Brown, Paulsen power PLNU to 2nd half comeback, halt UH-Hilo run in PacWest Semifinals

Brown, Paulsen power PLNU to 2nd half comeback, halt UH-Hilo run in PacWest Semifinals

Brown, Paulsen power PLNU to 2nd half comeback, halt UH-Hilo run in PacWest Semifinals

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED MAR 8, 2024

SAN DIEGO, CA – So close. 

The University of Hawai’i-Hilo Vulcans saw the season end Friday afternoon as the fifth-seeded squad watched a double-digit halftime lead disappear to tournament hosts and top overall seed Point Loma (21-8, 15-5 PacWest), falling in the PacWest Men’s Basketball Championships’ semifinal round, 74-69. 

The Vulcans (19-12, 12-8 PacWest), who picked up the program’s first win in the conference tournament event that has gone on since 2013 on Thursday, opened the semifinals similar to their quarterfinal start by scoring six of the game’s first eight points to take a 6-2 lead just over four minutes into action. 

The nice start for the lower-seeded UH-Hilo continued through the first media timeout, going up by five after Zoar Nedd drilled a long-range shot before seeing PLNU tie the game at nine-all. Nedd gave the lead right back to the Vulcans with a short jumper to make it 11-9 and helped grow the lead back to four a few minutes later with his second three-ball of the day. 

The return of 2nd-team All-PacWest selection Carlos Ramsey Jr. boosted the Vulcans lead even more as the southpaw shooting guard rattled off five points in a row to make it a 25-14 advantage for UH-H with under eight minutes left in the opening half of play. Kaniela Aiona’s squad carried that momentum through the end of the period, staving off a PLNU run that brought the Sea Lions back within a possession by answering with an impressive run of their own to enter the break leading, 38-27. 

A switch to a zone defense by Point Loma to begin the 2nd half proved to be a heady move by 1st year head coach Justin Downer as the Sea Lions – behind 13 consecutive points from forward Wynton Brown to open the half – quickly sliced the Vulcans’ lead to three, 43-40, just three minutes and forty seconds out of the break. 

UH-Hilo clung to the lead, answering back with a short run of their own that was capped by a Jake Kosakowski triple to push the lead back to nine with 11 minutes left in regulation. Point Loma would respond once again, showing off true championship resolve behind Seattle Pacific transfer Zack Paulsen, a 1st-team All PacWest selection and the conference’s Newcomer of the Year winner. 

The junior guard assisted on a Nick Watkins triple before Luke Smith strung off five straight points. Then, it was Paulsen’s show. 

The 6-foot-4 guard drained a deep three to bring the Sea Lions within two, 60-58, with six minutes left to play and seemingly shifted the momentum back in the favor of the regular season co-champions. Brown dropped home a layup to knot the game at 60 and Paulsen re-tied the game on the next possession with a pull up of his own. 

He delivered the Sea Lions’ first lead since the game’s opening moments two minutes after tying it at 62, getting another short jumper to fall to push PLNU ahead with three minutes remaining. 

Another 3-pointer from Smith pushed the lead to five for the Sea Lions before UH-Hilo guard Charles Elzie III answered quickly with a drive to the rim to make it a one-possession game, 67-64. Another Paulsen finish gave the five-point advantage back to Point Loma with 90 seconds left in regulation, giving the breathing room needed for the Sea Lions to hold on as Paulsen and Brown went a perfect 4-of-4 from the charity stripe to ice it, 74-69. 

Point Loma was paced by Brown’s 23 points on 10-of-16 shooting from the floor as the Sea Lions advance to their second consecutive PacWest Championships title game. Zack Paulsen poured in 16 points, seven rebounds and four assists in the win as the PacWest Newcomer of the Year attempts to deliver back-to-back titles to PNLU. 

UH-Hilo’s Kalique Mitchell finished his collegiate career by leading the Vulcans in scoring, dropping 16 points to go with eight rebounds as the fifth-seeded squad dropped out in the semifinals of the tournament. Nadjrick Peat and Carlos Ramsey Jr. both added 12 points apiece in the loss, though both are expected to return to another talented Vulcans team next year. 

Point Loma will face #6 seed Azusa Pacific on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. HT, looking to win back-to-back conference titles despite major injuries up and down the roster.

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

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

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.” 

Three HPU Sharks selected to All-PacWest teams ahead of conference tournament

Three HPU Sharks selected to All-PacWest teams ahead of conference tournament

Three HPU Sharks selected to All-PacWest teams ahead of conference tournament

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED MAR 6, 2024

SAN DIEGO – The Hawai’i Pacific Sharks men’s basketball team received three honors from the PacWest Conference on Wednesday afternoon as guard Melo Sanchez was placed on the conference’s 2nd-team while Diggy Winbush and Maj Dusanic each received 3rd-team recognition. 

