HILO — The University of Hawaii at Hilo women’s basketball team couldn’t have scripted Senior Night any better: play lousy in the first half like a last-place ballclub, rebound with better energy in the second half, and win in overtime.
The Vulcans played shutout defense in the extra period and topped Chaminade 72-61 in a Pacific West Conference game on Tuesday, snapping a pesky three-game losing streak and giving their eight seniors a memorable sendoff in their last contest at the UH-Hilo gym.
And it was the seniors who came to the rescue for UH-Hilo, which suffered from a serious case of cellar-dweller osmosis in the first half, playing the type of defense that made Chaminade look like a first-place ballclub.
Kristen Shimizu scored five quick points out of the break, including a 3-pointer, and Kirsty Imai hit a pair of 3s to spark a 13-6 run and tie it 38-38. A little later, Natalie Mata scored eight straight points, and the Vulcans increased their lead to 50-44, but the Silverswords just wouldn’t go away — at least until OT rolled around the corner.
The Vulcans lose eight seniors, including four starters in Kirsty Imai, Jameia McDuffie, Shimizu and Jazlyn Afusia. The other seniors are Shannon Rosseau, Mata, Elise Spain and Jazmine Corpuz.
Mata scored 20 points on 9 of 15 shooting, getting the start on Senior Night. Kamie Imai added 15 points while her sister, Kirsty, pitched in 14, and Shimizu finished with 11 points for UH-Hilo (12-10, 9-7 PacWest).
Rhani Kaneaiakala scored 15 points to lead the Silverswords (1-12, 1-16). Their only win was at home against Holy Names on New Year’s Eve.
In the first half, Chaminade didn’t look like the conference’s cellar-dweller, at least not against the Vulcans, converting 44 percent (11 of 25) on field goals. UH-Hilo clanked a lot of shots, making just 26 percent (10 of 38) from the floor.
Even bad turned into good for Chaminade early. Sabrina Angle airmailed a corner shot, but it turned into a nice on-the-money pass to Nikki Tauau, who boxed out, got the ball and was fouled. She made one of two free throws for a 28-19 lead with 4:32 left in the half.
Right before the break, UH-Hilo played for the last shot. They missed, rebounded, missed again, rebounded and missed a third time. It was 32-25, the Swords up in the first half and resembling an upset-minded Cinderella.
The Vulcans rebounded after halftime, and they’re not done yet. They finish the regular season Saturday on the road against BYU-Hawaii. Then there’s their upcoming appearance in the inaugural six-team conference tournament, a first-time postseason appearance.
But that’s not what UH-Hilo coach David Kaneshiro will remember most about his Gang of Eight.
“They’re an outstanding group and have done a lot for the program. They’ve had good wins and good moments,” said Kaneshiro, not needing to specify UH-Hilo’s dramatic four-game road winning streak in January. “I’m proud of what they did off the court. They’re all going to graduate in the spring or summer. They’ve represented the program in a great way in terms of their effort on the court, and whether it’s been on-campus, in class or in the community. It shows in the way they play.
“They play consistently hard, together and unselfish as a group. I’ve had people come up to me and say they enjoy watching the team play. I certainly enjoy working with them with their attitude and the way they play. I’ll miss the day-to-day interaction. Every day they come ready to work with the same positive attitude and great work ethic. Fortunately, we’ve got a couple of more times to work with them, and we’ll make the most of it.”