College basketball: Vuls open home, conference play at the top with Cal Baptist

The season-opening road trip to the Pacific Northwest was a grind by design and it turned out to be just what the doctor ordered for UH-Hilo men’s basketball team.

It showed coach GE Coleman that he has a lot to work with and a lot to work on. Luckily, Coleman said, “We’ve had a lot of time to do it.”

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After a 12-day layoff, the Vulcans get a second chance to make a good first impression in their home and Pacific West Conference openers, and if that opening 1-4 swing was tough, get a load of UHH’s opening slate at their gym.

“I’m not sure you could have a tougher home schedule to open within our conference,” Coleman said, looking ahead not just to Thursday’s tipoff against preseason conference favorite Cal Baptist, but also games against Biola on Saturday and Concordia on Monday. All three tipoffs are at 7:30 p.m. at UH-Hilo gym.

It remains to be seen when Brian Ishola, the team’s leading returning scorer and rebounder, will be able to make his season debut. The senior forward didn’t travel with the team on the road as he nursed a leg injury, and Coleman called him a “game-time” decision in regard to Thursday’s game.

Whether or not Ishola goes against Cal Baptist (6-1), Devin Johnson (9.8 points per game, 5.2 rebounds) and Denhym Brooke (8.0, 4.4) will try to hold down the fort inside as they make their debuts in front of the home fans and seek to contend with the Lancers’ best player, Kalidou Diouf.

The 6-9 preseason Player of the Year averages 16.3 points and 7.3 rebounds a contest, but Cal Baptist also boasts four other players who average in double-figures in scoring.

“When Devin is focused and really dialed in, he can do a lot of things on the court,” Coleman said. “Denyhm, too, both of those guys.”

Another fresh face to watch is senior guard Tre Ingram (14.8 points). Fellow senior guard Ryley Callaghan (18.2) drew all the accolades in the surprise win Nov. 11 at then-No. 19 Western Washington – and for good reason, he scored a career-high 31 points – but Ingram tallied 20 himself and Coleman credited him with taking over portions of the upset victory.

“Try has done well so far, and we want him to be even more aggressive,” Coleman said.

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With sophomore Eric Wattree III starting all five games, Coleman essentially trotted out a three-guard lineup on the road, and senior forward Randan Berinobis (6.8 rebounds) was steady as ever, allowing Brooke to play primarily off the bench.

In the women’s game Thursday at 5 p.m., the Vuls (1-1) will play for the first time since Nov. 11 looking to slow down defending conference champion Lancers, who carry a 38-game PacWest winning streak.

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