It was the first time any of the three had received end-of-year PacWest honors. 

The 2nd-team selection for Sanchez is the highest placement for a Shark since the 2020-21 season when Lachlan Viney made 1st-team. The sophomore shooter returned to HPU from the transfer portal this past offseason and put in work, finishing the regular season averaging the 9th-most points-per-game of any player in the league. The 6-foot-4 sniper also finished 2nd in the conference with 70 made 3-pointers this season, trailing only Azusa Pacific’s Ken West. 

Winbush, who joined the Sharks extremely late after last season and snatched the starting point guard job quickly, received 3rd-team honors in his first season at the Division II level. The Los Angeles, California product averaged the 4th-most assists per game of any player in the conference for the entire year and 2nd-most after league play began. Winbush also led the conference in assist-to-turnover ratio with 80 dimes to just 43 giveaways while averaging the 2nd-highest point total on the team. 

Dusanic was also named to the PacWest Conference’s 3rd-team after a fantastic second season in blue and grey as the captain forward poured in averages of over 11 points, five rebounds and two assists per game on a scorching 62% from the field, all while starting every one of HPU’s 28 contests this season. The Slovenian forward nearly doubled his scoring output from a year ago while posting three double-doubles, helping push the Sharks to the 3rd-best record in the league. HPU was predicted to finish 9th out of 11 teams in the preseason PacWest coach’s poll. 

Hawai’i Pacific will take on 6th-seeded Azusa Pacific on Thursday in San Diego, California in the quarterfinals of the PacWest Tournament with tip-off scheduled for 10:30 a.m. HT and will be broadcast on Hawai’i Sports Radio Network, 95.1 FM, AM 760 and hawaiisportsradio.com. The winner will face #2 seed and regular season co-champion Academy of Art on Friday at 10:30 a.m. HT in the semifinals. 

The Cougars, who were selected in the preseason as the conference’s top team, are led by three-time PacWest 1st-team selection Ken West and are looking to avenge last year’s performance when APU fell to Point Loma in the title game, 80-68. 

HPU uses defense, paint dominance on Senior Night to down Chaminade

HPU uses defense, paint dominance on Senior Night to down Chaminade

HPU 1st-year head coach Jesse Nakanishi flashes a double thumbs-up to the home crowd following the Sharks’ 77-72 victory on Senior Night over Chaminade. | Photo Credit: Michael Lasquero, HSRN

HPU uses defense, paint dominance on Senior Night to down Chaminade

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED FEB 29, 2024

HONOLULU – Alright, we know where we are dancing. 

The Hawai’i Pacific University men’s basketball team finished the 2023-24 home schedule flying high, taking down island rival Chaminade on Senior Night with a 77-72 victory as forward Maj Dusanic led the Sharks in front of a packed “Shark Tank” with 18 points on 9-of-10 shooting. The victory clinched a top-three seeding for first-year head coach Jesse Nakanishi’s squad in the PacWest Tournament as HPU returns to postseason play for the first time since the 2016-17 season. 

Before tip-off, the Sharks (18-9, 13-6 PacWest) would honor the only graduating senior in guard Tyrease Terrell – a transfer from Nicholls College and a Slidell, Louisiana-native that joined the program this past offseason in hopes of helping HPU turn around their recent luck on the men’s side. The 6-foot-3 graduate student has dealt with various adversities throughout his single year in the program – including missing playing in his own Senior Night due to a head injury – but always did it with a smile on his face. He was surprised with a video message from his close friends and family along with the Noelani students he has mentored and worked with in the “Shark Bite Mentorship Program” this year on O’ahu. 

Class A7 at the school signed a ball and made a poster in support of the guard’s big night and recorded a “thank you” video for the class favorite that was tear-provoking. 

Much like the women’s game from just before, Chaminade looked as though they would play spoiler of the Sharks’ celebration of Terrell – the lone graduating member of the HPU men’s roster – as the visitors opened an early 5-point lead over the Sharks after Scott Ator’s finish inside five minutes into the action. 

The Silverswords continued the early attack as sophomore standout Ross Reeves got in on the fun with five points in under 40 seconds to put CUH ahead by eight with 13:05 remaining in the first half, 17-9. HPU settled in with a pair of Dusanic finishes under the rim before Jacob Kimura’s first 3-point make of the season brought the Sharks within two just over 11 minutes before halftime. 

