Kirsty Imai is playing the best basketball of her career, and the rest of her University of Hawaii at Hilo teammates are starting to follow suit.
What’s even more encouraging to coach David Kaneshiro is that he thinks the Lady Vulcans’ best basketball could be ahead of them.
Imai scored 14 of her game-high 16 points in the first half Wednesday, and the Vulcans completely shutdown Notre Dame de Namur for a 62-41 victory in Belmont, Calif.
Senior guard Kirsten Shimizu added 10 points as UH-Hilo (7-6, 4-3 Pacific West Conference) won its its third straight, giving it four wins in five games since coming back from the holidays.
“We’re playing better than before the break; ever since they came back,” Kaneshiro said. “More energy, working harder. I still think we can improve, and that’s exciting as a coach.”
Imai, a senior guard from Waiakea High school, led the Vulcans in scoring for the fourth time since the recent surge began. She hit a 3-pointer on the first possession and scored the game’s first five points as the Vulcans never trailed in handing the cold-shooting Argonauts (1-13, 0-6) their 12th consecutive loss.
“She’s been terrific,” Kaneshiro said. “Making good decisions, playing under control and knowing when to give the ball up.
She’s playing with a lot of confidence, playing smart and being a good, vocal leader.”
UH-Hilo shot only 25 percent in the second half, but that was nothing compared to the Argonauts’ epic struggles. Notre Dame de Namur shot only 2-of-26 and missed all nine 3-point attempts during a nine-point second half.
As the Argonauts got colder from the floor, the lead grew.
UH-Hilo led 39-32 at halftime, but Jameia McDuffie’s three-point play and 3-pointer by Shannon Rousseau sparked a 13-0 run that gave the Vulcans a 54-33 lead with 9:15 left to play.
McDuffie, a senior guard, added eight points, and Jazzmyn Davis grabbed eight rebounds for the Vulcans, who held a 53-39 advantage on the boards.
Trisha Malaspina had 11 points and 12 rebounds for the Argonauts.
Notre Dame de Namur 67, UH-Hilo 64: Marcus Hightower scored 17 points, and Micah Dunhour put the Argonauts ahead to stay in Belmont, Calif.
The game was close throughout, but the Vulcans (3-12, 1-6) shot just 5-of-24 from 3-point range.
Kiel Myers scored 12 points for UH-Hilo and Lucas Swanson had 11.
“It was poor shooting,” coach Jeff Law said. “They all played hard, but we’re still running in mud.”
Dunhour scored 15 points for the Argonauts (5-9, 4-2), and his layup with 5:02 remaining broke the game’s eighth and final tie.