After a successful three-game road trip, UH-Hilo coach G.E. Coleman thought his Vulcans looked like they were running in quicksand against Hawaii Pacific.
The Vulcans fought through tired legs to defeat the Sharks 74-67 on Saturday at Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium, where UHH found a different way to win.
UHH usually relies on its 3-point shooting and rim attacking, but neither weapon was as valuable as sheer mental toughness.
The Vuls (7-5, 5-3) made just 5 of 21 from beyond the arc and had just three layups. HPU (4-9, 1-7) buried 7 of 22 from long range and had seven layups.
James Griffin had 22 points while Larry Bush and Jordan Graves added 15 points each for UHH.
Darnell Bettis had 16 points while Lorenz Gordon-Haynes added 12 points for HPU.
“All week at practice, we looked tired. Coleman said. “We were trying hard but looked tired. We looked like we were in quicksand. That’s something we had to fight through. Earlier in the season, we would have found a way to lose.”
It was a back-and-forth tennis match in the first half. Both teams kept trading baskets until halftime. HPU led 33-31.
To start the second half, Bettis started to treat the court as his own personal playground. In a short span, the HPU guard slashed his way through the defense for three layups and a 41-38 lead.
Griffin went 0 for 4 from long range but made 6 of 7 free throws. He and Kupaa Harrison have master degrees in post moves. Griffin got fed in the post, backed his defender down and put in a leaner off the glass.
Harrison followed with a basket for a 42-41 lead. From there, every time the Sharks got it close, UHH hit them over the head.
Jacob Foy drilled a 3 to get HPU within 46-45 with under 11 minutes left.
But UHH’s shot selection stayed sharp. Griffin got in the lane, put up a floater, and it went down. Harrison followed with a basket for a 50-45 lead.
“Griffin is at his best when he’s attacking the rim,” said Coleman, who liked the way his Vuls protected the perimeter. “We wanted them to put it on the court and not shoot 3 pointers. In the first half, they had five, and in the second they had just two 3-pointers.”
Neema Namdar buried a 3-pointer to get HPU within 53-52. But Denhym Brooke answered with a score to give UHH breathing room and a 55-52 lead with under nine minutes to go.
Down the stretch with 1:36 remaining, the Vuls made 9 of 10 free throws to close out the Sharks, who outrebounded UHH 39-29.
UHH isn’t the biggest rebounding team but compensated by forcing 18 turnovers to gain back a few extra possessions.
Now, the Vuls have to prepare to face No. 2 Concordia on Tuesday and No. 1 Point Loma on Saturday.
Women: HPU 65, UHH 49: The non-communication started early for the Vulcans, who had a shot-block violation early in the first quarter and couldn’t block out against the taller Sharks.
HPU outrebounded UHH 44-21, dribble-drived for kickouts and moved the ball to work for open shots, finishing at 40 percent from the field.
Breanna Mackenzie scored 18 points, and Alysha Marcucci added 11 points for the Sharks (9-5, 7-1), the defending PacWest champion
Allie Navarette scored 18 points but was held to 5 of 14 shooting, and Sara Shimizu knocked down three 3-pointers for nine points for the Vuls (4-8, 1-7), who shot just36 percent and had 21 turnovers.
Abbey Noblett guarded Navarette, who stationed herself on the right block. The Sharks cut off the baseline, and every time Navarette pivoted and shot with her left hand, a miss usually followed with a rebound by HPU.
UHH trailed 10-9 late in the first quarter before HPU went on an 18-0 run to head into halftime ahead 34-18.
HPU is now 28-3 in the all-time series against UHH, which has lost five straight.