UH-Hilo’s men’s basketball team was working on a game-changing, tempo-turning run late in the first half when Steven Hubbell came to the bench during a timeout and told his teammates, “We are playing our game now.”
And when Hubbell says “we,” he means everybody.
Sasa Vuksanovic, Aniwaniwa Tait-Jones and Darren Williams were the A-listers as usual, and the Vulcans weren’t lacking from contributors at UHH gym, getting big baskets from an array of players to slow down pressure-happy Chaminade in a 72-67 victory, their fourth in a row.
“When your opportunity comes, coach says you have to make the most of it,” Hubbell said. “We know the three starters are going to do their thing. It’s our job to do as much as we can with the time that we have.”
They did, and then some, helping UHH (6-1 Pacific West Conference Hawaii pod) keep the Silverswords (3-4) at arm’s length while denying them the track meet they sought.
The supporting cast might not have put up big point totals, but it showed up at big points.
“It’s really about being ready,” senior reserve Greg Walter said. “This team, everyone is equally as talented, everybody comes in ready to work hard. I just give it all I got.”
Walter had played three minutes when he was inserted back into the lineup midway through the second half with the Vuls protecting a seven-point lead, and he promptly made a layup and hit a jumper – off an pass from Hubbell – near the free-throw line, finishing with six points. Earlier in the half, Ethan Jetter came off the bench to pick up the scoring slack, scoring six points in seven minutes. Jalen Thompson only made one basket – off an assist from Hubbell – but it helped deny the Silverswords from getting on a run.
You could call Walter, Jetter, Hubbell and Thompson, a starter, role players, “But we are all role players,” coach Kaniela Aiona said. “Their role is to come in and give us effort and energy and glue. This whole thing doesn’t work without the glue, and that’s what those guys do.”
If UHH’s sole goal were to win its pod, then it’d be sitting pretty with a three-game lead.
It’s not. The Vulcans remain fully in the mix in the Division II West Region postseason race.
“We’ll talk about the record when the season is over,” Aiona said. “Right now we’re taking care of what’s in front of us.”
Chaminade will try to end a four-game losing streak when it returns to UHH gym at 3 p.m. Sunday, and by now it’s learning the Vuls are becoming a tough out with many options, even with Malik Parsons soaring for 16 points, including two dunks.
In all nine Vulcans scored, led by Williams’ 19 points. Vuksanovic (12 points, 11 rebounds) secured his sixth double-double of the season and passed out of double- and triple-teams when necessary, shooting 6 of 9 and leading the way with four assists. The senior post hit a big basket inside to answer Parsons’ jumper and restore a two-possession lead with 2:18 remaining. Tait-Jones tallied 15 and helped power a staunch defensive effort that limited Chaminade to 41.8% shooting. Jordan Graves scored eight points.
One of the game’s few fast-break moments came when Tait-Jones ripped away a steal and Williams zipped to the other end for a layup and a 55-46 lead.
“One of the nice things about this team is we can play fast, and we can play in the halfcourt,” Aiona said.
UHH last trailed at 27-26, but it took a 36-29 lead to the break by finishing the half on a 12-2 run.
The surge and second-half consistency weren’t an accident, Walter said, and he was one of a plethora of players who had his fingerprints on the result.
“Maintaining our tempo,” Walter said. “We know we want to get in our sets and not play their game, which is getting us sped up and things like that. As long as we can keep our tempo, and doing things we want to run, everything goes well.”
o run, everything goes well.”
In the women’s game, UHH stormed back to beat winless Chaminade 73-58.
Mandi Kawaha led four Vulcans in double figures with 18 points, and for the second time this season she flirted with a triple-double with seven rebounds and seven assists. Kim Schmelz added 14 points and had a double-double with 10 boards. Malia Lee had 11 points and Makayla Tablit had 10.