Friday, November 27, 2015         


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Homecoming for Wahine's Kanekoa

By Brian McInnis


Dana Takahara-Dias is counting on Keisha Kanekoa for more than just points and assists on her home turf.

Of course, plenty of those would be nice, too, when the Hawaii women's basketball team faces No. 9 UCLA today at the Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium on Kanekoa's native Big Island. It's the first game of the three-day Chevron Rainbow Wahine Shootout, played on the Hawaii-Hilo campus.

"You know, if Keisha doesn't bring 1,000 people, then you know what, that would be kind of sad," said Takahara-Dias playfully. "Nah, actually, homecoming for her, many people are really excited to have her back, because they don't get a chance to see her play live."

UH (4-4) follows against East Carolina (4-5) on Tuesday.

The Rainbow Wahine played there two seasons ago, but Kanekoa was just a sophomore. For many Big Islanders, this will be the last time to see the former Honokaa High standout with UH.

Kanekoa was looking forward to reconnecting with family and enjoying the "laid-back" Hilo vibe. She was optimistic for a good showing of fans, too.


» Who: No. 9 UCLA (8-0) vs. Hawaii (4-4)

» When: 7 p.m., today

» Where: Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium, Hilo

» TV: None

» Radio: KKEA, 1420-AM

» Also: East Carolina (4-5) vs. UCLA, 7 p.m., tomorrow; East Carolina vs. Hawaii, 2 p.m., Tuesday


"I hope so. I know my family's going to be there," said Kanekoa, UH's second-leading scorer at 11.4 points per game. "Hopefully we can get a better turnout. (In 2008-09) we didn't have too much turnout, even though we had me and Lei (Galdones). UCLA's a good team, so hopefully the high school girls can come out and watch. That'd be fun for them."

The Bruins, led by coach Nikki Caldwell, are off to their best start in 30 years. Four of her players average double-figure scoring.

UCLA smoked UH 98-52 in Pauley Pavilion last season in Takahara-Dias' second game as Wahine coach.

"I'm going to safely say that UCLA is not a stranger, having played there last year and understanding Coach Caldwell's system," Takahara-Dias said. "They deserve the No. 9 ranking. They are an exceptional school."

The Big Island is a new experience for not only UCLA, but many of the Wahine. That includes freshman forward Kamilah Jackson, who leads the team in scoring with a 12.4 average and all Western Athletic Conference players in rebounding with 10.9 per game.

She has a streak of five double-doubles, but that will be put to the test against the Bruins.

"We know they're good, we know they're ranked, so we just have to come into it prepared," Jackson said. "We have to be ready like we know how, and control the things we can control."

Jackson, the brightest spot for UH so far this season, controls the glass not with height or pure athleticism (she is 5-11 and not a shot blocker) but an uncanny sense of where the ball will come off the rim — and she positions herself accordingly.

Jackson credited her former AAU coach, the late Oscar Jimenez, for that. She will miss the East Carolina game to go to Jimenez's funeral in San Francisco. He died this week.


Kanekoa is just 49 points away from becoming the 16th 1,000-point scorer in team history. Going by her 11.4 points-per-game average, she'll likely hit the mark sometime during the three-game Pepsi Rainbow Wahine Invitational starting Dec. 28 at the Stan Sheriff Center.

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