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Lady Vulcans Find Spark Against Dixie State

January 22, 2016, 1:44 PM HST
* Updated January 22, 1:41 PM
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UH-Hilo guard Vanessa Mancera goes to the basket against Dixie State on Thursday. UH-Hilo photo.

UH-Hilo guard Vanessa Mancera goes to the basket against Dixie State on Thursday. UH-Hilo photo.

David Kaneshiro’s task to put together a brand new nucleus of players together on his women’s basketball team has been a challenge, especially early. His patience, coupled with the determination of his University of Hawai’i at Hilo women’s basketball team, has started to produce results.

Despite a cold shooting stretch in the middle of Thursday afternoon’s game against Dixie State, strong defense and timely shot making turned things around for UH-Hilo, leading to a 68-63 win for the Vulcans against the Red Storm at the Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium.

It wasn’t the strongest shooting night for UH-Hilo, one of the worst shooting teams in the PacWest Conference. The Vulcans shot 36.5 percent (23-for-63) in the game, but it was more about the shots that did go down when it mattered.

UH-Hilo (4-9 overall, 4-4 PacWest) trailed by as much as 16 points in the first half and struggled to score in the middle quarters. Down by 11 early in the fourth quarter, however, the Vulcans got back in the game with a 10-0 run, jump started by a pair of treys by freshman guard Kim Schmelz. Felicia Kolb and Vanessa Mancera added field goals to cut the Red Storm lead to 53-52 with 5:31 remaining.

Taylor Mann, Dixie State’s dominant post player, added a basket to push the lead to three, but Schmelz fired back with a game-tying three to nod the game at 55-55 with 4:38 left in the game. Then, on the Vulcans’ next possesion, Sydney Mercer drove hard down the baseline to the basket, hit her layup, and drew a foul to give the Vulcans a 58-55 advantage with 3:15 left, a lead they would not relinquish.

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“I’m just really proud of the effort, especially being down double-digits in the first half,” said Kaneshiro. “We just kinda hung with it, chipped away, chipped away, and finally were able to get it.”

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Dixie State (3-12, 3-6) seemed to take control of the game late in the first quarter, firing off a 15-0 run that rolled into the second quarter, allowing the Red Storm to take a 34-19 lead. The Vulcans didn’t get a basket in the quarter until Schmelz scored with 5:26 left in the opening half.

It was a cold offensive quarter for the home team, but it ended on a positive note with Lauren Hong’s buzzer-beating trey to send the Vulcans into the locker room down 38-27.

“It wasn’t the prettiest, especially in the first half,” Kaneshiro said. “I thought we were just playing too fast offensively in the first half, and then when we did go to the basket and got a good look, we just didn’t finish.”

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The unsung storyline of Thursday’s game was the Vulcans’ effort on defense and on the boards. Led by Kolb and Patience Taylor, UH-Hilo picked up nine steals and forced 14 turnovers by Dixie State.

“This was, as far as consistency and effort on the boards, the best game we’ve had all year,” Kaneshiro said in praise of his team, who out-rebounded Dixie State 43-39. “We’ve just been murdered on the boards all year, but we out-rebounded them tonight.”

Schmelz, the Vulcans’ leading scorer this season, once again led the way with 19 points on 7-for-15 shooting. Mercer added 14 points and five rebounds, and Hong dropped in 10 points, grabbed eight rebounds, and dished out six assists. All three came off of the bench.

Mann, a double-double machine for Dixie State, got another one on Thursday, scoring a team-high 14 points and grabbing 12 rebounds. Chermayne Moore and Tomorie Sangster each contributed 21 points.

Dixie State 22 16 12 13 – 63

Hawai’i-Hilo 19 8 15 26 – 68

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