POSTED: 11:55 a.m. HST, Feb 6, 2011
Winless in the first half of Western Athletic Conference play, undefeated in the second.
The Hawaii women's basketball team kept up a timely midseason turnaround by upsetting Idaho — and Idaho coach Jon Newlee — 72-60 before a crowd of 982 last night at the Stan Sheriff Center.
Doom and gloom have given way to hope for UH (8-15, 2-8 WAC), which won consecutive times after suffering a nine-game losing streak and drew even with San Jose State and Boise State in the WAC win column.
UH has six regular-season games left — including against SJSU at the Sheriff — to ensure it qualifies for the WAC tournament. The last-place team is left home after 16 WAC games.
In the past week, Dana Takahara-Dias' team made a firm statement with its play: The Rainbow Wahine don't intend to be that team.
They shot a season-best 53.8 percent from the floor and seized control of the game with a 24-4 run in the final 10 minutes after trailing the entire way to that point. They were 18-for-28 in the second half.
Freshman wing Shawna Kuehu embodied UH's new inner fire with her all-around play. She had a team-high 15 points on 7-for-11 shooting, and added six rebounds, four steals, three assists and three blocks. Freshman forward Kamilah Jackson added 12 points.
UH trailed by six at halftime and by five with 11:11 to play. Then one of the grittiest Wahine players, freshman Sydney Haydel, changed the game with her hustle. She poked the ball away from Idaho guard Derisa Taleni at midcourt and swooped in for a layup, and followed it with a strong baseline basket the next trip down.
"She's really aggressive on defense, and I think that lit our fire, to see that," Kuehu said. "We fed off of that, and everybody else did when our bench came in."
Senior guard Megan Tinnin cemented the advantage with a 3-pointer and got a steal and fast-break feed to Kuehu on the ensuing play with 4 minutes left. Idaho looked completely lost at that point.
Haydel finished with a career-high nine points on 4-for-4 shooting with five rebounds and three steals.
It was a physical game at both ends, with players hitting the hardwood both for loose balls and after heavy contact. Senior point guard Keisha Kanekoa was whistled for an intentional foul going for a loose ball and causing UI's Rachele Kloke (game-high 25 points) to hit the court, hard.
The contact seemed to be incidental, but that's the kind of game it was.
Newlee, a former UH assistant under Vince Goo, shook Takahara-Dias' hand after the game but pointed his finger at her, said a few words and abruptly turned away.
"Both teams battled down to the end. It was an aggressive game," Takahara-Dias said. "That's why we play basketball. ... Coach Newlee was very displeased with the outcome of the game and perhaps the way it was played. But I personally feel that sometimes in the heat of the moment you might say things. It was a hard-fought game at both ends of the floor."
"We just use (our hustle) to our advantage," Kuehu said. "We're not dirty or anything, but we gotta play smart and dive for every loose ball. And I think that's what happened tonight."
Shaena-Lyn Kuehu, a Punahou graduate and the twin sister of UH's Kuehu, watched the game from the stands. Shaena Kuehu, a junior, played the first nine games of the season for UI, averaging 6.9 points per game, but is no longer on the team for personal reasons.
"Maybe playing against her wasn't meant to be," Shawna Kuehu said. "She would have been a key for her team tonight, but she was there in a sense, supporting us. ... She was definitely torn (who to root for), but I think she found a balance. But she's my sister, I'm pretty sure she's on my side."
UI took a 33-27 halftime lead thanks to 14 points from Kloke in the first period.