Kamie Imai and Thea Hanato-Smith were here last year, while Kirstie Williams, McKenzie Mangino and CC Rode played in postseason games at prior stops.
The playoff atmosphere is nothing new for many University of Hawaii at Hilo players, and neither is today’s opponent.
At 3:30 p.m., in the first round of the Pacific West Conference women’s basketball tournament in San Diego, the Vulcans take on a Hawaii Pacific team they lost to 78-61 on Saturday night at home.
“The prep is easier,” UH-Hilo coach David Kaneshiro said, “but I don’t know if it favors one team or another in particular.
“It’s still all about who executes and plays their best. They know what we are going to do, and we have a pretty good idea of what they want to try and accomplish.”
To avoid their second consecutive first-round tournament exit, the Vulcans (9-15, 8-12 Pacific West Conference) could use an improved shooting effort from Williams, the team’s leading scorer. The junior guard averaged 11.7 points per game and shot 40.3 percent from 3-point range during the regular season, but she was scoreless against the Sea Warriors (17-9, 13-7) five days ago on 0-of-8 shooting.
“I thought some of them were good looks, and they just didn’t go down,” Kaneshiro said. “Her teammates still have a lot of confidence in her.
“We want her to shoot even more, and I bet she makes them.”
Feeding off the emotion of Senior Night, Imai was the best player on the floor for UH-Hilo, scoring 24 points with eight rebounds and five assists.
Kaneshiro hopes Imai and the rest of her teammates will find a sense of urgency to fuel them today.
“It’s keep playing or season over, and we’ve got to find a way to make shots,” he said. “Maybe even beyond Xs and Os, the biggest challenge is coming out determined.”
Entering the postseason on a three-game winning streak, Hawaii Pacific presents multiple challenges. Junior 6-foot-2 center Morganne Comstock provides length on the inside and averages in double figures in points and rebounding, while 5-10 junior guard Skye Savini’s 16.0 scoring average was third-best in the PacWest.
The Sea Warriors were first in the conference in 3-pointers made, and they hit 9 of 19 the last time out against UH-Hilo while commanding the boards (45-32).
Not surprisingly, those were a few of the key areas Kaneshiro was looking to improve on today.
“We’ve had good practices and we’re excited about the opportunity,” he said.