Basketball Coming Down The Stretch
Down the stretch they come! Racing fans all across the land are familiar with that call of the stretch run of an exciting horse race. But it’s a phrase that works for many other sports, too – including, at this time of year, the world of basketball.
In the PacWest, Hawaii’s hoop teams and others from California and Utah are jockeying for seeding position in a race to the qualifying spot finish for the second annual PacWest Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tournament. This year’s tourney will take place March 6-8 on the campus of Point Loma Nazarene University in beautiful San Diego.
Point Loma’s Golden Gymnasium sits on the bluffs of the Pacific Ocean and greets fans and teams alike with one of the most gorgeous views ever seen by sports fans anywhere. It’s a frequent occurrence to see basketball players taking sunset photos with the ocean in the background after they’ve played an afternoon contest there.
But the beauty of the setting is just one of the reasons why conference teams are battling so hard to qualify. The biggest reason is the prize at the end: The winners of both the women’s and men’s brackets earn an automatic berth into the NCAA Regionals.
Last year, island teams from two schools made it to the championship game. Hawaii Pacific University (HPU) fell to Academy of Art University in the PacWest women’s title game, while Chaminade battled Dixie State University to the wire before falling in the PacWest men’s championship contest.
This year, several Hawaii teams are in contention for qualifying spots as the race to the finish unfolds. On the men’s side, the stretch run includes Chaminade, BYU-Hawaii and HPU – all fighting for the six possible spots in the tournament and chasing regular-season leader California Baptist University. The top two seeds receive byes into the semifinals, while the 3-6 seeds play a first-round game.
Eric Bovaird’s Silverswords have had more than their share of scintillating finishes this season. Many of Chaminade’s losses and a few of its wins have been by just one or two points. Their games this year are definitely not for the faint of heart. In one especially frenetic contest, the Silverswords erased a seven-point deficit in the last 20 seconds to force double overtime.
Ken Wagner’s Seasiders also have raised the blood pressure monitor level this season. An amazing one-third of their games have gone to overtime, and a few have seen scores push over the century mark. BYU-Hawaii faces Chaminade Feb. 27 in a key game for seeding position.
Darren Vorderbruegge’s HPU SeaWarriors didn’t secure a berth last year until coming from behind in the final minutes of the last game of the regular season to win in overtime and qualify. This season, HPU started strong, but still needs a good finish to qualify again. Their home contest against Notre Dame de Namur University (NDNU) Saturday, Feb. 22, will be a key game down the stretch. NDNU is coached by former island prep star George Puou.
On the women’s side, HPU is chasing regular-season leader Academy of Art and battling for one of the top seeds again. Reid Takatsuka’s club has been red hot all season long. Meanwhile, UHHilo is trying to hold onto the final qualifying spot, as improved teams from Chaminade and BYU-Hawaii try to reach that position.
You can follow along on the conference website at thepacwest.com.