Aniwaniwa Tait-Jones’ stats — 4 of 14 shooting for 17 points, including 9 of 12 free throws and 18 rebounds — summed up UHH’s day against Chaminade on Sunday.
The Vulcans had a bad case of the shooting blues but found a way to defeat the Silverswords 71-67 on Sunday at UHH Gym to remain firmly in first place with a 7-1 record in the PacWest pod standings.
Sasa Vuksanovic added 18 points on 7 of 12 shooting, and Jordan Graves had 11 points for the Vulcans, who shot just 37.5% from the field. Steven Hubbell scored 10 points off the bench.
“Sasa gets a whole lot of attention down there in the post but still finds a way to produce,” UHH coach Kaniela Aiona said. “Jordan did a nice job for us, six steals on the day and beyond that makes a big difference, just being disruptive. It was good to see the ball go through the net for him, but it’s on the defensive end where he’s special, too.”
They were resourceful as they got to the free-throw line and made 26 of 37, 70.3%, not great but good enough to get a bunch of easy points. Speaking of which, they outscored the Silverswords, 16-0, on fast-break points, the bulk coming from Graves’ six steals and layups.
Despite being outrebounded 52-42, UHH held Chaminade to 31.9% shooting from the floor. The visitors converted 14 of 20 from the free-throw line.
“Chaminade really battled us hard. They gave us a hard time on the boards. They’re a physical team,” Aiona said. “Proud of the guys for pulling it out. We made just enough plays to get this one done. We haven’t been doing a great job shooting from the free-throw line. We shot 76 percent (from the free-throw line) in the second half, and that was a huge deal. You want to win, you have to defend, rebound and make free throws.”
That’s the job description for Tait-Jones, who gobbled up rebounds, denying the Silverswords second-shot opportunities and made them pay for fouling him.
“He had 17 points, 18 rebounds, that’s a pretty special performance right there,” Aiona said. “And he’s a special player and has been doing great things for us.”
Kevin Kremer scored 15 points on 5 of 23 shooting, and Isaac Amaral-Artharee had 14 points on 5 of 12 shooting. Jessiya Villa, the transfer from UH-Manoa, came off the bench and scored 14 points on 5 of 10 shooting for the Silverswords (3-5), who made it exciting late.
They got within 59-57 with 4:30 left when Kremer drilled a 3-pointer. Villa drained a triple over the 6-foot-10 Vuksanovic to trim UHH’s lead to 67-64 with 28 seconds remaining. Amaral-Artharee swished a 3-pointer to cut the lead to 69-67 with just five seconds to go.
Graves and Vuksanovic each hit 1 of 2 free throws to close out Chaminade.
On an interesting note, the Vulcans signed Villa’s brother Telryn, who’ll join the team for the 2022-23 season after serving a two-year Mormon mission. Their dad Kahi Villa played basketball at BYU-Hawaii and pro ball in the Philippines and minor league ball for the Toronto Blue Jays.
“Different player than his brother, Jessiya, but both talented players,” Aiona said. “Telryn is a really athletic guard.”
For fans wondering what team recruited the better brother, Aiona noted that the hard evidence will be coming in the future.
“Only one way to find out. We’ll see when they get to play against each other,” Aiona said. “But what an honor for their family. They’ll be representing two of the institutions in Hawaii. That’s a pretty cool thing. It’ll be interesting to see them go head to head when that day comes.”
Before the day was done, Aiona dished a final assist, crediting assistants Steve Kinder and Jamison Montgomery for the game plan, especially the defensive strategy against Kremer and Amaral-Artharee, Chaminade’s two top guns.
“I have a tremendous coaching staff here,” said Aiona, who needed every edge he could manage against the Silverswords.