot if playing on Utah's home court makes this game anymore difficult for his team.

"A big thing I can't stand hearing over the years is that Hawaii can't perform on the road - it's exhausting," he said. "So you either jump all in on that or you confront it and say, 'Let's go. We're gonna change that.'"

Since Ganot took over as head coach at Manoa, the Warriors have gone 10-7 on the road in the past two seasons.

"I think we've traveled well the last couple years. We've performed on the road and that's something we've embraced since we got hired," Ganot said.

Ganot said that it's the way the players have approached playing on the road that has changed the way they perform when the game tips off.

"That first group (2015-2016 team) really embraced the road. They won seven games on the road," he said. "Last year, we won three in our league on the road; we battled in every game on the road. You gotta embrace it. That's why I think everybody talks so much about defend and rebound because that travels with you. You might have an off shooting night, doesn't matter whether you're home or away. But defense, rebounding, taking care of the ball travels with you."

As for what the Utes will bring to the table on Saturday, Ganot explained that they're a winning program that plays the right way.

"We have a tough test against - and you talk about playing on the road and a good team on the road and a good program," he said. "Perennial NCAA tournament, postseason tournament team, that's having a good season. I think we're gonna lean on our experience for how we physically and mentally prepare and go through our routine."

While Saturday's matchup against Utah is a road game for the Warriors, it will be a homecoming of sorts for two Warriors.

Senior forward Gibson Johnson attended Utah for one year and hails from nearby Centerville. Freshman Samuta Avea, who earned an uptick in playing time after a breakout performance against Adam State this past Monday, played his junior year of high school in Utah at Bingham High School, where he led his team to the 5A state title.

"It's going to be lots of fun. There's going to be people that I spent time with and know," Avea said. "I'm really excited to play in front of them again."

The Warriors will play their first away game of the season as they travel to Salt Lake City to take on Pac-12 opponent Utah on Saturday, Dec. 2. Tip-off is set for 5:00 p.m. MT/2:00 p.m. HT.

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