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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Rainbow Wahine feeling good for WAC season


by Stanley Lee
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Dana Takahara-Dias

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The goal is relatively simple for the Rainbow Wahine basketball team: to improve every game.

Focusing on team chemistry and making better decisions may not be paramount for other teams. But for a young Hawai'i team with a new coaching staff, the small and simple things got it through a tough nonconference season that included two ranked teams and two trips to the Mainland.

The Rainbow Wahine were 6-7 in nonconference play and begin the Western Athletic Conference season today at defending champion Fresno State (9-5).

"We have improved in just the trust, we trust each other a lot more on the court, off the court," said foward Dita Liepkalne, the team's only senior. "I think we've done it through the hard work because we show up here every day, push each other around, and just work hard, break a sweat and that brings everyone that much closer."

Improving team chemistry has been key for a team coming off a 8-23 season last year that culminated with the firing of coach Jim Bolla. Hawai'i was picked to finish last in the preseason WAC coaches poll and second to last by WAC media.

"We have been striving on the fact we have to get better every game and by the Kent State series, I can honestly say we played very good basketball for two straight nights and we're very proud of their efforts," said Hawai'i coach Dana Takahara-Dias, whose team beat Kent State on back-to-back nights last week. "I'm feeling good going into the WAC, the team feels good going into the WAC. This is where it all counts now and hopefully our tough nonconference schedule prepared us for the road and journey that lies ahead."

Takahara said the team's synergy is getting better and team play is meshing nicely. The turnovers are down from 25 at the beginning of the season to 21, a small, but needed improvement.

"We always tell our players we're so, so very proud of the fact they have bought into a system they have been running for four months," Takahara said. "The improvement we have made as a team in four months is outstanding and we're playing against opponents that have been running a system for years and years a nonconference schedule, a preseason schedule, a conditioning schedule, a spring schedule. We haven't had that under our belts. We really are proud of the fact this team has responded to everything we have asked of them."

The preseason travel will help the Rainbow Wahine adjust to the travel during the WAC season. Hawai'i opened the year in southern California and played in a tournament in Las Vegas. The team is getting a head start on the spring semester, holding study hall on the road this week despite classes starting next week.

"WAC season is always tiring because it's one week here, one week on the road, one week here, so the traveling definitely helped because we are more mentally prepared on what we have to go through," Liepkalne said.

BOISE STATE

Record: 11-3

Head coach: Gordy Presnell (90-50, 5th season)

Notes: Tasha Harris (5-9, Sr., G) neared a triple-double with 18 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists in Thursday's win over Wyoming. Harris is averaging 16.4 points per game. ... Jessica Van Hoogen (5-9, Sr., G) leads the team with 17.1 points. ... Broncos are 7-0 at home.

FRESNO STATE

Record: 9-5

Head coach: Adrian Wiggins (104-50, 5th season)

Notes: Defending champion, picked by coaches to win WAC title. ... Jaleesa Ross (5-8, Jr., G) is second on the school's career 3-pointers list and only one of 16 players in program history to surpass 1,000 points. ... Bulldogs are making nine 3-pointers a game. ... Trailed No. 2 Stanford 24-19 at halftime on Wednesday before losing, 68-46.

HAWAI'I

Record: 6-7

Head coach: Dana Takahara-Dias (6-7, 1st season)

Notes: Won last two games, beating Kent State in a two-game series. ... Keisha Kanekoa (5-6, Jr., G) leads the team with 9.8 points per game. Breanna Arbuckle (6-0, So., F) and Leilani Galdones (5-6, Jr., G) are averaging 7.8 each. ... Arbuckle is averaging 6.4 rebounds and Rebecca Dew (6-4, So., C) is averaging 6.3 rebounds. ... Leading scorer Shawna Kuehu (5-10, Fr., F/G), who was averaging 11.1 points, is now doing rehab after suffering a season-ending ACL injury in November.

IDAHO

Record: 2-11

Head coach: Jon Newlee (15-26, 2nd)

Notes: Shaena-Lyn Kuehu (5-9, So., G), a Punahou graduate and Shawna's twin, is 13th in the WAC in scoring (11.4) and 12th in rebounding (6.2). ... Derisa Taleni (5-9, Sr., G), last year's leading scorer and WAC Newcomer of the Year, is out for the season with a knee injury. ... Newlee and associate head coach Gavin Petersen, a University High grad, were former Rainbow Wahine assistants and assistant coach Christa (Brossman) Sanford played at UH. ... Other Hawai'i connections are Kanisha Bello (5-8, Fr., G) of Waiākea and Natasha Helsham (5-8, Fr., G) of 'Aiea.

LOUISIANA TECH

Record: 9-3

Head coach: Teresa Weatherspoon (18-5, 2nd season)

Notes: Picked by media to win WAC title. ... Reigning WAC Player of the Year Shanavia Dowdell (6-2, Sr., F) leads the WAC with 17.7 points and 10.7 rebounds, and is shooting 55 percent from the field. ... Adrienne Johnson (6-0, Jr., F) is averaging 16.7 points and Whitney Jones (5-7, Jr., G) is averaging 12.0. ... Lost to No. 7 LSU, 77-74; and No. 8 Baylor, 77-67. ... Weatherspoon's jersey is retired at LA Tech and the former WNBA player and Olympian will be inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame this summer.

NEVADA

Record: 6-8

Head coach: Jane Albright (24-22, 2nd season)

Notes: Shavon Moore (6-1, Jr., F) and Tahnee Robinson (5-9, Jr., G) both lead the team in points (11.2) and Johnna Ward (5-10, Jr., G) is averaging 10.7. ... Wolf Pack have committed at least 25 turnovers in last seven games. ... Nevada has outrebounded opponents in 11 games.

NEW MEXICO STATE

Record: 10-4

Head coach: Darin Spence (87-108, 7th season)

Notes: Crystal Boyd scored 25 points in Sunday's upset of No. 21 Kansas for the program's first win over a ranked team in five years. ... Boyd (5-11, Sr., G) is averaging 14.1 points and 7.8 rebounds. Jasmine Lowe (5-7, Jr., G) is averaging 13.5, followed by Madison Spence (5-11, Jr., G) 12.2 and Danisha Corbett (5-10, Jr., G) 10.2.

SAN JOSE STATE

Record: 4-9

Head coach: Pam DeCosta (9-65, 3rd season)

Notes: Chasity Shavers scored a career-high 32 points in a 68-66 upset of No. 22 Cal on Dec. 9. The Spartans' last win over a ranked team was in 1983. ... Already doubled last year's win total (2-28). ... Shavers (5-11, Sr., G) is averaging 15.9 points and Samantha Marez (6-3, Jr., C/F) is averaging 11.5.

UTAH STATE

Record: 8-5

Head coach: Raegan Pebley (66-118, 7th year)

Notes: Alice Coddington (5-10, Jr., G) had a league-record 13 steals on Dec. 21 in a win over Weber State, one shy of the NCAA record. ... Trisha Jo Goddard (5-7, Fr., G/F) leads the WAC in 3-point shooting at 52 percent (17 of 33). Amber White (5-10, Jr., G/F) leads the team in scoring (11.3). ... Pualei Furtado (5-5, Fr., G) is a Kamehameha grad. ... Banna Diop (6-6, Fr., C) is from Senegal and played high-school ball in Japan.