'Bows set for 'third season'
by Stanley Lee
Advertiser Staff Writer
In a season of new coaches, growing pains, and peaks and lows, the Rainbow Wahine basketball team never doubted it would qualify for the WAC Tournament.
Chances were slim when Hawai'i had a seven-game losing streak late in the season. Its roster even dropped to eight players at one point, but the Rainbow Wahine won a key game two weeks ago over Boise State to put themselves in position to secure the Western Athletic Conference's eighth and final berth for the tournament that starts tomorrow in Reno, Nev.
Eighth-seeded Hawai'i (10-19) faces top-seeded Fresno State (25-5) in a quarterfinal game at 10 a.m. HST at the Lawlor Events Center. Semifinal games will be held on Friday and the championship game is Saturday.
"We are very pleased to be in the WAC Tournament," said senior foward Dita Liepkalne. "At the same time, it was our goal to be here. I'm not surprised we are here. It's just kind of a goal that we succeeded in. We are excited but at the same time looking forward to what we have to do and win the next game."
Making the WAC Tournament is a big reward for the Rainbow Wahine, and will only build on the program's foundation for next season.
"We discussed it many times that there are three seasons in a year. You have the nonconference, conference and hopefully get to the third season — postseason," first-year Hawai'i coach Dana Takahara-Dias said. "The WAC is a conference where anything can happen any given night. There are consistent teams but there are other teams like us that if they peak at the right time, can have a phenomenal game and string some very good games along.
"That keeps us excited about the possibility that we could advance and also, most important thing, we want to make sure we play good basketball on the road. Better than we've played the whole season."
Sophomore center Rebecca Dew said it was scary to think the Rainbow Wahine almost didn't make it. But the Rainbow Wahine are trudging on with nine players. It lost 53-51 at Utah State on Saturday, traveled Sunday, and practiced yesterday in Reno.
"(It's) been a transition year and we're working on improving every game and taking it all in stride, but definitely expecting to make the tournament and we're excited about that," Dew said.
Fresno State became the first WAC team since Louisiana Tech in 2002-03 to finish league play undefeated and also set a school record for wins. Jaleesa Ross was named WAC Defensive Player of the Year and averaged nearly three steals in league games. Coach Adrian Wiggins was named WAC Coach of the Year.
No Hawai'i player earned WAC postseason honors.
Fresno State beat Hawai'i, 83-42, in their first meeting. In their meeting in Honolulu, the game was tied with 14 minutes remaining before Fresno State pulled away to win 78-69.
Takahara said limiting turnovers will be key. Fresno State scored 30 points off 23 turnovers in the game played in Honolulu.
"We know the pressure that's going to be thrown at us is something we (need) to be able to handle, neutralize and capitalize," Takahara said. "We have to play the best ballgame of the season to even advance and stay in the game. We understand and we know Fresno has been in this position, knows how to win games, especially down the tail end of the season.
"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 this season. It's exciting for us to go up there, no pressure on us, just play hard, have fun and make Hawai'i proud."
'Aiea graduate Aritta Lane was voted onto Fresno State's 2000-2009 Women's Basketball All-Decade team. The online honor was decided by 188 votes. Lane, who played for the Bulldogs from 2002 to 2005, was one of two forwards honored. She ranks fourth in career free throw attempts (417), fifth in free throws made (283) and rebounds (734), eighth in scoring (1,272) and field goals (482) and ninth in field goals attempted (992). She was named to the WAC All-Newcomer Team and the Co-Freshman of the Year in 2002.
No. 4 Idaho (10-19) vs. No. 5 New Mexico State (18-12), 12:30 p.m. HST. Both teams finished 8-8 in league play. Idaho was 2-11 coming into the WAC season, but has won four of its last five, and has three players from Hawai'i. Shaena-Lyn Kuehu (Punahou), Shawna's twin, is second on the team with 10.9 points per game. Kanisha Bello (Waiākea) and Natasha Helsham ('Aiea) are averaging 3.3 and 2.4 points. Crystal Boyd, Jasmine Lowe, Madison Spence and Danisha Corbett are averaging at least 9.0 points each for NMSU.
No. 3 Nevada (16-13) vs. No. 6 Boise State (19-11), 4 p.m. Nevada's Tahnee Robinson was named WAC Newcomer of the Year. She was third in the league in scoring (17.8) and 3-point shooting (43.6 percent). Boise State upset Louisiana Tech, 74-65, on Saturday. Tasha Harris, a WAC first-team pick, had 18 points in the win to move into 10th in the WAC record book with 1,732 points.
No. 2 Louisiana Tech (20-8) vs. No. 7 Utah State (13-16), 6:30 p.m. Shanavia Dowdell of Louisiana Tech repeated as WAC Player of the Year. She led the WAC in scoring (17.9) and rebounding (12.4). Teammate Adrienne Johnson was named to the first team after averaging 15.9 points and 7.3 rebounds. Both were also named to the all-defensive team. Utah State's Amber White, a WAC second-team selection, leads the team in scoring (11.5). Pualei Furtado, a Kamehameha graduate, has scored 17 points in 14 games.Advertiser Staff Writer Ann Miller contributed to this report.