By MATT GERHART
Tribune-Herald sports writer
It wasn’t the finish the University of Hawaii at Hilo was looking for, but it still has one more chance.
The Vulcans’ bogged down offensively in the latter stages, just as their rebounding abandoned them Thursday night, during a 63-56 loss to Fresno Pacific at UHH Gym.
“On both ends we couldn’t finish very well,” Vulcans coach David Kaneshiro said. “Our defense would guard, but they would find a way to make a big play and get to the basket.
“We gave up some second shots and those definitely hurt.”
Junior guard Kirstie Williams had the hot hand early and finished with a game-high 19 points for UHH (9-14, 8-11 Pacific West Conference), which can still hold on to the No. 5 seed in the PacWest women’s basketball playoffs with a victory Saturday night at home against Hawaii Pacific in the regular-season finale. The six-team postseason starts Thursday in San Diego.
“A huge game for a number of reasons,” Kaneshiro said. “Senior Night for Kamie Imai, and we all want to win for her.
“It’s Hawaii Pacific. They’ve been the best team in the state for a number of years.”
Junior McKenzie Mangino finished with 17 points for the Vulcans on 11-of-12 shooting from the free-throw line.
UHH, which shot just 30.2 percent and was 8 of 25 from 3-point land, saw a three-game winning streak end.
“We made improvements,” Kaneshiro said. “Our defensive effort and awareness were much better.”
Junior guard Keairra White scored 10 of her 16 points in the second half for the Sunbirds (11-14, 11-8), who are ineligible for the postseason.
Williams’ 3-pointer gave UHH a 52-51 lead with 6:04 remaining, however, that was the Vulcans’ last made field goal of the game.
“It was execution, not effort,” Kaneshiro said.
Every possession down the stretch was crucial.
Mangino hit a pair of free throws to give UHH a one-point lead with 3:33 left, but White drove for a basket to put the Sunbirds ahead for good.
The Vulcans missed their last six shots from the field, including three 3-point attempts by Williams, who was 5 of 11 from beyond the arc.
“We wish we had some of those possessions back,” Kaneshiro said.
With the Vulcans trailing by one, Imai missed the front end of a one-and one with just more than a minute remaining. The Sunbirds iced the game from the free-throw line.
Imai grabbed a game-high 13 rebounds.
Fresno Pacific held a 40-37 advantage on the boards and shot 41.7 percent.
UHH trailed by three at halftime, but it scored the first eight points of the second half, thanks to 3-pointers by Jordan Kealoha (eight points) and Williams.
The Vulcans led by as many as five points in the early-going, but the Sunbirds went on a 10-0 run, sparked by two 3-pointers by Jenay Herring, to take a 21-14 lead just before the midway point of the first half.
Mangino made two layups, the second on a putback, and UHH answered by scoring the next nine points of the game. Williams capped the spurt with her third 3-pointer.
But UHH had trouble finding offense when Williams and Mangino weren’t on the floor.
Imai didn’t score her first points of the night until she made a pair of free throws late in the first half, finishing with six.
Fresno Pacific 32 31 – 63
UHH 29 27—56