By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
The University of Hawaii at Hilo women’s basketball team couldn’t have scripted Senior Night any better: play a thousand times less than its best in the first half, rebound with better energy in the second half, and win in overtime.
The Vulcans played shutout defense in the extra period and topped Chaminade 72-61 in a Pacific West Conference game on Tuesday, snapping a pesky three-game losing streak and giving their eight seniors a memorable sendoff in their last contest at UHH Gym.
And it was the seniors who came to the rescue for UHH, which suffered from a serious case of cellar-dweller osmosis in the first half, looking a lot like the Silverswords, who are last in scoring defense.
Kristen Shimizu scored five quick points out of the break, including a 3-pointer, and Kirsty Imai hit a pair of 3s to spark a 13-6 run and tie it 38-38. A little later, Natalie Mata scored eight straight points and the Vuls increased their lead to 50-44, but the Silverswords just wouldn’t go away — at least until OT rolled around the corner.
The Vulcans lose eight seniors, including four starters in Kirsty Imai, Jameia McDuffie, Shimizu and Jazlyn Afusia. The other seniors are Shannon Rosseau, Mata, Elise Spain and Jazmine Corpuz.
Mata scored 20 points on 9 of 15 shooting, getting the start on Senior Night. Kamie Imai added 15 points while her her sister Kirsty pitched in 14 and Shimizu finished with 11 points for UHH (12-10, 9-7 PacWest).
McDuffie had a rough night from the field, taking an 0 for 6 collar. But she fed her teammates and handled the ball well, dishing seven assists and recording zero turnovers.
Rhani Kaneaiakala scored 15 points to lead the Silverswords (1-12, 1-16). Their only win was at home against Holy Names on New Year’s Eve.
In the first half, Chaminade didn’t look like the conference’s cellar-dweller, at least not against the Vuls, converting 44 percent (11 of 25) on field goals. UHH clanked a lot of shots, making just 26 percent (10 of 38) from the floor.
Even bad turned into good for Chaminade early. Sabrina Angle airmailed a corner shot, but it turned into a nice on-the-money pass to Nikki Tauau, who boxed out, got the ball and was fouled. She made one of two free throws for a 28-19 lead with 4:32 left in the half.
Right before the break, UHH played for the last shot. They missed, rebounded, missed again, rebounded and missed a third time. It was 32-25, the Swords up in the first half and resembling an upset-minded Cinderella.
Then the second half started and the Silverswords reverted to their old form. They started throwing the ball away and finished with 25 turnovers, right on the number that pegs them last in that league category. The Vuls had only 12 giveaways.
The Vulcans are not done yet. They finish the regular season Saturday on the road against BYU-Hawaii. Then there’s their upcoming appearance in the inaugural six-team conference tournament, a first-time postseason appearance.
But that’s not what UHH coach David Kaneshiro will remember most about his Gang of Eight.
“They’re an outstanding group and have done a lot for the program. They’ve had good wins and good moments,” said Kaneshiro, not needing to specify UHH’s dramatic four-game road winning streak in January. “I’m proud of what they did off the court. They’re all going to graduate in the spring or summer. They’ve represented the program in a great way in terms of their effort on the court, and whether it’s been on-campus, in class or in the community. It shows in the way they play.
“They play consistently hard, together and unselfish as a group. I’ve had people come up to me and say they enjoy watching the team play. I certainly enjoy working with them with their attitude and the way they play. I’ll miss the day to day interaction. Every day they come ready to work with the same positive attitude and great work ethic. Fortunately, we’ve got a couple of more times to work with them, and we’ll make the most of it.”
Chaminade 32 29 0 — 61
UHH 25 36 11 — 72