Charlie Weber followed it up 66 seconds later with a triple of his own to push the hosts ahead by one before getting fouled on another 3-point try and knocking in all three freebies. Matt Van Komen got on the board for the first time a minute after, giving HPU a six-point advantage with 8:02 to play in the half. 

Dusanic added two more buckets in the following minutes, helping HPU maintain the slim lead before some late-clock chaos struck. Turnovers, cold-shooting and Chaminade’s Reeves and Isaac Amaral-Artharee catching fire with a 12-5 run to end the half sent the visitors into the locker room leading by one, 40-39. 

“We came out of the gates slow,” Nakanishi said of his team’s first half performance. “We’re one of the better defensive teams [in the PacWest conference] and we gave up 40 in the 1st half, so a little slow but at least we scored [well in the 1st half].” 

Much like their counterparts before them, HPU quickly opened the 2nd half with some hot long-range shooting as Melo Sanchez drilled a triple before Diggy Winbush got loose for eight consecutive Sharks points (2 3PTM) to push HPU back in front, 50-46. After Amaral-Artharee and Van Komen traded 2-for-2 trips to the charity stripe, Winbush added another jumper to give Hawai’i Pacific a six-point advantage just under seven minutes into the second half. 

Back-to-back 3-pointers from Chaminade’s Kelton Samore pulled the Silverswords back within two, but back-to-back dunks (including an alley-oop) from the 7-foot-4 Van Komen gave the momentum right back to the Sharks. 

Each side continued trading baskets until Wyatt Lowell’s three with 8:09 to play gave the lead back to Chaminade, 63-62. Another HPU dunk, this time by Dusanic, pushed the Sharks back ahead momentarily until Jessiya Villa got a close-range shot to drop on the next possession for CUH. 

After a 30-second timeout from Nakanishi and HPU, the Sharks got another immediate boost in the arm with 7:08 left as Kimura drained a left-corner three – his second 3-point make of the season – putting the hosts in front for good. 

Dusanic provided some breathing room with another set of back-to-back scores for the team before Lowell brought Chaminade within three once again with 4:41 to play. Van Komen layed in another close-range try and Dusanic scored his 17th and 18th points of the night on the next possession to put the Sharks back up by seven with three and a half minutes left in regulation. 

“We really tried to make them guard more than one ball screen, more than one action and that’s where teams often lose guys like [Van Komen and Dusanic] a bit,” Nakanishi said of the 2nd half dominance in the paint. 

HPU, the top statistical defense in the PacWest going into the night according to points per game allowed, flexed that defensive might as they held Chaminade to four points over the final 3:37 to close out the win on Senior Night, 77-72. 

Chaminade was led by Wyatt Lowell’s 18 points as the senior forward went 3-of-8 from distance in the loss. Ross Reeves finished with 15 points, being held to just two after halftime as the Sharks keyed in on the standout sophomore. Isaac Amaral-Artharee ended his Chaminade Silverswords career with a 10-point outing, bringing his career total to 1,732 points and placing him second all-time in program scoring history. 

Hawai’i Pacific’s Maj Dusanic paced the Sharks with 18 points and 11 rebounds, tallying his third double-double of the season as the forward shot 9-of-10 from the floor. Diggy Winbush added 17 points while tying a season-best seven assists for HPU while Melo Sanchez and Matt Van Komen each chipped in 12 points in the victory. 

The loss ends an injury-riddled season for the Chaminade Silverswords, who finished the year at 10-18 overall and just 6-14 in PacWest play. Junior guard and third-leading scorer Jamir Thomas missed the final eight games of the season for Chaminade after tallying 11.6 points per game across 20 contests. 

“It felt good to get the win but not our best performance,” Nakanishi gave as an evaluation of the night. “[Chaminade]’s a tough team. They’ve got playmakers and they’ve got shot makers.” 

Hawai’i Pacific still has one more regular season game to play, visiting the University of Hawai’i-Hilo on Saturday before preparing for a long-awaited return to the conference tournament. The Sharks will look for a season sweep over UH-Hilo, who has also clinched a spot in next week’s PacWest tournament and is battling with Biola for the rights to the fourth seed over the fifth seed. 

HPU locked themselves into the third seed ahead of next week’s PacWest Tournament in San Diego, California with the win, regardless of Saturday’s result against the University of Hawai’i-Hilo.  

“I’m very proud of our guys,” Nakanishi said of clinching the PacWest’s three-seed. “It does mean a lot that we can get in the conference tournament and not just squeeze in there … we fell short of winning a regular-season championship, but we’ve got as good chance as anybody to go win it in the [PacWest] tournament.” 

