Hawai’i Pacific suffers setback against APU in PacWest quarterfinals, 56-55

Hawai’i Pacific suffers setback against APU in PacWest quarterfinals, 56-55

Hawai’i Pacific suffers setback against APU in PacWest quarterfinals, 56-55

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED MAR 7, 2024

SAN DIEGO, CA – The Sharks continued to hammer home the point in their postgame press conference. 

“No moral victories,” HPU’s first-year head coach Jesse Nakanishi repeated. 

Yet following Hawai’i Pacific’s 56-55 loss to #6 seed Azusa Pacific Thursday afternoon, it’s difficult not to see those mini-victories that had been piling up all year for the Sharks. Despite that mounting momentum for HPU, APU had different plans for Round 3 of Sharks-Cougars. 

Hawai’i Pacific (18-11, 13-7 PacWest) struggled out the gate, going the opening three minutes of action without scoring after APU’s Ken West drilled a step back 3-pointer for the game’s first points on the opening possession. Charlie Weber finally got the Sharks on the board with a close finish inside at the 16:11 mark before Maj Dusanic delivered the first lead of the day to HPU on the very next possession with a nifty finish of his own. 

APU, though struggling offensively overall, caught fire from behind the arc in the early going as the team’s first four made shots came behind the 3-point line with forward George Reidy serving as the catalyst of the Cougars’ 12-6 lead just over eight minutes into the game. 

Nakanishi’s squad, just as they had all season, responded before allowing the game to get out of hand by attacking the paint and rattling off the next eight points to re-take the lead with just over nine minutes left in the first half, 14-12. The Sharks pushed the lead to four following a Melo Sanchez triple with 6:11 remaining before Azusa Pacific was able to knot things up at 21-all after a Reidy layup two minutes later. 

APU grabbed the lead to close out the half, going on a 9-4 run over the final two and a half minutes to take a five-point advantage into the break after redshirt freshman Michael Saba drilled a corner three at the horn to make it 30-25. 

Sanchez drained another three to open the 2nd half to bring the Sharks back within a possession, but Azusa Pacific’s Bryce Sloan would answer right back with a longball of his own on the next possession. HPU’s Weber tried his luck with a straightaway 3-point make before Reidy continued his hot shooting for another Cougars’ response.  

HPU would flip the script, scoring the next ten points to take a four-point lead of their own by the 12-minute mark before Saba snatched the lead back for Azusa Pacific quickly with five straight points to give a 42-40 advantage to the Cougars with 11:01 remaining. 

The teams traded baskets over the next six minutes, seeing the game tied up by the Sharks before APU would take the lead right back. The preseason PacWest favorites after falling in last season’s championship game, Azusa Pacific showed off the team’s championship DNA as they fought off valiant efforts from Hawai’i Pacific over the final four minutes to cling on and upset the Sharks, 56-55. 

Azusa Pacific’s George Reidy posted his 3rd-highest scoring output of the year, leading all scorers with 18 points while going a tidy 7-of-13 from the floor and 4-of-9 from long range. APU guard Bryce Sloan added 12 points, five assists and eight turnovers in the win while All-PacWest 1st-team selection Ken West ended the afternoon with 8 points. 

APU will take on #2 seed and PacWest regular season co-champion Academy of Art on Friday, March 7 with tip-off scheduled for 10:30 a.m. HT/12:30 p.m. PST. 

Hawai’i Pacific was led by Melo Sanchez’s 14 points of 5-of-15 shooting as the 2nd-team all-conference guard dealt with foul trouble for most of the contest. Charlie Weber ended the day with 11 points while 3rd-team all-conference pick Diggy Winbush did a little bit of everything with nine points, seven rebounds and six assists in the loss for the Sharks. 

While Nakanishi didn’t want to hear or talk about moral victories postgame, it’s apparent that his Hawai’i Pacific program is on the rise with eyes on more than just a PacWest Conference tournament berth. With all but one player expected to return to the Sharks next year, HPU doesn’t look like they’re going anywhere but up. 

Either way, Nakanishi says it’s back to work for his team as soon as possible. 

A PacWest championship is the goal – stated by Nakanishi himself. 

Thursday served as a setback, sure, but only makes for a greater comeback. 

Sharks’ backcourt shows out late as Hawai’i Pacific takes down Biola for 4th straight win

Sharks’ backcourt shows out late as Hawai’i Pacific takes down Biola for 4th straight win

Sharks’ backcourt shows out late as Hawai’i Pacific takes down Biola for 4th straight win

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED FEB 10, 2024

HONOLULU – Stack ‘em up, Sharks. 

