If the goal of any full-court, man-to-man pressure defense is to inflict “40 minutes of Hell” on an opponent – as the Arkansas powerhouse teams of the 1990s once popularized – then Kaniela Aiona must be missing the point.
UH-Hilo’s first-year basketball coach thinks there are divine aspects of taking on such an up-tempo, in-your-face style as the one that is utilized by the Vulcans’ next opponent.
“It’s a teamwork thing,” Aiona said. “One of the great things about playing a team like Chaminade that wants to press for 94 feet and play fast is it really forces all five guys on the court to work together, and that’s our philosophy: five guys working together.
“It only makes us better and it’s a challenge, and as a player and coach you enjoy these types of games where a team plays a little different than you. You work on some different things, but at the end of the day: it’s five guys working together.”
If the Pacific West Conference Hawaii pod season was ever made into a movie, it may well be titled “You again.” The front-running Vulcans (5-1) and slumping Silverswords (3-3) will meet for the third and fourth times this season at 4 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday, then Hawaii Pacific (2-6) rolls in Wednesday and Thursday for the team’s fifth and sixth games since mid-January.
Matters shouldn’t become mundane.
While renewing an island rivalry is never a bad thing – even if it happens over and over again – it’s also not too early for the Vulcans to consider the postseason landscape, as uneven as it may be. In the first official West Region listings, the Vulcans were listed as one of eight teams “under consideration” for six playoff spots. Another listing will come out next week, with the NCAA selection committee making their final choices on March 7.
“They know what’s at stake, we want them to know what they are able to play for, and that this could be a very special year for us if we continue to take it one day at a time,” Aiona said. “When you’re playing the same teams again and again, it becomes a battle of wills.”
UHH’s last game against Chaminade was much closer to 40 minutes in heaven than the opposite. The Vulcans “played their game,” Aiona said, in rebounding from their first loss the day before for 69-68 victory in Honolulu. Senior post Sasa Vuksanovic produced 18 points and 13 rebounds in what was perhaps his best game of the season, and he’s hardly slowed down since, reeling off four consecutive double-doubles to give him five in six games.
As Vuksanovic becomes somewhat of a marked man in the middle and teams start to pack in their defenses, Aiona expects other players to step up and take advantage of what figures to be softer space on the perimeter.
“Sasa’s showing he’s going to be a productive guy, and Darren (Williams) and Aniwaniwa (Tait-Jones) the same,” Aiona said, “Jordan (Graves) gives us a lot on both ends of the court, though he’s not scoring as much as he’s accustomed to. Everybody has to step up and be ready for that moment.”
Graves, a senior guard, has been scuffling some with his shot, but he produced 12 points on 5-of-10 shooting Feb. 6 in a win at HPA in UHH’s most recent two-game set.
“We need more of that,” Aiona said.
Chaminade comes in on the heels of an 81-77 setback Wednesday at Hawaii Pacific, it’s second consecutive loss to the Sharks, a team UHH is 4-0 against this season. The Silverswords are paced by Isaac Amaral-Artharee, last year’s PacWest Freshman of the Year, and his 18 points a game.
Saying his team hasn’t played its best game yet, Aiona points to field-goal percentage and offensive efficiency as two areas of needing improvement.
For that to happen this weekend, UHH will have to handle Chaminade’s defensive intensity.
“You’ve got to help out, everyone has to want the ball, be available and be ready to be the one making the play at the basket,” Aiona said.
In the PacWest women’s Hawaii pod there is the top – Hawaii Pacific (8-0) has won 34 in a row – and there is the bottom – Chaminade (0-6) has lost 16 consecutive games.
If the Vulcans (2-4) feel somewhat stuck in the middle, it hasn’t showed recently in practice, coach David Kaneshiro said.
“I think this group, especially our more experienced players, they are a prideful group.” he said. “If it’s a bad practice, they own up to it and respond the next day. If they have a bad game, they’re not happy about it.”
The execution wasn’t always seamless, but the Vuls own 56-39 and 57-38 wins this season against the Silverswords. The teams meet at 1 p.m. Saturday and noon Sunday, before UHH can turn upset minded next week against the powerhouse Sharks next week.
“We’ve talked about focusing on ourselves and being the best we can be,” Kaneshiro said.
Who: Chaminade at UHH
When: Women, 1 p.m Saturday and noon Sunday; men, 4 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday
Where: UHH gym
Streaming/live stats: www.hiloathletics.com