UH-Hilo’s hot shooting leads Vulcans to wire-to-wire win in rubber match with Biola

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED MAR 7, 2024

SAN DIEGO, CA – The University of Hawai’i Hilo Vulcans are heating up right at the best time.  

UH-H head coach Kaniela Aiona continued his build of the Vulcans’ men’s basketball program with a major milestone win Thursday afternoon, avenging last season’s PacWest quarterfinal loss against Biola with a wire-to-wire victory in this year’s version of the event against a similar Eagles squad.  

The win for the Vulcans marked the first time since the PacWest Championships began in 2013 that UH-Hilo won a round and advanced in the tournament. They even did so without leading scorer and 2nd team all-conference selection Carlos Ramsey Jr., who missed the contest after suffering an injury during warmups. 

UH-H blasted out of the gates to a 13-8 lead after just eight minutes and used the increased defensive focus on guard Kalique Mitchell to open up opportunities for others behind the arc and in the paint. The Vulcans extended their lead into double digits as they scored 18 of the next 21 points to take a commanding 31-13 advantage with under four minutes remaining in the half. 

The Vulcans would grow the lead as large as 24 before Biola’s Daniel Esparza drained a deep three right before the break to try and give the Eagles a little life heading into halftime trailing UH-Hilo, 39-18. 

Hilo continued to hold Biola at arms’ length for much of the 2nd half, controlling the glass while Mitchell and Charles Elzie III diced the Eagles’ defense while keeping the lead over 20 for the opening 10 minutes of the second half. 

Down 55-32, Biola geared up for one final push to get back into the game as the Eagles sliced off a 17-6 run over the next three and a half minutes to bring the contest within 12 with just over six and a half left in regulation. Once again, the Vulcans had the response on the offensive end as the two sides traded baskets for the remainer of the game en route to the University of Hawai’i-Hilo’s first PacWest Tournament victory. 

Biola was led by sophomore forward Tyus Parrish-Tillman’s double-double with 24 points and 10 rebounds while starting guard Daniel Esparza ended the day with 20 points in the loss. The Eagles were hurt by an off day from one of the conference’s best scorers as Nathan Medina managed just six points on 2-of-9 shooting against UH-H’s defense. 

Vulcans’ all-conference guard Kalique Mitchell ended the night with a near-triple double as the senior posted 23 points, nine rebounds and seven assists in the win. Elzie III followed closely behind with 21 points off the pine to push UH-Hilo into Friday’s semifinal round and a date with the defending tournament champions and current hosts of the PacWest Tournament, top-seeded Point Loma, with tip-off scheduled for 12:45 p.m. HT.  

“Proud of the team,” UH-Hilo head coach Kaniela Aiona said postgame. “The team had the right mindset coming in and preparation for this week and … it showed up right there at the beginning of the game.”