Jesse Nakanishi acknowledged the importance of his team stringing together wins in the second half of the conference schedule following HPU’s 66-58 win over Azusa Pacific back on January 23, noting that his squad had split the last three weeks of games with a win followed by a loss. While the Sharks would drop a heartbreaker at home against Point Loma that following Thursday, his team took the message to heart. 

Since the January 25 home loss against Point Loma, Hawai’i Pacific has not lost in four outings against varying opponents. It started on the road with a gutsy three-point win at Westmont, then was followed by robust performance and 16-point victory at Fresno Pacific before returning home to host two of the conference’s top four programs entering the week in Concordia-Irvine and Biola. 

The Sharks just kept swimming along. 

Hawai’i Pacific dominated Concordia-Irvine from the jump, blitzing the Golden Eagles out of the gate to take a 23-point lead into halftime before cruising to a 66-48 win Thursday night, pushing them into third in the PacWest after Biola fell the same night against UH-Hilo. With Thursday’s results, the Sharks’ homecoming game on Saturday against Biola provided an opportunity to put some distance between HPU and the Eagles. 

HPU did exactly that. 

After Charlie Weber opened the scoring with a right-wing three, Biola answered with a pair of buckets on the other end as Maximo Milovich and Casey Cappo tried to set a physical tone for the visitors. Diggy Winbush did not seem affected by the physical play of the Eagles at all, quickly heating up and scoring the next seven HPU points to push his squad ahead just four minutes into action, 10-9. 

Biola leading scorer Nathan Medina quickly got loose after the under-12-minute media timeout, scoring six consecutive points to push the Eagles back in front by three as the first half ticked under the 10-minute mark. The lead was short-lived as HPU’s Josh Niusulu drilled a triple to knot things at 16 a piece and Kordel Ng followed it up with a pair of makes at the foul stripe to put the Sharks ahead for good. 

Biola would tie things once more at 20-20, but a 13-3 run by HPU to end the half – accented by a Melo Sanchez run-out for a layup at the buzzer – gave Hawai’i Pacific a double-digit advantage going into the locker room. 

Following the break in the action, HPU continued to hold Biola at arm’s length as Niusulu silenced Medina for the second half by holding the sophomore guard scoreless after halftime. On the other end, the Sharks continued to follow the lead of the dynamic backcourt duo of Sanchez and Winbush to build a 16-point lead with less than nine minutes to play after the reigning PacWest player of the week in Sanchez drilled a tough triple on the left side to make it 55-39. 

Foul trouble for HPU and early bonus trips for Biola helped the Eagles bring the game within single digits again as Casey Cappo took over for the visitors and imposed his will before Matthew Van Komen and Maj Dusanic were able to close the paint for business. 

Despite Biola’s best efforts to extend the game as long as possible, the Sharks closed out their fourth consecutive victory and first win over Biola since January 2, 2020, as HPU went 12-of-14 from the charity stripe over the final 93 seconds of the contest and 21-of-28 overall from the foul line to take down the Eagles, 79-70. 

Biola was led by Cappo’s 18 points before the junior from Walnut Creek, California fouled out. Daniel Esparza finished the night with 17 points on 7-of-18 shooting while Medina ended the night with the seven first-half points after Niusulu’s brilliance on the defensive end. The seven points scored by Medina was the sophomore guard’s second-lowest output of the season. 

Hawai’i Pacific’s Diggy Winbush turned in an all-around exceptional performance with 18 points to go along with six boards while tying a season-high with seven assists. His backcourt duo Melo Sanchez poured in 17 points, 15 coming in the second half, to help push the Sharks into double-digit conference wins for the first time since the 2017-18 season. Big Matt Van Komen posted his first double-double with the Sharks, tallying 10 points and 13 rebounds while blocking three shots in 27 minutes of work. 

HPU now hits the road for a two-week West Coast trip, opening with a first-place date with conference-leading Point Loma before playing three of the other top-seven teams. Hawai’i Pacific sits just half-a-game behind Point Loma and Academy of Art for first place in the PacWest. 

HPU looks for second-ever win when visiting UH-Mānoa on Sunday

HPU looks for second-ever win when visiting UH-Mānoa on Sunday

HPU looking for second-ever win against ‘Bows in Sunday matchup

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED DEC 7, 2023

HONOLULU — Old friends, new energy, and a pair of O’ahu-based college basketball teams off to strong starts to their 2023-24 seasons. 

The Hawai’i Pacific University men’s basketball team, now under the leadership of longtime high school coach and former UH assistant Jesse Nakanishi, will roll down the hill from the “Shark Tank” to the other show in Mānoa for a date with the 6-1 Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors this Sunday. The Sharks are currently riding the high of a 5-game winning streak after dropping the first two contests of the season, most recently taking down Fresno Pacific in a tightly-contested home win on Monday. 

