By MATT GERHART
Tribune-Herald sports writer
With nine first-year players, University of Hawaii at Hilo women’s basketball unveiled a look much different than the team that reached the playoffs last season.
There was old: Kamie Imai showed she was still the face of the program; and new: Alexa Jacobs came through with a productive debut.
But ultimately, the Vulcans fell short on opening night.
Jordan Wilson scored 16 points Monday night as Alaska-Fairbanks came back for a 62-61 victory at UHH gym. Victoria Milton hit a go-ahead jumper with 2:17 remaining as the Nanooks finished the game on a 9-3 run.
“Those are great games to play in,” Fairbanks coach Cody Bench said. “We wanted to take advantage of every opportunity.”
Imai scored 22 points with 10 rebounds and four assists, but the Vulcans (0-1) managed only one point during the final 3:50, a free throw by Jacobs.
On the last possession of the game after a timeout, Imai took an inbounds pass near half-court with 9.8 seconds left and drove the lane and passed to Jacobs, who missed a 3.
“Kamie was aggressive. I thought she bobbled the ball a little bit, but she regained it,” UHH coach David Kaneshiro said. “It was an open shot.
“It certainly didn’t come down to that.”
The 5-foot-9 Imai took the opening tip, and UHH’s best offense often came when it’s only senior got out in the open floor and ran from coast to coast. Imai made 9 of 14 from the field.
Jacobs, a true freshman point guard, finished with 13 points, including two free throws that gave UHH the lead with 5:09 left. Imai grabbed a rebound on the ensuing possession and fed Jordan Kealoha for a 3-pointer that put the Vulcans up 58-53.
But after Imai hit a jumper to restore the lead to five, UHH bogged down offensively, missing its final five shots
“It was a struggle all night, espescially offensively,” Kaneshiro said. “We had a number of breakdowns. Fairbanks had a lot to do with that, denying the ball. We didn’t respond to that pressure every well.
“We had some success driving the ball to the basket, but that was kind of the offense. You can’t rely on that. In the half-court, we need to execute much better.”
Fairbanks (4-0) pulled ahead despite 33.3 percent shooting, improving to 5-1 all-time against UHH. The Nanooks dominated the offensive glass with 21 rebounds and held a 47-40 advantage overall.
Kaillee Skjold, a 5-11 forward, added 14 points, including a key 3-pointer that cut the Vulcans’ lead to 60-58. A pair of free throws by Wilson, a 5-11 forward, tied the game. Milton had seven points and eight rebounds.
The teams, who combined for 53 fouls, will play again at 4 p.m. today.
Danielle Kooyman scored eight points for the Vulcans and Kealoha added seven.
Featuring a new-look lineup, Kaneshiro got 11 players into the game, including nine in the first six-plus minutes.
UHH made only 9 of 27 shots in the second half and finished at 41.8 percent for the game.
“The good thing is that all of our mistakes are correctable,” Kaneshiro said. “I just wish we had been more consistent.”
UHH committed 12 first-half turnovers but shot 50 percent from the floor, taking a 33-31 lead at the break on Jacobs’ acrobatic jumper at the buzzer.
Hayley Reynolds’ layup gave UHH it largest lead at 20-13. As the Vulcans started to turn the ball over, the Nanooks answered by scoring the next eight points. Candace Prestwich (seven points) capped the spurt with a 3.