Rainbow Wahine race past Tulsa
By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer
Fifth-seeded Hawai'i hammered fourth-seeded Tulsa, 62-48, to earn the dubious honor of playing top-seeded and sixth-ranked Louisiana Tech in a semifinal tomorrow at Reynolds Center. A year ago here, Tech barely beat Hawai'i, 53-50, in the WAC championship.
That was hardly a predictor of this surprisingly average 16-12 season, which threatens to end Hawai'i's streak of 20-win seasons at three. The Rainbow Wahine did not win a road game until a week ago. That included a 45-43 loss here last month when they managed but 17 points in the first half an offensive lapse that has appeared often.
But last night, in their biggest game of the year before 2,712 mostly rabid Golden Hurricane fans, the 'Bows were brilliant. They came out fearless, shackled Tulsa's Allison Curtin the WAC's scoring leader early and never trailed.
Every time Tulsa came with a surge, Hawai'i kept it short. On this night, every Curtin Call belonged to the 'Bows.
"It just appeared to me that they were not going to leave that floor with a loss," said Tulsa coach Kathy McConnell-Miller, whose team ended the season at 14-16.
Hawai'i's defense was devastating, holding its sixth consecutive opponent below 37-percent shooting. It was anchored by 6-foot-5 senior Christen Roper, who swatted seven shots.
"The reason why the defense was so effective is because our people on the perimeter know if they mess up they've got 'Rope' behind them," UH coach Vince Goo said. "That's a pretty good feeling."
Roper has 15 blocks in her past two games, 97 this season breaking her own UH record and a WAC-record 290 in her career. It got to the point where the Golden Hurricane all but refused to shoot anywhere near her wingspan. That included 6-foot-4 center Alyssa Shriver, who got rejected three times by Roper and finished 2 for 11 with five points.
"Roper's presence was felt far greater than those seven blocks," McConnell said. "She was phenomenal. She picked one of the most important games to step up and she stepped up."
Roper was so imposing on defense she left the offense to her teammates. Natasja Allen had a game-high 16 points divided equally between soft jumpers from the foul line and power drives. Kim Willoughby collected her third double-double (14 points, 11 rebounds), getting nine of each in a huge second half.
Jade Abele (12 points) had her first double-digit scoring game in nearly a month and April Atuaia had her sixth straight as she jump-started the offense with all 10 of her points in the first half.
Atuaia scored five points in the first three minutes as UH took a lead it would not relinquish. The Rainbows broke down Tulsa's offense from the start preventing Curtin, who averages more than 23 points a game, from making an impact and shot out to a 21-13 advantage as a result. UH had more blocks than turnovers at that juncture.
Freshman Megan Moody, who did not start, had all the Tulsa points, while the Rainbows got scoring from six players. Curtin, who only took one shot in the first seven minutes, came back from a six-minute siesta looking refreshed. She sank her next four shots and gave an assist to Shriver just before the buzzer.
That only cut Tulsa's deficit to 30-23 as Abele and Atuaia hit from beyond the arc and Willoughby sneaked free for a three-point play underneath.
Tulsa shot 3 of 20 to open the second half and Hawai'i began to have success pounding the ball inside. Michelle Gabriel's second 3-pointer put the lead at 10 for the first time at 35-25. Tulsa never cut it to single digits again even after Gabriel, the senior point guard, crumpled to the ground with a right ankle sprain after running into Curtin three minutes into the half.
The UH medical staff went on the floor and tugged her ankle to make a diagnosis. Gabriel screamed. She was carried off the floor and ended the game with her ankle on ice. Her status for tomorrow's game won't be known until today at the earliest.
"I was ready to cry when she yelled," Willoughby said. "You feel it. You just hate for that to happen, especially to a senior. You just feel for her. After that, you have to go out and play for that person."
Losing their stabilizing influence had no impact on the game. Freshman Trisha Nishimoto took over and pushed the offense to greater heights.
"I thought it would make a difference, but it didn't," McConnell said. "They just kept hitting shots and coming up with rebounds. It didn't hurt at all."
Hawai'i went on a 13-6 run after Gabriel's injury to go up 48-31, Willoughby scoring down low three consecutive possessions to give the 'Bows their biggest lead.
Curtin would finish with a game-high 19 points, but made only 4 of 11 in the second half as the UH defense, particularly Gabriel, Nishimoto and Atuaia, prevented her from penetrating.
"I think they played great," Curtin said of the 'Bows. "They knew exactly what they wanted to give us and they gave us exactly what they wanted tonight."
The effect was wide-ranging as Curtin's teammates were 4 for 23.
"It's very difficult to regain any momentum against Hawai'i because of the way they play," McConnell said. "They take time to execute and from the defensive end they sag off and make you work for things. It's very difficult to make any runs on them, come back from any significant deficit."
OVER AND BACK: 'Aiea High graduate Aritta Lane had six rebounds, three points and two assists in 17 minutes in Fresno State's 63-57 win over San Jose State. ... Boise State sophomore Jodi Nakashima, a Roosevelt High grad, went scoreless in six minutes against Louisiana Tech. ... The Hawai'i crowd included Christen Roper's 7-foot-1 cousin. He and the other Roper relatives who drove in from Kansas and Nebraska drove home last night and will return tomorrow. ... The Rainbow Wahine are now 8-6 in the WAC Tournament. Tulsa, which has hosted the last three tournaments, is 2-6.