comscore Wahine will take their chances | Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Wahine will take their chances


LAS VEGAS » In the land of guilty pleasures, the Hawaii women’s basketball team is all business.


Orleans Arena, Las Vegas

» Who: No. 6 Hawaii (11-18) vs. No. 7 New Mexico State (13-17)

» When: 6:30 p.m. today

» TV: none

» Radio: KKEA, 1420-AM

The seventh-seeded Rainbow Wahine enter today’s first round of the Western Athletic Conference tournament of a singular mind. The focus: knock off sixth-seeded New Mexico State at the Orleans Arena and keep a salvaged season going, at least for one more game.

"We have five seniors on this team and we all have one goal in common, to win the WAC," Wahine co-captain Keisha Kanekoa said. "I think we’ve been pretty focused on what we’ve come up here for. I think everybody understands that it’s not a luxury trip, it’s a business trip."

If there is an ideal first-round matchup, this is it. New Mexico State (13-17) dropped seven of its last 10 WAC games after a 4-2 start, including a 57-52 home loss to the Wahine (11-18) on Feb. 15. But even if UH prevails today, there is a long way to go as a bottom-four seed. UH must win four games in four days for the automatic berth to the women’s NCAA tournament.

UH has rallied before. After an 0-8 WAC start, it won five of eight games in the second half of league play, capped off by a 72-71 comeback victory over third-seeded Utah State on senior night.

"I really thought that we put together a much better second half, were a much more competitive team," UH coach Dana Takahara-Dias said. "I still think we’re looking for the elusive solid, complete game, which we have failed to do. For us to win on a neutral court and advance in tournament play, that would involve us playing well for both halves and being consistent throughout the game.

"I think it’s a new season now, and I think we’re playing much better basketball than we have ever been."

Takahara-Dias surmised there will be four keys to defeating the Aggies, along with Utah State and Fresno State in the next two rounds, should the Wahine make it that far.

» Control the backboards. UH was the top rebounding team in WAC play at 42.7 per contest. Freshman forward Kamilah Jackson, the fourth-leading rebounder in the country at 12.0 rpg, will be key here.

» Cut down turnovers. The Wahine are the worst team in the field in giveaways at 19.8 per game.

» Make a few free throws. A WAC-worst 61.7 percent won’t cut it in the tourney.

» Lastly, minimize scoring droughts. Las Vegas is dry enough as it is.

Senior guard Madison Spence leads the Aggies with 14.3 ppg. Jackson leads UH with 11.9 ppg.

With a losing overall record, a loss ends the season for UH. Kanekoa, who is seventh on the UH career scoring list at 1,193 points, said she wasn’t giving any mind that today’s game could be the last of her career.

"I think we’re very much confident that we can beat them and everybody’s pretty relaxed," Kanekoa said. "I think if we can continue playing with energy and performed like how we’ve performed, we’ll be good in this tournament."

The Wahine last won a WAC tournament game in 2009. Fresno State knocked out the Wahine each of the last two years.

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