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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Saturday, January 12, 2002

Wahine struggle to beat SMU

By Catherine E. Toth
Advertiser Staff Writer

An out-of-sync offense and 19 turnovers could have meant the end of a five-game win streak for the University of Hawai'i.

But a solid defensive effort and big plays from the bench helped the Wahine survive with a depleted lineup to edge Southern Methodist, 52-51, in a Western Athletic Conference women's basketball game last night at the Stan Sheriff Center.

The Wahine (10-2, 3-0 WAC) extended their winning streak to six games with the victory over the shorthanded Mustangs (6-9, 1-4), who used just eight players because of injuries.

The return of freshman forward Jade Abele was timely for the Wahine.

With forward Kim Willoughby sidelined due to severe abdominal pain, Abele was thrust into the lineup. Having missed six games due to a stress fracture in her right foot, and just returning to practice on Thursday, her role was supposed to be limited.

That all changed 17 minutes and 49 seconds into the game.

Hawai'i's leading scorer, junior forward Natasja Allen, hit the floor hard after missing an inside jumper.

Clutching her left ankle, she cringed and writhed in pain on the floor, the crowd of 1,006 silent. She left the game with a sprained left ankle and didn't return until the second half.

Junior center Arijana Sijercic, who was supposed to take most of Willoughby's minutes, went in for Allen.

"I knew we didn't have depth at that position," said sophomore guard April Atuaia, who had just two points and six rebounds. "But our bench really stepped up and played well for us."

Hawai'i's bench accounted for 24 points.

The lack of depth and offensive miscues on Hawai'i's part nearly let SMU sneak away with a victory.

With less than two minutes left in the game, SMU's Jackee Brown knocked down a 3-pointer to pull the Mustangs to within three points, 52-49. Atuaia missed an off-balance jumper and Hawai'i committed another turnover on its following possession. Junior guard Kenni Patton then hit a jumper to push SMU to within one point.

After Hawai'i failed to convert on offense, the Mustangs had one last shot in the closing seconds that just bounced off the rim.

Hawai'i rebounded just as time expired.

Atuaia said the closer-than-expected matchup was a good experience for the team.

"We learned how to stay composed; that if you're having a bad night, you have to keep your composure," she said.

Freshman Chelsea Wagner, who led the Wahine with 13 points, agreed.

"I wouldn't say we were lucky to get that win," Wagner said. "We worked hard for that."

The Wahine had to work hard playing without Willoughby, who was coming off of a career game, and Allen.

During a 26-second span in the first half, Sijercic, filling in for Allen, confidently pulled up from the top of the arc to sink only her second 3-pointer of the season and the team's first bucket of the game.

Abele came in for a productive 10 minutes that included five rebounds and a 3-pointer at 12:53 to push the Wahine ahead, 12-11. But her eagerness led to three turnovers and a 2-of-7 outing from the field in the first half.

The Wahine were 5-of-14 from beyond the arc, compared to the Mustangs' conservative 1-of-5 effort. Though they held SMU to just 25.7 percent shooting from the floor, Hawai'i shot just 34.5 percent.

With a 29-20 lead starting the second half, the Wahine pulled together their offense. Junior center Christen Roper, the team's second leading scorer, hit back-to-back jumpers in the first three minutes. She ended with eight points and 12 rebounds.

Though Allen returned in the second half, she wasn't productive offensively, going 0-for-6 from the field for the game and scoring no points. She came into the game averaging 14.6 points.

It was defense that kept the Wahine in the game.

"We played very good defense," Wagner said. "Our defense said we came out to win."

Hawai'i barely out-rebounded SMU, 46-43.

Despite five more turnovers than SMU, the Wahine blocked six shots and went to the line 12 times, hitting nine for 75 percent.

"It was a good defensive effort, but a sloppy offense," UH head coach Vince Goo said. "We were out of sync tonight."

Though the Wahine held the Mustangs to just 31.5 percent shooting from the floor, they shot for just 31 percent as well, 27.6 percent in the second half.

Sophomore guard Andrea Cossey, Southern Methodist's leading scorer, led her team with 21 points.

The Wahine face No. 11 (AP Poll, No. 13 Coaches Poll) Lousiana Tech at 5 p.m. tomorrow at the Stan Sheriff Center.

There will be an alumnae game at 3 p.m.