LAS VEGAS » For about 10 minutes, the Hawaii Rainbow Wahine looked up to the task of knocking off New Mexico State and advancing in the Western Athletic Conference tournament.
The Aggies must have realized that, too, because they handily outplayed the Wahine for the next 30. UH’s season came to an end with a 71-59 loss last night at the Orleans Arena.
Seventh-seeded UH (11-19) enjoyed an 18-9 lead behind early baskets from point guard Keisha Kanekoa and forward Kamilah Jackson, but saw the advantage disappear by halftime. New Mexico State (14-17) kept up the pressure with 61.5 percent shooting in the second half, including 7-for-10 on 3-pointers.
"I’m not going to define our season by tonight’s game," second-year UH coach Dana Takahara-Dias said. "I think I’d like to leave with the impression that in the long haul, this team improved game-in and game-out and finished strong."
Poor shooting on free throws (15-for-28) and on 3-pointers (2-for-16) was UH’s undoing.
"It’s obviously not the way we wanted to end it," said senior Kanekoa, who finished seventh on the UH career scoring list and third in assists. "To end this way, it’s definitely something that I’m sure (the returnees) are going to come back and hopefully change the story around."
UH broke from the season’s script, getting off to a fast start. The Wahine have played from behind most of the WAC season, even in their five league wins — including a 57-52 victory at New Mexico State on Feb. 15.
"It was a much-appreciated change," Takahara-Dias said. "However we ran across a very hot Aggie team in the second half."
Freshman wing Shawna Kuehu returned from a three-game absence to tally 13 points, seven rebounds and three steals off the bench. But UH missed Kuehu, its most dynamic player, for the end of the first half and the first 5 minutes of the second when she tweaked her right knee on an awkward landing. Not coincidentally, that was where the game turned.
New Mexico State’s Jasmine Lowe scored a game-high 20 points off the bench.