Saturday, Jan. 28, 2023|
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They’ll be back and better for the experience, the Vulcans said Wednesday after their season came to end.
Preferably, with more rebounding help.
Azusa Pacific made UH-Hilo’s first trip to the PacWest men’s basketball tournament a one-and-done affair Wednesday, ousting Kaniela Aiona’s young team 87-72 in Fresno, Calif.
“Azusa is a tough team,” Aiona said, in a school release, after No. 2 seed beat UHH for the third time in as many tries. “They have great size, are well coached, and run a good system. They had a good game plan and executed well against us.”
A familiar trouble spot materialized for UHH (14-13, 10-9 PacWest) on the glass.
Azusa Pacific (19-8,15-4) outrebounded the Vulcans 43-25, and Nate Kleppe led the effort for the Cougars with 12 as he picked up his second double-double of the season. The Cougars outscored UHH 14-0 in second-chance points.
After UHH pulled within two points in the first half, Azusa Pacific answered with a 10-0 run that was started by Justin Hemsley knocking down a jumper in the paint. The lead got extended to as much as 17 in the second half when Ben Avera made a 3-pointer that was assisted by Terrence Becvar.
“It’s an honor to be here and we are very thankful,” said PacWest freshman of the year Aniwaniwa Tait-Jones. “Very special for our program to be here. We are going to get back to it and we will be here again.”
His five points were his second-lowest total of the season and 12 below his average.
The Cougars’ Ken West led all scorers with 21 points to go along with six rebounds.
Donald McHenry led UHH with 19 points and Darren Williams added 18. They combined for 15-of-27 shooting, but UHH shot 46.6% as a team.
“It was a blessing to be here,” said McHenry, a freshman. “It was good to be here and get this experience and now we know what the environment is like for when we come back.”
Another freshman, Max Kunnert scored 12 points with five rebounds.
Williams converted a three-point play and hit a jumper to fuel 9-2 run that prompted Azusa to call timeout with its lead cut to 69-60 with 7:47 remaining.
Out of the timeout, West hammered home an emphatic two-handed slam, and a steal and a McKelary Robertson’s three-point upped the lead back to 14. Kleppe’s slam with 2:25 remaining made it 83-69, and Williams’ 3-pointer was UHH last points of the season.
“This was good experience for us,” said Williams, a junior. “We have a young team and this will be valuable experience for us moving forward.”
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