Walker’s Triple-Double Keeps UH-Hilo in Playoff Race
Every game has had an elimination-style feel to it for the University of Hawai’i at Hilo men’s basketball team over the past few weeks.
With an outside shot at the playoffs, UH-Hilo has found a way to stay in the race, winning its fourth consecutive game with an 83-68 victory over Point Loma Nazarene Tuesday night at the Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium.
The win keeps UH-Hilo, along with four other teams, alive for the final berth in the PacWest Conference Men’s Basketball Tournament, held next week in Irvine, Calif.
“I like the way we are playing,” said UH-Hilo men’s basketball coach GE Coleman. “We are playing unselfish. We’re playing hard. We’re playing together. It’s a fun group.”
In the win, senior Nate Walker collected the first triple-double in program history, scoring 26 points, grabbing 10 rebounds, and dishing out 10 assists, including his last assist with less than a minute remaining to set the record.
“One of my teammates told me right before, maybe within the last minute,” said Walker, a forward from Tacoma, Wash., on finding out about his stat line right before his last dish. “I told [Ryan Reyes] to give and go, and it worked.”
Walker missed seven games in the middle of the season because of a long illness, and it has taken some time for him to get back in the flow of Coleman’s offense. Scoring over 20 points in three of the last four games has shown that he has found his groove at the perfect time.
“He’s been amazing,” Coleman said. “I can’t tell you how proud I am of him. I’ve known this kid since he was 17 years old. He’s had a rough go of it at times, but he’s persevered and stuck with it, and he’s absolutely taking this team and guiding it.”
Part of what helped Walker excel to his career night was a key adjustment made at halftime by UH-Hilo. The Vulcans committed 15 turnovers in the first 20 minutes and struggled to find spots against Point Loma Nazarene’s extended zone defense. In the last 20 minutes, UH-Hilo spaced the court out better, utilizing both high and low post passing to cut apart the pesky zone.
Point Loma Nazarene (13-12, 8-10) couldn’t get out of the zone defense, as it suited up just seven players for the game. The Sea Lions could not afford to lose any players due to foul trouble, and while one player did foul out, the risk was too great to open the floor to a man-to-man defense and expose more players to potential foul disqualification.
“We knew going in that if we could get the ball to the high post and the short corner, they would have a tough time with that zone and we’d be able to pound it in” Coleman explained. “I thought we kinda rushed it and we weren’t playing to our potential [in the first half]. We settled down and we kept going insde, and I thought we did a great job.”
Even with its sluggish start, UH-Hilo charged back in to the game. Even trailing by as much as nine points late in the half, the Vulcans closed out the first 20 minutes on a 10-0 run. Ryan Reyes spearheaded the run with a pair of baskets and pressure defense, and Jordan Russell gave the Vulcans the lead with a running 19-foot shot that just left his left shooting hand before the buzzer sounded, giving the home team a 29-28 halftime edge.
Reyes was perfect from the floor, shooting 7-for-7 on his way to a 15-point, 5 rebound, and 4 assist performance. UH-Hilo shot 25-for-39 (.641) in the second half.
Randan Berinobis added 12 points and eight rebounds for UH-Hilo, who outrebounded Point Loma 46-22 for the game and 27-5 in the second half alone.
Freshman Josh Rodriguez led Point Loma with 22 points and eight assists. Chad Watkins scored 16 points off of the bench, and Mike Planeta added 12 points.
UH-Hilo (9-14, 9-10) sits a half-game back of Fresno Pacific and Chaminade for the last postseason spot. The Vulcans are tied with Dominican in conference. Point Loma is still in contention for the final berth, but must win out in its last two games and get help along the way.
Up next for UH-Hilo is the season finale against Azusa Pacific, who lost to BYU-Hawai’i on Tuesday night by the final score of 81-64. The Cougars are 19-7 on the season.
Point Loma Nazarene 28 40 – 68
Hawai’i Hilo 29 54 – 83