By BILL O’REAR
Tribune-Herald sports editor
Jessica Escorza scored 19 points and Callie Rhoads had 16 to lead streaking Point Loma Nazarene to a 51-45 win over the University of Hawaii at Hilo on Saturday afternoon at UHH Gym.
Point Loma (13-10, 9-6 Pacific West Conference) used an effective press and tough halfcourt zone defense in the first half to frustrate UHH (11-9, 8-6) to win its sixth straight game. The Sea Lions of San Diego led 28-14 at the intermission.
The Vulcans struggled from the floor in the opening half, making only 4 of 26 field goals, including 2 of 8 on 3-pointers. They also went a seven-minute stretch without a field goal as Point Loma built on its early lead.
“(In the first half) we lost our poise and started forcing the action against the zone,” UHH coach David Kaneshiro said. “We also had some careless turnovers. We had some good shots but it was just one of those nights when the shots didn’t fall.”
The Vulcans played better in the final 20 minutes, outscoring the Sea Lions 31-23. But the visitors made some key shots down the stretch to hold off UHH for the victory.
“In the second half, we got back into the game in transition and then made some shots,” Kaneshiro said.
The UHH coach also praised the play of senior Natalie Mata (9 points) and junior Jazzmyn Davis (4 points, 9 rebounds) for sparking the hosts off the bench.
Senior guard Kirsty Imai led the Vulcans with 15 points, including three treys. Mata and junior Kamie Imai each had nine points and senior Kirsten Shimizu added six. Kamie Imai also had eight rebounds, four assists, one blocked shot and two steals in a solid all-around performance.
The Vulcans host Hawaii Pacific University in a key PacWest game at 2 p.m. Monday at UHH Gym.
“It’s an important game for us,” Kaneshiro said. “HPU is good in transition and great at the 3-point line. They have excellent 3-point shooters. We’re going to have to play great individual defense and help when we can.
“It’s going to be a tough game. We’re really going to have to play well to have a chance of winning.”
The Sea Lions shot 34 percent (17 of 50) from the field, 20 percent (4 of 20) from 3-point range and 76 percent (13 of 17) from the free-throw line. The Vulcans hit 31 percent (17 of 55) from the floor, 27 percent (6 of 22) on treys and 45 percent (5 of 11) from the line.
Point Loma also had 42 rebounds, 7 assists, 17 turnovers, 2 blocked shots and 8 steals compared to UHH’s 34, 8, 16, 1 and 6, respectively.
At UHH Gym
Point Loma 28 23 — 51
UHH 14 31 — 45