Vulcans Survive Second-Half Struggle to Defeat Alaska
For the second consecutive day, the University of Hawai`i at Hilo women’s basketball team’s hopes of a win Tuesday were up in the air in the last few seconds of its game with the University of Alaska.
After falling a point short on a missed three-pointer from Alexa Jacobs Monday, the Vulcans caught a break on a missed runner from Alaska’s Benissa Bulaya as time expired, giving UH-Hilo a 60-58 win over the Nanooks in front of 236 fans at the UH-Hilo Gymnasium.
UH-Hilo (1-1) took the lead when Jordan Kealoha, a transfer from Division I Sacramento State, drained a pair of free throws with four seconds left. After a timeout, Alaska got the ball to point guard Benissa Bulaya, who dribbled from the opposite three point line and raced past a pair of Vulcan defenders to get about five feet away from the rim. She threw up a runner that hit the backboard, hung on the rim for a second, and eventually rolled out, securing the win for the Vulcans.
“We just were flat out lucky,” said UH-Hilo head coach David Kaneshiro about the game’s final play. “We couldn’t have handled that any worse giving up a layup down the court in four seconds.”
UH-Hilo found its groove from beyond the arc, hitting five of its eight three point attempts to help grow a 33-21 halftime lead. Charlotte “CC” Rode hit all three of her treys in the first half and scored 12 points, which was a tie for the team high. Junior Thea Hanato-Smith added two more threes in three attempts. For the game, the Vulcans shot 6-for-12 from distance with Kealoha adding a made three in the second half.
Rode, a transfer from Cochise Junior College, was especially important with her confident outside shooting.
“Last night, CC kinda struggled from the field,” said Kaneshiro. “She was a little down on herself and we had a little talk afterward and I said the shots were fine. It’s just that it didn’t go in, so just keep shooting them, and fortunately the very next night, she gets off to a great start and we needed it. I think it jump started it us a little bit.”
UH-Hilo built its lead up to 14, the largest in the game, with less than two minutes elapsed in the second half, but watched it slowly slip away in a foul-filled finish. The Nanooks’ comeback was fueled by freshman Jordan Wilson, who was held scoreless in the opening 20 minutes. She scored all 18 of her points in the second half while grabbing 11 rebounds and shooting 6-for-8 from the free throw line.
Alaska (4-1) embarked on a 12-0 run over a 4:08 stretch of the second half. Wilson started the run with a jumper to cut the Vulcans’ lead to nine at 39-30 with 14:39 remaining in the game. Later in the run, Kelly Logue tied the game at 39 with 11:43 left by scoring a layup after Autumn Childers picked up a steal on Alexa Jacobs.
The Nanooks took its first lead of the game on a free throw from Victoria Milton with 11:05 left to go ahead 40-39. Kealoha’s three-pointer immediately gave the lead back to UH-Hilo at 42-40 with 10:41 remaining.
The lead changed four more times before Kealoha’s game winning free throws. Kealoha drove down the right baseline and threw up a shot, which went in. The officials however, concluded that the foul committed by Wilson came before the shot was released, forcing the junior to get her points at the free throw line, which she did.
Kealoha, like Rode, scored 12 points to share the team high. She also contributed three assists and three steals in 34 minutes.
“We’re happy that we won and just as fortunate, I think,” Kaneshiro said in his postgame radio interview. “We were pretty good in the first few minutes defensively and offensively, we were a lot better than we were last night.”
The Nanooks were held to 25 percent shooting (7-for-28) while missing all six of their free throw attempts and committing 11 turnovers. UH-Hilo shot just under 42 percent (10-for-24) for the half with seven assists.
“In the second half, give Fairbanks a lot of credit,” Kaneshiro said, noting that Alaska was playing its fourth game in five days in the islands. “They really gave us a lot of trouble in the second half. We did not handle their pressure well.”
The Vulcans gave the ball away 13 times in the final 20 minutes and 23 times for the game. They also shot just 25 percent in the final half (6-for-24). The home team made up for it by going 14-for-20 from the free throw line.
Senior Kamie Imai, who picked up a double-double last night, was held to just nine points, five rebounds, and three assists while dealing with foul trouble for most of the game. Fellow returnee Hanato-Smith added eight points.
No other player for Alaska scored in double-digits. Bulaya scored nine points and added five steals. Autumn Childers scored eight points, all from the free throw line.
UH-Hilo will go through another long stretch without game competition, waiting until Dec. 2 to open up conference play at Chaminade.
Alaska 21 37 – 58
UH-Hilo 33 27 – 60