UH gambling on upset New coach, improved play helped boost attendance
by Stanley Lee
Advertiser Staff Writer
RENO, Nev. — In the Biggest Little City in the World, the Rainbow Wahine basketball team is dreaming big.
In Nevada's version of a mini-Las Vegas with less of the glitz, illuminating lights, and high rollers, eighth-seeded Hawai'i (10-19) is doing more than counting on luck against top-seeded Fresno State (25-5) in today's Western Athletic Conference Tournament quarterfinals at the Lawlor Events Center. The game will start at 10 a.m. HST and can be heard on 1420 AM.
"To upset Fresno is our biggest goal right now," said junior guard Keisha Kanekoa, who leads Hawai'i with 11.2 points per game.
The differences between the Bulldogs and Rainbow Wahine were magnified in their first meeting when Fresno State won by 41.
When the teams met again in Honolulu, the game was tied with 14 minutes remaining before Fresno State pulled away for a nine-point win, taking advantage of Rainbow Wahine turnovers.
If Hawai'i can further narrow the margin, it would be a stunning upset for a team that saw its chances of qualifying for the WAC Tournament in jeopardy late in the season.
"We adjusted our defense and we played with no help side," Kanekoa said of their last game against Fresno State. "Everybody taking care of their own man. They have this system where they know where each other is on the floor. They've been playing with each other a lot.
"Our defense picked it up a notch, kept them off the boards a little bit, just at the end was our turnovers."
Kanekoa said the key will be to contain the shooters and stop penetration.
"If we can contain that, limit them to one shot, we'll be fine," she said.
However, it won't be easy to break apart the Bulldogs, who have set a school record for wins. Jaleesa Ross was named WAC Defensive Player of the Year after averaging nearly three steals in league games. She also leads the team in scoring (17.6) and is one of four players averaging at least eight points. FSU's Adrian Wiggins was named WAC Coach of the Year.
"We've been emphasizing the ability to execute no matter who we play," Hawai'i coach Dana Takahara-Dias said. "Obviously, Fresno is a very tough team offensively and defensively. We're going to make sure we have to execute our press breaker because that's one team that will press us for a full 40 minutes.
"We have to make sure we stay out of foul trouble so our players can play big, long minutes."
Keeping players on the floor is critical for the Rainbow Wahine, who are down to just nine players. Redshirt sophomore Courtney Gaddis has seen increased playing lately because of the thinning bench. The former La Pietra and Kalani standout played her freshman year at Division III Whitworth (Wash.), then returned home and walked on.
Gaddis, who redshirted last year, has seen her role change from a player entering the game's final minutes to coming off the bench in the first half.
"When I go in there, I try to do what the team wants me to do, to do my best, just try to come through for everyone," said Gaddis, who averages 3.1 minutes in 19 games. "Do whatever I can do to help the team out."
Takahara said Gaddis' story is an amazing one, going from walk-on to "contributing in many, many ways."
"We have great confidence in her in many positions," Takahara said.
The winner of the Hawai'i-Fresno State game will face the winner of No. 4 Idaho (10-19)-No. 5 New Mexico State (18-12).
No. 3 Nevada (16-13) plays No. 6 Boise State (19-11) and No. 2 Louisiana Tech (20-8) plays No. 7 Utah State (13-16) in other quarterfinal games today.