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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, March 21, 2001

Wahine enjoying moment

By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer

Tonight at Stan Sheriff Center will be two basketball teams that have warmed to the ambience of the Women's National Invitation Tournament.

UH coach Vince Goo said his team is playing as hard as it has all year.

Advertiser library photo • Jan. 12, 1998

The University of Hawai'i Wahine (25-7) moved on from NCAA Tournament rejection, and a player defection, with a clinical dissection of Santa Clara, and Monday's scintillating 77-73 overtime victory over Brigham Young.

"They are pretty gutty," UH coach Vince Goo said of his players. "It's been like that all year. They come from behind, lose some, surge again. It's really nice that at this time of the year, they've still got those surges in them on offense and still have that intensity on defense.

"It all boils down to, they want to be here and play basketball. They are enjoying it."

Oklahoma State (16-14), the Wahine's opponent tonight at 7, is enjoying its escape from the Big 12 — home of three Top-10 teams. All but one of the Cowgirls' losses came against NCAA Tournament teams. They took out North Texas and UNLV in the first two WNIT rounds, then flew eight hours to get to Honolulu yesterday afternoon.

"About halfway here," OSU coach Dick Halterman said, "they came up to me and said, 'We kinda wish we were going to BYU now.' "

 •  Women's National Invitation Tournament

WHO: Hawai'i vs. Oklahoma State.

WHEN: Today, 7 p.m.

WHERE: Stan Sheriff Center.

TICKETS: Stan Sheriff Center box office (956-4482), 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Tickets are $9 for adults, $6 senior citizens, $5 students. Tickets may also be purchased through Ticket Plus (526-4400). Convenience fees may apply. All seats are general admission.

Oklahoma State defeated Tulsa — Hawai'i's WAC contemporary — the second game of the season, 68-57. Golden Hurricane coach Kathy McConnell-Miller knew the Cowgirls would improve, immensely.

"They had a lot of freshmen and JC transfers and they were trying to find their way and establish roles," McConnell said yesterday. "I think they have. Their conference is what's keeping them in this tournament. They have played such a competitive schedule."

McConnell says no one will have trouble telling tonight's teams apart. Oklahoma State's "physicalness" is best defined in forward Kara Faulk, who leads the team in scoring and rebounding, and point guard Chantoya Hawkins. Beyond that, the Cowgirls are 10 deep, with at least that many looks and seven players with a dozen starts.

"Big, strong bodies that like to pound," is McConnell's assessment. Goo looks at the statistics, and the one game tape his staff has tracked down, and sees a challenge far removed from BYU, which was nothing like Santa Clara.

"This is the type of game where we'll have to make adjustments way before halftime," he said. "It might be too late at halftime."

Halterman's most compelling concern is his team's erratic shooting, and rebounding, where he has no one to shadow UH post players Christen Roper, who is 6 feet 5, and Dainora Puida, 6-4.

The teams do share a fondness for free throws. The Cowgirls outscored UNLV 24-2 from the foul line in their second-round game, while the Wahine's advantage over BYU was 29-8.

UH is 10th in the nation in free-throw shooting, at 76 percent, and has scored more than twice as many points as opponents from the line (619-285). Even away from home, the Wahine shot an average of 25 free throws to opponents' 12.

Tonight, neither team expects anything for free. They do expect to enjoy the moment, in a tournament that has been free of the blowouts that dominated the NCAA Tournament's early rounds.

"Three or four years ago, when we were going to the NCAA every year, our kids would have been disappointed now," Halterman said. "But we haven't been for two years and they're very excited about the WNIT and getting to play.

"We start a freshman and two sophomores. Any game now will help us next year. ... And since we beat North Texas and UNLV, the kids are starting to say we might be able to win this thing. There is a lot of excitement."

Same can be said for the Wahine, who shared one of the biggest wins in their history with their biggest crowd of the year Monday.

"This group has gone further than any team we've had," said Goo, who has taken eight squads into the postseason. "When all is said and done, we told them, 'Don't look back and say what if.' They have a chance to be something special."