‘We’ll be better off because of it’: UHH women fall short against Dakota Wesleyan in OT

  • BILLI DERLETH/UHH Mandi Kawaha and UH-Hilo’s women’s basketball team couldn’t quite cut Dakota Wesleyan down to size Tuesday.

For 45 minutes, the UH-Hilo women’s basketball team chased a taller Dakota Wesleyan squad up a hill, catching up then falling behind in the last minute.

The Tigers defeated the Vulcans 72-70 in overtime on Tuesday before 200 fans, including 40 visitors from South Dakota, at Hilo Civic, where an interesting and entertaining back-and-forth thriller took place.

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Down 62-59 with 26 seconds left, UHH called timeout to set up a 3-point attempt. Jenna Waki inbounded the ball from the left sideline and threw a cross-court pass to Kayla Revelo in the right corner. Any NFL quarterback would have been impressed with Waki’s heave.

Revelo cleanly caught the ball and swung it to Mandi Kawaha on the left wing, and the 5-foo-2 junior guard from Hilo High swished a game-tying 3-pointer.

There was only one problem: DWU had 24 seconds left on the clock and possession.

The Tigers called timeout and designed a play in the paint for their best player 5-10 junior forward Matti Reiner, who averaged 12.5 point per game last season. Reiner shot an 8-foot jumper from the right baseline. The ball clanked off the rim, and the game went into overtime.

In overtime, the Tigers worked the ball inside to 6-4 senior center Jada Campbell, who banked a shot off the glass for a 70-68 lead with 25 seconds remaining.

With 16 seconds left, UHH freshman Heaven Samayoa-Mathis missed a jump shot in the paint, and 6-foot senior Nikki Miller snagged the rebound and missed a jumper in the paint.

Reiner got the rebound, and the Tigers called timeout with eight seconds left. Kaylee Kirk was fouled with seven seconds left, and drained both free throws for a 72-68 lead.

Miller hit a jumper at the buzzer for the final score.

“It was a tough loss. I told the team in the locker room that we played hard, and I’m really proud of the physical effort,” UHH coach David Kaneshiro said. “You have to give Dakota Wesleyan credit. They’re well-coached, they’ve got good players, they run good stuff, they know what they’re doing. It’s a good game for us. We can learn from it, and we’ll be better off because of it.

“The back screen action that they ran killed us. They got a couple of offensive rebounds at crucial times, couple of drives. It’s just consistency because we’re demonstrating that we can do it. But we’re not as consistent to be a team as good as that.”

Kawaha, who played 37:58 minutes, scored a game-high 17 points on 7 of 19 shooting, dished seven assists against two turnovers, and Miller had 10 points and 17 rebounds for her third straight double-double for the Vulcans (2-1), who shot 37% from the field, including 7 of 15 from 3-point range.

“Mandi played really hard, she competed really hard. She’s got great heart,” Kaneshiro said. “Kayla stepped up, did some good things, came a long way, really worked hard, practiced better, and it’s starting to show up, so hopefully she can keep building on that.”

Sara Shimizu added 11 points, Waki 10, and Samayoa-Mathis and Revelo each scored seven points off the bench for UHH, which made just 9 of 17 free throws.

Reiner scored 15 points on 7 of 13 shooting, Kirk had 10 points, and Campbell added nine points for the Tigers (5-2), who shot 48% from the floor, including 3 of 5 from 3-point territory.

The Tigers had a Shaq-like free-throw shooting game and made just 11 of 24. If they shot a tad better, they’d no doubt have had a bigger margin of victory.

The What If possibilities also apply to the Vulcans, especially Kawaha, who missed a left-handed layup with under five minutes left in the fourth quarter. She earlier made two free throws for a 54-51 UHH lead.

Kawaha was born with a basketball in her hands and has been making left-handed layups since she was 6 years old. Her expression said it all: I can’t believe I missed.

That’s like a solar eclipse for Kawaha, who’s never, ever on the wrong pivot foot and rarely misses weak-hand layups.

UHH’s previous opponent was Multnomah, an NAIA school from California and nowhere nearly as successful as DWU, an NAIA school from South Dakota picked to finish seventh in the 12-team Great Plains Athletic Conference.

Three Tigers received All-GPAC team honors last season: Reiner (12.5 points per game), second team; 5-5 senior guard Kirk (11.8 ppg), and Campbell (14.8 ppg), both honorable mention.

DWU finished 14-11 last season and 21-11 in 2019-20, including a first-round win in the NAIA national championships. (The NAIA canceled the rest of the tournament.)

For the most part, the Vulcans took smart, open shots. There were a few wild, crazy layup attempts that had absolutely no chance of going in.

But Kawaha is the engine that powers the Vulcans, who if they made more shots off her attempted assists then she’d easily be in double-figures in assists. She can be counted on to play the most minutes, break the ankles of much taller guards and find an open shooter.

The Vulcans did get beat more than a few times on backdoor baskets and once or twice on baseline drives when the help-side defense fell asleep.

But otherwise, UHH played tough in the post, especially Miller and Revelo, against the taller Campbell, who grabbed only eight rebounds in 25:28 minutes. Revelo had five boards in 14:54 minutes.

Revelo is a 5-9 freshman forward from Vallejo, Calif., and she can score in the paint and knock down a 3-ball as she showed in the first quarter when her 3-pointer got UHH within 14-10.

Miller was fouled and missed both free throws, but Revelo grabbed a rebound off the second miss. She scored on the putback and was fouled. Revelo missed the free throw but snagged another rebound and passed to Miller, who was fouled.

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Miller knocked down both free throws for a 14-14 tie, until the Tigers scored the next three baskets.

It was like that all game long. The Tigers would jump ahead, the Vulcans would catch up, and the excitement kept getting better.

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