By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
The University of Hawaii at Hilo men’s basketball team’s game on Saturday featured highlight after highlight of fundamentally sound play on both sides of the ball.
Unfortunately for the loyal, supportive and enthusiastic home fans, Point Loma Nazarene displayed it and hammered the Vulcans 79-61 in an afternoon Pacific West Conference contest before a gathering of 384 at UHH Gym.
It was UHH’s fourth straight loss. The home team was down 22 points in the second half. And the Sea Lions (5-18, 2-13 PacWest) didn’t look like a subpar ballclub, at least against the Vuls (5-17, 3-11).
The Sea Lions ran a motion offense and scored off basic plays — backdoor cuts, layups when driving lanes were unattended and kickouts to open 3-point shooters.
They finished at 58 percent (33 of 57) on field goals. The ball movement showed with 22 assists to 14 turnovers. The team concept showed with the backups outscoring the starters.
Weston Ehlers kept running off screens and making shots, 8 of 12 from the field, including 4 of 8 from 3-point range, for 21 points. Another backup, Sam Okhotin, added 18 points on 7 of 9 shooting.
Defensively, Point Loma threw out a 2-3 zone, a curveball UHH couldn’t solve. The Vuls hit only 36 percent (20 of 55) from the floor and didn’t often make the extra pass; they had 11 assists and 11 turnovers.
Late in the first half, the Sea Lions dropped an 11-2 run on the Vulcans when Okhotin drained a wide-open 3-pointer. As an interruption, UHH’s CJ Brown made two free throws. That trimmed Point Loma’s lead to 26-20 with 3:20 left.
Then Oivind Lundestad got an open look and buried a 3-pointer. Ehlers scored on a backdoor cut and was fouled. He completed the three-point play, and Blair Banker capped the run with a short jumper for a 34-20 cushion with under a minute remaining.
The second half had one memorable moment for the hometown fans when Brandon Thomas dunked. But the Sea Lions were still ahead by a mile, 48-30 with 14:11 to play. They left a lasting memory, too, when Ehlers scored on a backdoor cut on the final play of the game.
In something of an anomaly, the visitors went just 2 of 5 from the free throw line. They were too busy converting nearly 60 percent of their shots. UHH went 16 of 24 from the charity stripe, the only stat superior to the Sea Lions.
There is no stat, at least not yet, to measure effort. That was the first thought to come to mind for UHH coach Jeff Law, who is of the Bill Parcells mindset. Law shoots straight.
“We didn’t match their energy and that’s disconcerting,” he said. “I thought we were ready to go, and to play. But it looked like we were walking around in sand. Our footwork was not good on offense and defense, and we had trouble from the beginning.”
At least his team has tape of the game. Point Loma looked nothing like a subpar ballclub, at least against the Vuls. In a measure of optimism, Law saw a silver lining and pointed to the old coaching idiom that there is always room for improvement.
“You can learn from the negative,” he said. “What not to do, how not to do it, and why not to do it.”
It would be helpful for the Vuls to be good students of the game in film study and be quick learners. That’s because on deck is Hawaii Pacific, which enters UHH Gym on Monday. The Sea Warriors earlier squeaked past the Vuls 68-66 on Oahu.
“If we don’t shoot well, more teams are going to play a zone against us,” Law said. “HPU does. It’s all about movement. We didn’t get ball movement from our guards, our forwards didn’t get into gaps, and we stopped playing basketball.
“We have seniors and they think they know how to play basketball. But when you lose by 18, you don’t know how to play basketball. Is it too late to teach them? Well, we’re going to keep on working.”
Point Loma 37 42 — 79
UHH 24 37 — 61