Wahine seek breakthrough win on road
By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer
Road and home, seventh or eighth, Logan and Reno, win or lose? Options abound for the Rainbow Wahine as they head into what is probably the final week of the first season of the rest of their basketball lives.
Hawai'i, finally, has clinched its coveted place in next week's Western Athletic Conference tournament. The Rainbows (10-18) and Utah State (12-16) both go into tomorrow's regular-season finale in Logan with 4-11 conference records.
The winner will be seeded seventh and play second-seeded Louisiana Tech in Wednesday's last quarterfinal (6:30 p.m. HST) at Nevada's Lawlor Events Center. The loser is eighth and gets WAC regular-season champion Fresno State, and its 18-game winning streak, in the first quarterfinal (10 a.m.).
Hawai'i has yet to win a WAC road game this year and is being outscored 75-60 away from home, but it insists the opposition in Reno doesn't matter. It is anxious to beat the Aggies and sustain the momentum it built with its win over Boise State last week. Besides, the whole point of this inaugural season under coach Dana Takahara-Dias has been to learn from the journey and provide a foundation for the future.
"What a great foundation this is," Takahara said. "We are thrilled with the outcome of this season thus far, but we're still hungry and think we've still got a lot of basketball left. It's exciting for us to go up there, no pressure on us, just play hard, have fun and make Hawai'i proud."
Playing hard has not been a problem. This team, down to eight players last week and almost always overmatched, has played its collective 'ōkole off from the first tip-off four months ago. It has gone flat-out in all 10 wins, the five blowouts on the road and all those games where their last-gasp rallies came up agonizingly short.
Takahara calls that quality the most "blessed" aspect of this group, which made the transition from last year's turmoil to an entirely new staff with grace. The list of goals she put on her wall last summer has served as a GPS guide for this season of change — "Comeback Kids, Lead by Example On and Off the Court, Play with Heart, Have a Positive Attitude, Be Proud to Wear Hawai'i" are all checked off.
"All of those things I really believe we accomplished," Takahara said. "Not said in a boastful way, but this has been an amazing season."
The 'Bows were a few breaks from something more. Half their 18 losses were winnable in the final minutes, including the Louisiana Tech and Fresno State games. Takahara is already starting to imagine this "core" team with the three or four recruits that will be brought in and a healthy Megan Tinnin, Shawna Kuehu and Mai Ayabe.
All nine healthy Rainbows are on this final trip, with Leilani Galdones back from a seven-day suspension for "violating team rules."
"She greatly missed the privilege that was taken away from her so I believe she learned from it," Takahara said. "We're not going to dwell on it, just move on and she'll be back."
Now, it is just a matter of for how long. The 'Bows have two games left at least.
"It was a really wonderful journey this year for us as a coaching staff, as a program, because we're very young yet," Takahara said. "We have so many things to grow and learn from, but we took huge steps this year when it came time to figure out who we are as a program and how we play basketball.
"I think the foundation has been set for next year and future years because we play hard. There are many things we're very proud of, but none more than the fact that this team has character and heart."
Hawai'i has won just one WAC Tournament game the last six years, and it was a play-in game against San Jose State last season. It hasn't reached a semifinal since 2003.
The Rainbow Wahine Basketball banquet is April 11 at Ala Moana Hotel. Cocktails start at 5:30 p.m., with dinner and the program at 6:45. Registration deadline is April 1. Cost is $55 for Wahine Basketball Booster Club members, $65 for the public and $30 for children. Table sponsorships, for eight guests and two players, are also available. Contact Mel Nakao (220-1585 or mnakaowbb@ gmail.com).