Journey to top begins
By Kalani Takase
Advertiser Staff Writer
One program is on the rise while the other is already there, but today they share a common opponent.
The Hawai'i Pacific women's basketball team won its first Pacific West Conference title this season and is making its first regional appearance.
The Brigham Young-Hawai'i men's team won its third straight league crown and qualified for its ninth postseason in 12 seasons. Both teams play Seattle Pacific in their respective West Regional openers today.
The Seasiders (20-5) rebounded from a rough start to claim a co-PacWest title, which they shared with Dixie State. BYUH played much of the season without All-America forward/center Lucas Alves, who returned from a torn ACL in January and just got sophomore guard Hsien "Jet" Chang back from an arm injury.
"We were excited to get Jet back because we thought we had lost him for the year," Seasiders coach Ken Wagner said. "Lucas looks like the old Lucas again and a lot of the other guys had some little injuries, but everyone is getting more and more healthy and we're playing pretty well right now."
BYUH has won 13 straight games heading into today's quarterfinal against Seattle Pacific (22-5), which tips off at 10:30 a.m. in Bellingham, Wash. The Seasiders are the sixth seed in the West Regional. The Falcons won 78-72 in Seattle back on Dec. 5 in the only meeting between the teams this season.
"We're excited to play, but you have to beat everybody, so seeding isn't that important," Wagner said. "I think it will be a good challenge."
BYUH hosted the West Regional as the top seed last year, but lost to Cal Poly Pomona in the final.
"I think it helps having been in this environment before," Wagner said. "When you're used to winning, it becomes a habit and I think that allows you to perform better."
That's in stark contrast to where the HPU women are as a fourth-year program.
The Sea Warriors (18-6) held the top spot in the PacWest women's standings for much of the season and improved from 14-15 last year.
"It means a lot with where we came from. This is the fourth year of the program, my third year, and from where we started to where we are now, it's a huge difference and it's a credit to these girls," HPU coach Jeff Harada said. "They came in this year focused on one goal and they haven't wavered from that."
The Sea Warriors dethroned two-time PacWest champion Grand Canyon, despite losing senior guard Tiffany Wilson, last year's PacWest Newcomer of the Year, early in the season.
"She's arguably our best player, but when she went down, the rest of the group stepped up," Harada said. "They're such an unselfish group. Its not about 'me, me, me' with them, it's about 'we.' We don't care who gets the credit or whose name is in the paper, at the end of the night, as long as we get the win, that's all we care about."
HPU is a decided underdog in today's quarterfinal against host and top seed Seattle Pacific (24-3). The Sea Warriors are the No. 8 seed in the regional. The game tips off at 5:30 p.m.
"We're not complaining about where we're seeded. Obviously, it's a disadvantage playing the home team and No. 1 seed, but we're going with the mentality that we can beat any team that we play against," Harada said. "We're a confident bunch and we know that we can compete with any team on any given night. We've got nothing to lose; the pressure is not on us."
HPU returned from a two-game road trip Sunday and left Tuesday night on a red-eye flight for Seattle, but Harada won't allow that to be an excuse.
He said: "It's a quick turn-around, but I told the girls that we can complain and make excuses that we're tired and now we have to fly out again, but it's better than staying home."
The men's game between BYU-Hawai'i and Seattle Pacific will be live-streamed at gnacsports.com and 1420 AM will carry the game on radio. The women's game between HPU and Seattle Pacific will be webcast and live stats are available on www.spufalcons.com.