The UH-Hilo men’s basketball team lived up to its newly minted No. 25 ranking to win its sixth straight and beat Hawaii Pacific for the fifth consecutive time in a PacWest pod game Wednesday night.
The Vulcans defeated the Sharks 73-66 at the UHH Gym, relying on a balanced scoring attack and a strong defensive effort from Jordan Graves, who enjoys locking down scorers.
Sasa Vuksanovic had his left-handed spin move working for 16 points, Darren Williams hit 4 of 8 3-pointers for 15 points, Ethan Jetter scored 13 points off the bench, and Aniwaniwa Tait-Jones had 12 points for the Vulcans (7-1), who shot 46.9% from the field.
Rodney Hounshell ran around the floor and scored 16 points, Lachlan Viney made a living at the free-throw line, going 7 of 8 for 14 points, and Jacob Foy soared to the rim for 11 points for the Sharks (2-7), who shot 44.4% from the floor.
The Sharks played tough despite the early absence of David Rowlands, the team’s leading scorer at 15.9 points per game. He injured his leg early in the first half and didn’t return.
Hounshell picked up the scoring load and scored 14 points in the first half, but Grave locked onto him in the second half and Hounshell scored just two points in the final 20 minutes.
“It was a tough game. HPU has other guys who stepped up,” UHH coach Kaniela Aiona said. “Rodney got a little loose on Jordan in the first half, but we challenged Jordan at halftime and he responded and made him uncomfortable in the second half.
“It was good to see that we had more assists than turnovers (13-10). Give them credit. They made a run on us. We were taking shots they gave us instead of taking the shots we wanted.”
The Sharks jumped on the Vuls to start the second half with a 13-6 run, capped by Foy’s 3-pointer to tie it 46-46 with 13:35 left.
Then the Vulcans started to take open shots, and Williams and Jetter swished back-to-back 3-pointers to jump ahead 52-46 with 11:37 remaining and never looked back.
Viney got HPU within 52-50 when he converted 2 of 2 free throws with 10:26 to play. Then Williams splashed a 3-pointer, and Jetter used his 6-foot-5, 200-pound frame to muscle in three straight baskets.
“Ethan had a good game off the bench,” Aiona said. “He got some baskets around the basket, and that’s been an emphasis for him.
“Jalen (Thompson) and Steven (Hubbell) didn’t score out of their spots, but they did a nice job on the defensive end.”
Before the Sharks could figure out what just ran them over, the Vuls were safely ahead 61-50 with 7:22 remaining.
For the second straight week, the Vulcans made the list for teams in consideration for NCAA postseason consideration. Next week, a poll comes out with a ranking. They are one of eight teams in consideration for six spots in the West regional.
The Vulcans led 40-33 behind a balanced attack from Tait-Jones and Vuksanovic, who each had eight points, and guard Williams and Graves, who chipped in seven and six points each.
Rowlands injured his leg and played just 7:31 and scored zero points. Hounshell picked up the scoring load for the Sharks with 14 points.
The Vuls used a 13-2 run early in the first half to build an 18-7 lead, behind Vuksanovic’s six points against Chidozie Ndu, HPU’s 6-11 center. Vuksanovic kept going to his bread and butter left-handed spin move to slip bankers around Ndu.
The Sharks closed the first half with a 6-2 run. Hounshell was slippery off the dribble and scored on a layup, Jetter answered with two free throws, and HPU’s Tavon Tarpley went 4 of 4 from the line to close the first half.
“Every game matters,” Aiona said. “It’ll be a sprint to the finish, and we have to be ready to go. We’ll take it one game at a time.”
In the women’s game, No. 4 HPU beat UHH 68-49 to move 27-1 lifetime against the Vulcans, who outscored the Sharks on points in the paint 28-24.
The Sharks (9-0) clinched the PacWest pod title and ran their winning streak to 35 games.
Kim Schmelz scored 11 points on 5 of 10 shooting, Mandi Kawaha had 10 points while Malia Lee and Sara Shimizu each added eight points each for the Vulcans (4-5), who shot 38 percent.
Amy Baum scored 19 points, Ally Bates added 16, and Alysha Marucci had 13 points for the Sharks, who shot 39.4 rebounds.
If anything, it was nice to see Sierra Cavaletto and Kayla Revelo, a pair of UHH reserves, bring enthusiasm in their 2:12 of playing time.
Cavaletto, a junior from Goleta, Calif., had no points on one shot attempt but had one rebound. Revelo, a freshman from Vallejo, Calif., went 0 for 2 from the field but grabbed two rebounds.
The UHH women’s rematch game is at noon, and the men’s game is 3 p.m.