The University of Hawaii at Hilo women’s basketball team had to rally furiously to get there, but it’s a place it had been before and has usually thrived this season.
Ball in the air. Buzzer blaring. Game hanging in the balance.
Only this time, the would-be game-winning shot didn’t go in. Hawaii Pacific escaped with 62-61 victory Monday afternoon when Jameia McDuffie’s 3-pointer was short at UH-Hilo’s gym.
That the Vulcans (11-10, 8-7 Pacific West Conference) were even in position to steal a victory seemed all but impossible only minutes earlier. With Mikela Thoemmes owning the glass, the taller Sea Warriors (15-6, 11-4) went ahead by double digits midway through the first half, and Ieva Nagy’s 3-pointer gave Hawaii Pacific its largest lead, 50-29, with 8:39 left to play.
“Give our players a lot of credit,” Vulcans coach David Kaneshiro said. “They showed a lot of heart and played hard.”
Sisters Kamie and Kirsty Imai and McDuffie helped spur the comeback. Kamie Imai, a junior, scored 10 of her 12 points in the final eight minutes, and she gave her team its sole rebounding presence, grabbing 11. Kirsty Imai and McDuffie each led the way with 17 points, eight apiece as UH-Hilo charged back.
UH-Hilo already has locked up a spot in the inaugural PacWest tournament, but now it has a nagging three-game losing streak to deal with as it gets set for its final three games of the regular season.
The Vulcans have room for error largely because of their clutch play midseason. UH-Hilo went 4-0 during a Bay Area road trip where seemingly every big shot went in, including two buzzer-beaters. That was part of a six-game winning streak, but UH-Hilo has come back down to earth since, losing four of five.
Hawaii Pacific controlled the glass for a 55-28 rebounding edge. Thoemmes, a 5-foot-10 junior forward, grabbed 20 rebounds with 16 points and 5-10 junior forward Skye Savini also had 16 points while collecting nine rebounds.
Nagy and guard Melody Ladrido each finished with nine points.
Neither team performed well from the field. Hawaii Pacific shot 35.5 percent, while UH-Hilo got hotter in the second half but finished at 34.9 percent.
Thoemmes nearly outrebounded UH-Hilo by herself during the first half, and Kaneshiro made a point of addressing the issue at halftime.
Kirsty Imai was seemingly just filling up the stat sheet when she hit two 3-pointers, the senior had four in the game, to get the deficit down to 12 with 4:45 left to play. But the Vulcans started extending their man defense to frustate Hawaii Pacific — which finished with 24 turnovers — and Natalie Mata made a 3-pointer and Kamie Imai hit three jumpers, the last of which capped a 12-1 run that brought UH-Hilo to within 60-59 with 2 minutes to play.
Mata missed another 3 that could have given UH-Hilo the lead, but after Savine hit a pair of free throws to put the Sea Warriors ahead by three, McDuffie answered with a jumper with 9 seconds left.
UH-Hilo didn’t have a timeout to work with on its final sequence after a missed Hawaii Pacific free throw, but Kaneshiro said he liked what he saw as Kamie Imai drove through the lane and kicked it to McDuffie for an open look on the left baseline.
UH-Hilo men win
CJ Brown scored 14 points and Derek Owens had 11 as the Vulcans beat Hawaii Pacific 78-62.
Lucas Swanson added 10 for UH-Hilo (6-17, 4-11 PacWest), which used a big second half to end a four-game losing streak.
Michael Pierce had 14 points for HPU (9-13, 6-9).