Kirsty Imai is playing the best basketball of her career and the rest of the University of Hawaii at Hilo is starting to follow suit.
What’s even more encouraging to coach David Kaneshiro is that he thinks the Lady Vulcans’ best basketball could be ahead of them.
Imai scored 14 of her game-high 16 points in the first half Wednesday and the Vuls completely shutdown Notre Dame de Namur for a 62-41 victory in Belmont, Calif.
Senior guard Kirsten Shimizu added 10 points as UHH (7-6, 4-3 Pacific West Conference) won its its third straight, giving it four wins in five games since coming back from the holidays.
“We’re playing better than before the break; since they came back,” Kaneshiro said. “More energy, working harder. I still think we can improve, and that’s exciting as a coach.”
Imai, a senior guard from Waiakea High school, has helped the Vulcans climb to seventh in the PacWest standings, leading the Vulcans in scoring for the fourth time since the recent surge began. She hit a 3-pointer on the first possession and scored the game’s first five points as the Vuls never trailed in handing the cold-shooting Argonauts (1-13, 0-6) their 12th consecutive loss.
“She’s been terrific,” Kaneshiro said. “Making good decision, playing under control and knowing when to give the ball up.
‘She’s playing with a lot of confidence, playing smart and being a good, vocal leader.”
After picking up two wins against teams that have combined for only one victory, the Vuls continue their four-game Northern California road trip on Saturday against league-leading Academy of Art (5-0).
UHH shot only 25 percent in the second half Wednesday, but that was nothing to compared to the Argonauts’ epic struggles. Notre Dame de Namur made only 2 of 26 from the floor and missed all nine 3-point attempts during a nine-point second half.
As the Argonauts got colder from the floor, the lead grew.
UHH led 39-32 at halftime, but Jameia McDuffie’s three-point play and a 3-pointer by Shannon Rousseau sparked a 13-0 run that gave the Vuls a 54-33 lead with 9:15 left to play.
McDuffie, a senior guard, added eight points and junior Jazzmyn Davis grabbed eight rebounds for the Vuls, who held a 53-39 advantage on the boards. Junior Kamie Imai collected six points and six rebounds and senior Jazlyn Afusia also had six points.
Trisha Malaspina had 11 points and 12 rebounds for the Argonauts.
Notre Dame de Namur 67, UHH 64: Marcus Hightower scored 17 points and Micah Dunhour put the Argonauts ahead to stay in Belmont, Calif.
The game was close throughout, but the Vulcans (3-12, 1-6) shot just 4 of 24 from 3-point range.
“That’s not going to get anything done,” UHH coach Jeff Law said. “It was good shots, though. You can’t get too bent out of shape in that regard.”
Senior forward Kiel Myers scored 12 points for UHH on 3-of-13 shooting and junior guard Lucas Swanson had 11. Senior guard CJ Brown has nine points but was 3 of 11 for the floor.
“It was poor shooting,” Law said. “They all played hard, but we’re still running in mud.”
Dunhour scored 15 points for the Argonauts (5-9, 4-2), and his layup with 5:02 remaining broke the game’s eighth and final tie.