By BILL O’REAR
Tribune-Herald sports editor
University of Hawaii at Hilo women’s basketball coach David Kaneshiro has always pointed to defense as his team’s No. 1 priority. And this season, his Vulcans are playing solid on the defensive side of the court.
But if the Vulcans are going to rise in the Pacific West Conference standings this year, they’ll have to be more efficient on offense and shoot the ball better.
“Certainly, shooting the ball is an area we’ve been working on,” Kaneshiro said Thursday afternoon as his team prepared for a two-game nonconference series with visiting St. Martin’s University from Lacey, Wash.
The Vulcans (2-3 overall) battle the Saints (5-3) at 5 p.m. today and Saturday at the UHH Gym.
As a team, the Vulcans are averaging 63 points per game, but only hitting 33 percent from the field, 25 percent on 3-pointers, and 65 percent from the free-throw line. (On defense, the Vuls are giving up 65.8 points per game).
“Shooting the ball is a touchy area,” Kaneshiro said. “It’s like putting in golf. If you think about it too much or tighten up, it can affect your shot.”
Kaneshiro said the Vulcans have been working on shooting drills and some of the players have stayed after practice to shoot on their own.
“I know we have shooters who can shoot at a higher percentage,” Kaneshiro said. “We just have to run our offense efficiently and when we have those open looks, we just need to knock down those shots. I’ve got confidence in our shooters and know they can hit those shots. I know one of these games, we’re going to put together a really good shooting effort with everyone hitting those shots. Hopefully, it’ll be this weekend — and hopefully, it’ll come in back-to-back games.”
The Vulcans got a shooting spark from junior Kirstie Williams, a 5-foot-6 guard from Lincoln, Calif., during their last two games. Williams drained 5 of 13 3-pointers while averaging 10 points per game.
“Kirstie gave us a nice lift,” Kaneshiro said. “I know Kirstie, Jordan (Kealoha), Whitney (Edens), C.C. (Rode) and Thea (Hanato-Smith) can all knock down those outside shots. They just have to stay confident and be ready when the opportunity comes.”
Senior guard Kamie Imai, out of Waiakea High School, leads UHH in scoring (13.5 points per game), rebounding (7.5) and assists (3.0). But she’s shooting just 41 percent from the floor and only 59 percent from the free-throw line. Opponents have often double-teamed the talented Imai, and but she still has been the Vulcans’ most productive player.
Williams, coming off an injury and with three two games under her belt, follows Imai in scoring at 10 points per game. And on a positive note, she made 3 of 5 treys in UHH’s recent 80-53 win over visiting Brigham Young University-Hawaii when the Vulcans made a season-high 6 of 12 3-pointers.
McKenzie Mangino, a 5-10 center, and Edens, a 5-6 junior guard, are both averaging 6.5 points and 6.5 rebounds per contest. They were teammates last year at Northern California powerhouse Santa Rosa Junior College before transferring to UHH.
Kaneshiro calls St. Martin’s “a very good team.”
“They’re coming off a win over 18th-ranked Northwest Nazarene and have also beaten two PacWest teams this season,” Kaneshiro said, noting the Saints earlier defeated Notre Dame de Namur and Cal Baptist.
The Saints are coached by Tim Healy, in his 18th season.
“St. Martin’s has a really good post player (Chelsea Haskey), and they surround her with shot-makers,” the UHH coach said. “They’re a very good team on both ends of the court. They’re not going to beat themselves, and they do all the little things well that help win games. They also mix up their defenses, from man to a match-up zone.”
Haskey, a senior forward, is averaging a team-high 16.9 points, 7.6 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game. Juniors Angela Gelher (10.4 ppg) and Brooke Paulson (7.4) also are key contributors in St. Martin’s attack.
Following this weekend’s series with St. Martin’s, the Lady Vuls play at BYU-Hawaii on Dec. 21 before hosting Dixie State, along with the Vulcan men, on Jan. 2 at UHH Gym.