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Maui Classic brings back Beavers, brings home Hafoka

Women’s college hoops tourney set for Dec. 18-19

Fiemea Hafoka, a graduate of Lahainaluna High School, will lead San Jose State into the Maui Jim Maui Classic in December. -- San Jose State Athletics / TERRELL LLOYD photo

Mention Maui and a smile comes to Scott Rueck’s face.

Mention the 2019 Maui Jim Maui Classic to Rueck and the grin grows from ear to ear for the Oregon State University women’s basketball coach.

The fourth annual event will take place at the Lahaina Civic Center for the second straight year Dec. 18-19, and host OSU will likely head to the Valley Isle ranked in the top 10.

The Beavers, who were 26-8 last season when they advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16, will play Northern Arizona in their opener here and Brigham Young on the second day in what could be a top-25 matchup. The Cougars went 26-7 last season and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

“We’re always excited to come to Maui,” Rueck said Thursday. “The tournament has just evolved over the years and our partnership with BasketballMaui just keeps getting better and better. So, we’re excited for this version, this upcoming tournament.”

Oregon State’s Destiny Slocum was an AP and WBCA honorable mention All-American last season. -- OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY photo

In a new twist, the Beavers were able to invite San Jose State, which features senior point guard Fiemea Hafoka, a Lahainaluna High School graduate.

“Super excited !!” Hafoka posted on Twitter on Wednesday. “What a blessing it is to play @ HOME for my final year. The Court that I played the majority of my middle and high school games on. Lahaina Civic Center Dec. 18-19! BE THERE!”

The Spartans will play BYU and Northern Arizona here.

“That’s what this is all about, this is bigger than Oregon State, it is bigger than basketball,” Rueck said. “This is getting into the community and giving back for all of us. So this event, the vision of this event was bigger than four basketball games in a beautiful location. This was about impacting as many people as possible.

“So, when you have the opportunity — in a weird way — to host a local hero and have her community come out and support her in person, that is just a beautiful icing on the cake. That puts a smile on my face to know that she’s going to have an incredible couple days in front of her friends and family and her community that loves her so much.”

And the basketball will be good as well. Northern Arizona was 13-18 last season, while SJSU was 6-24, but both appear to be much improved coming into this season.

“You’ve got four exciting teams,” Rueck said. “Northern Arizona, dynamic team and program. San Jose State plays at just a breakneck speed, just a real unique style of play that is exciting. Then you’ve got a team that I think without a doubt is a top-25 team in BYU. And the prognostications for our program, I think we’re going to be in the top 10 in the preseason polls, so it should be great basketball.”

Rueck said that the BYU matchup is big for his team — last season, the No. 8 Beavers lost here for the first time in six games when Texas A&M pulled out a 76-70 upset.

“No question, you want to play great teams and we knew that when we scheduled (BYU) you’re going up against a team that might be the favorite to win their conference, they are going to win a lot of games,” Rueck said. “They’re definitely a 20-plus-win team, so that’s going to help our RPI certainly and help us prepare for what we have ahead as we look towards the Pac-12 schedule.

“They’ll test us in many ways and that should just be an outstanding basketball game.”

The time of day it takes place is still to be determined. The Beavers have held school-time games at Gill Coliseum in Corvallis for the last nine years and last season they drew more than 9,000 fans using the format that allowed local schools to take field trips to the game.

BasketballMaui would like to do that here, with local schools having the chance to take field trips to the games, on one day or both.

Details are still being worked out to make sure the LCC venue is available.

“I’ve heard that’s possible,” Rueck said. “I believe that is the plan. I’m hopeful that’s the plan, being that we’re in the middle of the week this year, we’re not on a weekend like we previously have been. My hope is that we’re in front of as many kids as possible.”

The Beavers are led by their backcourt of Destiny Slocum and Mikayla Pivec.

Pivec was a WBCA honorable mention All-America selection last season when she averaged 15.2 points while shooting 52.6 percent from the floor, and 9.2 rebounds. Slocum was an AP and WBCA honorable mention All-American.

“There’s a lot of great storylines,” Rueck said. “Mikayla Pivec is our most-decorated senior coming back. Just an incredible person, on and off the court, but a dynamic player, represented the United States in the Pan American Games this summer in Peru. … Then you’ve got Destiny Slocum, too. Destiny did play with USA Basketball this summer for one 3-on-3 tournament, but she’s just one of the most dynamic guards in the country.”

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com