While the game counts as just an exhibition for the Division II program, coaches and players alike are treating the matchup as anything but such. 

“Definitely not treating it as an exhibition,” Nakanishi said on Thursday. “We play all games the same way and we’re going to try and put our best foot forward to win this thing and compete at a high level.” 

The Sharks have changed up routine for practice a bit ahead of the matchup, switching to slightly shorter, more intense practices to increase efficiency in preparation for Sunday’s test. To do so, the coaching staff has also keyed in on player recovery and rest in time away from the court this week. 

Ahead of the “Battle for O’ahu,” here are three keys for HPU should the 5-2 Sharks want to come up with the program’s 2nd ever victory over its D1 counterpart and the first since the flip of the century. 


 

1. Control the painted area. 

HPU presents a different challenge than most Division II programs, employing a more-than-healthy sized front court with 7-foot-4 graduate transfer Matthew Van Komen patrolling the paint and the springy 6-foot-7 Slovenian Maj Dusanic right next to him. 

The Sharks don’t get much smaller when going to the bench, either. Backing up Van Komen is 6-foot-11 Tucker Pellicci, who has continued to provide quality minutes off the pine for Nakanishi and staff to allow the team to steal minutes of rest at a time for “Mount Van Komen” each half without significant drop-off. ETSU transfer Charlie Weber, who stands at 6-foot-9 and played a significant amount of center during his time on the mainland, made his debut on December 2 after missing HPU’s first five contests due to injury and enjoyed a hot-shooting 2nd half against Fresno Pacific by drilling deep two after deep two. 

With options inside, HPU has felt that the team’s strength lies with the post play. That hasn’t necessarily been the case for the Sharks on offense, seeing the top two scorers for the year play guard in Diggy Winbush and Melo Sanchez (more on him later). 

Defensively? That’s been an entirely different story. 

The Sharks are tied for 19th nationally in Division 2, averaging five blocks per contest across seven games. That number doesn’t include the impact that the shot blockers employed by HPU have on the multitude of attempts coming near and at the rim. It will be vital that the strong paint defense continues against a Hawai’i team that relentlessly attacks the lane with guards and has a quality big man in Bernardo de Silva. 

2. Get Melo Sanchez going once again. 

Told you we’d get back to him. 

The sophomore guard leads HPU in points per contest, putting in around 17 points per game for the Sharks. That number has rapidly dipped over the previous two outings as the 6-foot-4 guard was held to just seven points against each of Westmont and Fresno Pacific. Before then, the San Diego-native had scored 15 or more points in four of five appearances to begin the year, including a season-best 32 points at home against Slippery Rock that pushed his per-game average to 20.8 points in each outing. 

Opponents have keyed in on the guard at times this season, allowing others to get buckets of their own to help lead HPU to victory (most recently seeing Winbush explode for 27 points versus Westmont and earn PacWest player of the week honors). When it comes to matching up against the ‘Bows, however, Hawai’i Pacific will need the team’s best scorer to show up in the brightest lights yet this year. Sanchez had just nine points last season as a true freshman against UH up in Laie as he fouled out in 21 minutes and took just five total shots. 

The formula this time around needs to look much different for HPU and that means feeding Melo and letting the sophomore guard feast. It’s a tough ask against a UH program with many strong perimeter defenders but can serve as an excellent measuring stick for the guard and team to see where they are and where they need to get to as the schedule rolls along.

3. Don’t let the game slip away in bench minutes. 

One of the biggest concerns and toughest parts of games this season for HPU has been during the mainly-bench minutes. 

Now, it’s not because of a lack of quality players or poor play. There just hasn’t been a true scorer that has emerged with the second unit quite yet for HPU through seven games. Just once through those seven outings has there been a double-digit performance off the bench for HPU, coming in the season-opening loss at Alaska Fairbanks when Ethan Taafe finished with 10 points. 

Taafe has enjoyed a nice start to his second season at HPU, but the true piece to keep an eye out for is the aforementioned Weber. The 6-foot-9 forward expects to continue ramping up his minutes and play a key role for the Sharks as he moves out of the post and has shown off some wing ability as well. If the Division I transfer continues to work his sea-legs under him, Nakanishi and staff have an intriguing scoring piece to boost the second unit. 

It’s going to be important for HPU to compete in the bench minutes for both sides. Each team goes about nine players deep in the rotation but UH’s bench unit has been an exciting one that has led to big leads at times with young talents like Tom Beattie and Mor Seck. 

Should HPU pull off an upset, look back at how the bench units performed versus one another and if Weber is able to shake off a ton of the rust from the past two years off.