LaTech fends off scrappy 'Bows, 79-71
• Photo gallery: Hawaii vs. Louisiana Tech womens' basketball
By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer
Another comeback came up short last night when Louisiana Tech held off Hawai'i, 79-71, in Western Athletic Conference women's basketball.
A Stan Sheriff Center crowd of 1,020 — second-best of the season — saw the Rainbow Wahine (9-19) lose their sixth straight. They fell to 3-11 in the conference with two games left.
Hawai'i remained in eighth by a half-game because San Jose State lost to Boise State to fall to 2-11. Only the top eight teams qualify for next month's WAC Tournament.
Qualifying is an important goal for the 'Bows. Breaking their losing streak is a more pressing challenge. UH coach Dana Takahara-Dias calls Wednesday's final home game, against Boise, a "must-win."
In contrast, the Techsters (18-6, 9-3 WAC) pulled ahead of Nevada into second last night, when the Wolf Pack lost to Fresno State. FSU clinched its third straight WAC regular-season title.
Behind senior Dita Liepkalne, Hawai'i stayed with Tech early, taking its last lead at 20-19 on Rebecca Dew's fadeaway 9:50 before halftime.
LaTech scored 14 of the next 15 points, with Adrienne Johnson getting four of her 12 first-half points.
The Techsters hit 52 percent of their shots in the half — Johnson missed just once — and all eight free throws. Shanavia Dowdell's layup at the buzzer made it 43-31 at the break.
Dowdell, who finished with a game-high 26 points, scored Tech's first three buckets in the second half as Hawai'i fell into a 52-34 hole.
Out of nowhere, but clearly with a huge assist from the bench and 40-minute woman Keisha Kanekoa, the Rainbow Wahine rallied.
Reserve post players Katie Wilson (12 points, 7 rebounds) and Dew (8 points, 8 rebounds) gave them a lift. Transfer Julita Bungaite scored a season-high 13 points off the bench. Kanekoa had 13 of her team-high 16 in the second half.
"We did it by playing hard, hustling, diving after balls," Liepkalne said. "The 'bigs' played really good. They didn't miss chippies, they got some good offensive rebounds. We just played hard."
The Rainbow Wahine cut the deficit to single digits (60-51) on Bungaite's second 3-pointer, with 8:47 showing. They closed to 62-58 on her third a few minutes later.
That was as close as LaTech would let UH get.
"We're just proud of this team to always have something in the tank to make it exciting at the end," Takahara said. "We changed a little, went full-court on them and that worked for a while."
After Johnson got the 'Bows' attention early, Dowdell scored 18 points and grabbed nine boards in the second half. Last season's WAC Player of the Year collected her 16th double-double. Johnson finished off Hawai'i with three straight baskets to make it 75-67 with 1:00 remaining. The all-WAC posts combined for 46 points and 23 rebounds.
"They are clearly the best posts in the WAC and they work well together," Takahara said. "If they don't hurt you one way, they hurt you another. We tried our best to play good post defense on them, but they just dominate."
The Rainbow Wahine were too little, literally, and too late, yet again. After getting out-rebounded by 22 in Ruston, they grabbed three more boards than Tech last night, hit 43 percent of their shots, had assists on half their baskets and still could not break through. It has become a common occurrence.
"A loss is a loss, but we just focus on the positives," Liepkalne said. "We focus on how far we have come, from the last year, from the preseason, from the first round in the WAC when we lost to them by more."
That has been Takahara's theory since she took over in May.
"Just the mere fact that we fought back against a clearly more athletic team than us shows we have heart," she said. "We'll get there eventually. There are so many good things to build on for the future."
Before the game, the team announced that sophomore Briauna Linton left the team for "personal reasons." Coach Dana Takahara-Dias said Linton was planning to transfer. Her loss leaves the 'Bows with nine healthy players. Linton, a reserve guard, played in all but two games and was averaging 9 minutes, 2.8 points and 1.5 rebounds.