By BILL O’REAR
Tribune-Herald sports editor
With a long, travel exhausting roadtrip behind his team, University of Hawaii at Hilo coach Jeff Law looks forward to a busy week.
The Vulcans (1-1) will host the four-team Naniloa Volcanoes Resort’s Thanksgiving Basketball Tournament today through Wednesday at the UHH Gym. The Vuls are joined in the NCAA Division II field by Western New Mexico University, Montana State-Billings and Maryville University (Mo.).
“I think the competition level will be good all three nights,” Law said. “With all four teams, it’s pretty close all the way around. For us, it’ll give our fans a look at this year’s team and we’ll see how much we’ve learned from our first four games — the two exhibitions against the Division I teams in Pittsburgh and the two D-II games in Oregon.
“Our guys are chomping at the bit to show the fans that they’re a much better team than last year. They’re excited to play, but we just need to play hard and play smart, and take it one game at a time.”
The Vulcans opened their season with a long trip to Pittsburgh and falling to D-I University of Pittsburgh 77-45 and Duquesne University 92-46 before flying to Oregon to play in the PacWest/GNAC Challenge Series. UHH beat Western Oregon 89-80 in the opening round and lost 76-67 to St. Martin’s in the final round.
“We want to use this week’s tournament as an opportunity to take a step forward,” Law said. “Our guys learned some valuable lesssons on the mainland trip and this tournament and the competitive field should be good for us.”
In the win over Western Oregon, the Vulcans had five players in double figures — CJ Brown with a career-high 24 points, Michael Melonas 18, Paul Batausa 15, Derek Owens 12 and Lucas Swanson 11. A key in the victory was free-throw shooting as the Vuls drained 39 of 52 charity shots, including a sizzling 24 of 27 in the final half.
In the loss to St. Martin’s, senior Mychael Hearn scored a career-high 25 points and Brandon Thomas added 11. But the other UHH scorers shot poorly and the Saints put five players in double figures to pull out the win.
“For us to be successful this year, we’re going to have to play good defense, rebound well as a team and get quality shots,” Law said. “Our free throw shooting has been good so far and that’s something we need to continue doing well. We’re also going to be a team that needs six or seven guys to contribute every night in different ways.
“We have the potential to be a good team, we’ve just got to keep working hard to hopefully make it happen.”
Following the Hilo tournament, the Vulcans will take a break and open PacWest Conference play on Dec. 1 at Dixie State.