By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer
The University of Hawaii Wahine had an emphatic answer for every problem posed by Southern Methodist in whipping the defending Western Athletic Conference basketball champion, 74-56, last night before 694 at Stan Sheriff Center.
The Mustangs (6-7, 1-1) have been to six of the last seven NCAA Tournaments and were preseason favorites to win the WAC. Hawaii (10-3, 1-1) was picked second, but lost a 10-point lead and its WAC opener against Texas Christian in overtime on Friday.
"We have reasons why we didnt play well at the end against TCU," UH coach Vince Goo said. "But thats private stuff. In public, its going to sound like excuses. We let the players know we understand what they were going through at that time.
"Tonight was a character check. ... We lost a heart-breaker, lets see how they come back."
Hawaii came back hard. Too hard for SMU, which never recovered from the Wahines early zone-zapping barrage from outside and its own, season-long shooting slump.
The Mustangs, famous for in-your-face defensive pressure, started in a 2-3 zone similar to what TCU used effectively on Friday. UH senior Crystal Lee and freshman April Atuaia shot it down, burying a pair of 3-pointers apiece in the first five minutes to give UH a 12-3 lead.
"I was surprised at how quickly she (Atuaia) pulled the trigger," SMU coach Rhonda Rompola said. "She is a confident freshman."
Their shooting, Christen Ropers imposing presence inside and Hawaiis defense sparked a 16-0 run. SMU All-American D-dra Rucker hit a 3 to open the game, but the Mustangs missed their next 10 shots. By the time they put two baskets together, they trailed 20-6.
SMU cut its deficit to 29-23 at the break. It would get no closer, with Rucker its only offense in the second half. "Our post game right now is nonexistent," Rompola admitted.
Behind centers Roper and Dainora Puida, the Wahine out-rebounded SMU by an eye-opening 48-27 margin. Aside from Rucker, who scored 18 points, SMUs only success came in holding Kylie Galloway the WACs leading scorer to nine points.
Galloway, who missed the end of the TCU game with light-headedness, took just one shot in the first half, and finished with five assists.
"We knew they would double team her down low," Goo said. "So we had her move away from the basket. When she drew attention, she was going to look to dish. She did what we asked."
Lee (16 points) and Atuaia (a career-high 15) created more than enough offense.
"Coach gave me the green light," Atuaia said. "Ive always had it but tonight I was just feeling my shot so I took the opportunity."
They got a huge second-half assist from Puida, who lost her starting job to Roper last night. Puida had 16 points and five rebounds in the final 20 minutes, finishing with a double-double (16 points, 13 rebounds).
The Wahine pulled away by pushing their offense into overdrive. At a timeout five minutes into the second half, Goo told his players of the need for speed in an effort to finish off the Mustangs.
Hawaii scored seven straight in less than a minute to go up 44-30. An 8-0 surge a few minutes later put the game away.
"I knew some of our people were tired, but I said what the hey," Goo said. "We were going to challenge them. It was a character check. Lets see what they got in the gas tank."
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