The gauntlet is over for the UH-Hilo women’s basketball team, which faced three nationally ranked squad and lost all three games.
The Vulcans were competitive against No. 19 Sioux Falls in a 70-60 loss and against No. 11 Minnesota State Moorhead in a 61-45 loss.
On Monday, No. 4 Azusa Pacific overwhelmed the Vulcans 81-57 at Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium, displaying the traits of a national contender.
“It was good for us,” UHH coach David Kaneshiro said. “We’ll watch film and learn from it. This is a group that bounces back well. We’ve got a long way to go.”
The Cougars took open shots and made them, crushed the Vulcans on the boards and imposed their will on their shorter opponents to the very end.
Basically, when Allie Navarette, UHH’s leading scorer at 15.3 points and 7.7 rebounds per game, doesn’t score or rebound the Vulcans are in trouble, especially against a team that won the West region championship and returns all of its starters.
Navarette, who’s been under the weather, came off the bench and scored just six points on 2 of 8 shooting and grabbed three boards in 23 minutes.
Sara Shimizu nailed 4 of 6 3-pointers for 14 points, and Makamae Gabriel added 13 points for the Vuls, who shot 36 percent from the field, including 8 of 20 from 3-point range. If it was just a 3-point shooting contest, the Vulcans might have had a chance.
Unfortunately, the Cougars start four players 6 feet or taller. They’re all well-versed in post moves, going to their strong side for easy bank shots and having a counter shot to get off a high-percentage attempt.
Laura Pranger, a 6-foot-2 forward, put on a post clinic and scored 15 points, Savanna Hanson had 15 points, and her sister Daylee Hanson added 13 points, and Cierra Roufosse had 10 points for the Cougars (6-1, 1-0 PacWest), who shot 47 percent from the floor, including 9 of 21 from 3-point range.
The Cougars outrebounded the Vuls (1-3, 0-1), 46-20, and outscored them on second-chance shots, 22-2.
“They’re athletic and made their shots,” Kaneshiro said. “They’re a final eight team and have good chemistry. They have that mix of talent and athleticism, and being good on both sides of the ball.”
The Cougars dominated the glass and their man and zone defenses were equally tough. They made sure the Vuls had to work to get off clean looks.
“David does a good job and his girls play hard,” APU coach T.J. Hardeman said. “But we’re bigger, and you can’t teach size. We’ve got big kids who can shot. They can move and they’re athletic.”
In the fourth quarter, APU outscored UHH, 20-10, by running an interior post passing clinic. The Cougars, tall and athletic, move the ball beautifully. They often make the extra pass to give a teammate a better shot.
Defensively, they shut down what an offense does best. APU hounded Navarette every time she got the ball in the post. Get past one defender and another one is waiting, already arrived on the job with mindful help-side defense.
To start the third quarter, UHH posted up Gabriel, who scored, and Shimizu drained a 3 on UHH’s next possession. Navarette got fouled and made 1 of 2 free throws to cut the lead to 51-31.
Even when the Cougars made a mistake, it didn’t really burn them. Early in the third quarter, they tried to full-court press Mandi Kawaha, who easily dribbled out of trouble and passed to the outlet. The Vuls had a three-on-one fastbreak but missed.
The Cougars shot 51 percent from the field to take a 45-25 halftime lead, scoring 20 points in the paint. They had great depth from the bench, which scored 18 points.
Navarette had a rough first half. She scored just two points in 12 minutes, a dribble-drive against Pranger.
The Cougars had too many open shots and made 7 of 13 from 3-point territory. Pranger scored nine points in the post, and made one 3-pointer. Savanna Hanson sank 2 of 3 from beyond the arc and added eight points.
APU opened the second period with a 3-pointer by RachelBozlee and never stopped scoring. Paige Uyehara dropped APU’s seventh triple right at the halftime buzzer.
In the first quarter, the Vulcans hit three 3-pointers to keep it relatively close at 20-13.
The Cougars kept posting up and banking in shots against the shorter Vuls and scored easy layups off turnovers. APU finished with 14 points off turnovers in the first half.
Shimizu, who hit 2 of 3 from long distance, led the Vuls with eight points in the first half. Unfortunately, she had little scoring help. Schmelz and Jenna Waiki each had four points.