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.