Still plenty of fight in Rainbows
By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer
Already, there is one more win than in all of last year's tumultuous Rainbow Wahine basketball season. But the best barometer of this University of Hawai'i team might come Saturday when Fresno State helps UH open the second round of the Western Athletic Conference season.
The Bulldogs introduced rookie coach Dana Takahara-Dias to the WAC a month ago with an alarming 83-42 romp in Fresno. It is one of the 'Bows' five losses of 30-plus points in this transition season, but the only one in the WAC and probably the most painful. Fresno State (17-5) has won all seven games since, by an average of 20 points. It leads the league in scoring, defense, steals, shooting and total domination.
"They have very few weaknesses," Takahara said. "Their players know how to win. They are accustomed to winning. All their position players are great players in their own right, but collectively they are even better."
When the teams meet again Saturday at 5 p.m. at Stan Sheriff Center — in the opener of a Hawai'i-Fresno doubleheader — Takahara is looking to see how far her team has come. The Rainbow Wahine (9-12, 3-5), too, are collectively better than the sum of their parts. But after getting beat up the last few years, they sometimes forget how to win.
Hawai'i's goal now is to avoid the cellar and qualify for the WAC Tournament — and get better every game. This is basically the same team that went 8-23 last season. It might also be nothing like that team.
"I've been told it's night and day," Takahara said. "We know this team is a bunch of fighters. This team has been responding to the type of motivation we've tried to establish with them. We know this team will work hard day in and day out. For me, personally, I have nothing to pre-judge them with. All I know is they put forward great effort and heart.
"I do believe that this team, whatever it might have gone through in the past, still has the will and passion to do well."
Not as well as two-time defending WAC champion Fresno State, now receiving votes in the ESPN/USA Today poll. Not even close. But certainly this UH team has been better than last year's, particularly at home where it is 6-3.
The Rainbows have no one like Bulldog junior Jaleesa Ross. She helped Fresno State lead the nation in 3-pointers last season and needs 16 points to pass 'Aiea graduate Aritta Lane and move into eighth place in career scoring. The 'Bows had no chance last month in Fresno, where they trailed 42-19 at halftime and 11 Bulldogs scored; Hawai'i has only 10 healthy players.
Takahara knows what she is working with, and flatly admits that not only has her team improved over the season, but so has the staff. She shook her head at Fresno State's sophisticated dismantling of her team last time. Now she looks forward to seeing if they have "evolved" as much as she thinks.
"I think it's a belief in themselves and it might have to do with the fact we've attained some goals we had from the beginning," Takahara said. "We have a better win-loss record than last year and it's still early in the season. It's nice to see them bonding together and getting each other's back."
UH will not clear the arena after Saturday's women's game. Fans can stay for the men's game, which begins at 8:05 p.m. They will be asked to move to unoccupied seats in the upper level. Fans who already have tickets to the men's game can go to the women's game for free. Starting at halftime of the women's game, only tickets to the men's game will be for sale.