Berge’s career-high pushes Hawai’i Pacific past Chaminade on Senior Day

Berge’s career-high pushes Hawai’i Pacific past Chaminade on Senior Day

HPU senior forward Ella Berge lets loose a massive grin after knocking down a 2nd half 3-pointer. The Swedish forward posted a career-best 22 points in the final home game of her college career to lead the Sharks to a 70-67 win over Chaminade. | Photo Credit: Michael Lasquero, HSRN

Berge’s career-high pushes Hawai’i Pacific past Chaminade on Senior Day

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED FEB 29, 2024

HONOLULU – The Hawai’i Pacific women’s basketball team finished the 2023-24 home schedule on a high note Thursday night, sending off three seniors in their final home game for HPU with a thrilling 70-67 win over H1-rival Chaminade. Ella Berge, the senior 5-foot-11 forward out of Sweden, enjoyed her finest game as a Shark in her final “Shark Tank” appearance with a career-best 22 points to go along with 10 rebounds for her second double-double of the season and third of her career in the victory. Berge, alongside Keona Loftis and the injured Ashley Nunez, was honored pre-game with a ceremony for Senior Day.

After falling to the Silverswords back in January, it looked like the Sharks would suffer a similar fate early on as Chaminade raced out to a 21-13 lead after 10 minutes of play. The Swords hit 7-of-13 attempts from the floor (including 3-for-3 from 3-point range) in the first quarter as the visitors tried to play spoiler on Senior Day. CUH forward Sameera Elmasri found the touch from distance with a pair of triples – one just before the horn sounded from way downtown – and poured in nine points in total in the night’s first frame to carry Chaminade to an eight-point advantage. 

The poor start for the Sharks continued into the second quarter as Chaminade grew the lead as large as 14 with 3:55 left in the opening half after senior forward Emma Morris completed the Silverswords’ fourth “and-one” of the first half to make it 38-24. The insertion of forward Kalina Obrey for HPU and the increased defensive intensity sparked the Sharks’ end of the period as Hawai’i Pacific finished the half on a 12-0 run, cutting the Chaminade lead to two at the break, 38-36.

HPU continued the momentum after halftime into the third quarter, snapping off a 13-5 run behind 11 straight points from Berge as the Swedish forward drilled a trio of 3-pointers to quickly surprise Chaminade. The 3-point barrage put Hawai’i Pacific ahead for the first time all night, 49-43, and capped a 20-point turnaround in less than eight minutes of game action. 

CUH settled after head coach Michael Edwards called for a timeout, pushing back in front by one with 3:06 left in the third as freshman guard Amaya Washington hit a jumper to make it 52-51 in favor of the Silverswords. HPU responded in turn once again though, ripping off the final 2:44 of the quarter on a 6-0 run to enter the final frame leading by five. 

The Sharks took their biggest lead of the night just about three minutes into the fourth after Haley Masaki dropped home a layup to make it 62-54 before four consecutive points from Elmasri followed by a Washington 3-pointer brought the Silverswords back within one with 5:09 left to play. 

After a 1-for-2 trip to the foul line for Erika Glenn gave HPU a five-point lead with just over three minutes left to play, Chaminade would once again pull within one after Elmasri split a pair at the charity stripe with 57 seconds remaining in regulation. Glenn gave the Sharks some breathing room with a mid-range jumper from the top of the key with 35 ticks remaining and hit the second of two free throws with 1.5 seconds left to give a three-point advantage to HPU. 

Edwards would call timeout and advance the ball for one final heave at the horn to try and send the game to overtime but Hawai’i Pacific’s defense stood tall as Morgan Escobedo’s 3-point attempt went awry at the buzzer, clinching the revenge win for the Sharks. 

Sameera Elmasri led the way for Chaminade with 19 points and 12 rebounds, posting her sixth double-double of the year. Freshman guard Morgan Escobedo added 13 points, four rebounds and four assists in the loss for the Silverswords. CUH closes the season at 4-22 overall and 1-19 in PacWest play, the lone win coming over HPU on January 18. 

Ella Berge ended her “Shark Tank” playing career with an incredible outing, pouring in 22 points and 10 rebounds as HPU snapped a five-game losing streak. Haley Masaki and Erika Glenn each scored 10 points for the Sharks, showing a glimpse of what HPU fans could have to look forward to at home next season. 

While Chaminade’s season came to a close Thursday, Hawai’i Pacific will travel to UH-Hilo on Saturday to close out the regular season. The Sharks were 66-52 winners over the Vulcans back on January 20 and look to sweep the regular season series against their state rivals for the second consecutive year.