RAINBOW WAHINE BASKETBALL
Rainbow Wahine ride momentum
WAC Women's Basketball Preview
The Hawaii women's basketball team posted the best preseason record (9-2) in the Western Athletic Conference, but everyone starts 0-0 tomorrow when league play begins.
It's also a new-look league as the WAC welcomes Idaho, New Mexico State and Utah State this year along with a new coach at Louisiana Tech and Boise State and interim coach Adrian Wiggins at Fresno State.
"This is where is counts," Hawaii coach Jim Bolla said. "If we are not ready to play, then Nevada (3-8) can beat us."
That is coachspeak with a ring of historical truth. The Wolf Pack ended Hawaii's season a year ago with a four-point upset win in the first round of the WAC Tournament in Reno, the site of UH's conference opener tomorrow.
"We talked about this being the team that beat us in the tournament at practice yesterday," said Bolla who hopes his team is ready for another road challenge. "Hopefully we got that bad game out of our system for the year in the second Kent State game."
The second-year UH coach spent most of the game shaking his head at what his team was doing on the court. Yet, the Wahlne pulled together at the end to win their seventh consecutive game.
The ability to close out games is the one big difference for the Wahine this season. Last year, they tended to fizzle in the final minutes.
"I think the players are more supportive of each other this year," Bolla said. "I think we're more of a team. That is because they understand better what we are trying to accomplish.
Hawaii, picked to finish fifth in the coach and media preseason polls, has benefited from more balanced scoring this year. Four players, Amy Sanders (12.9), Brittany Grice (12.0), Janevia Taylor (11.4) and Pam Tambini (10.0), are averaging in double figures.
The Wahine also have received more production from the bench led by Tanya Smith (8.1 ppg), Alofa Toiaivao (5.7 ppg) and Dalia Solia (5.2 ppg).
"This is how this offense is supposed to work," Bolla said. "Anyone is capable of scoring 20 points on a given night, but it won't be the same person every game. We are not orientated toward one or two people.
"This year I can use the bench more. I have more confidence in those people. I also think we are in better physical shape this year."
UH leads the series with Nevada 20-5 and is 7-4 in Reno.
Here is a capsule look at the rest of the WAC in the order they play UH in the first round.
Kim Gervasoni (14-56, 3rd year).
2005 WAC record: 3-15
Players to watch: Sophomore forward Meghan McGuire and junior guard Traci Graham.
Outlook: Three of the top five scorers from a year ago, McGuire, Graham and Jessica Preslar, return to provide leadership for the seven newcomers. Freshman guard Brandi Fitzgerald has stepped in and leads the Wolf Pack in scoring (10.0 ppg). Junior forward Sabrina Keys, a transfer from Purdue, has earned a starting job. The team has had difficulty handling the ball, averaging 21 turnovers a game. Nevada won its last game, 59-53, over San Francisco, a team UH beat by eight points on the road in December. Picked sixth.
LOUISIANA TECH (8-3)
Chris Long (8-3, 1st year)
2005 WAC record: 14-4
Players to watch: Junior guard Shan Moore and senior guard Tasha Williams.
Outlook: The Lady Techsters lost more games (4) in conference last year than they have since 1991-92 and still won the WAC. All three losses this season have been on the road. Long runs a three-guard offense with Moore, Williams and senior Aarica Ray-Boyd. They are three of LaTech's top four scorers. Until someone knocks the Lady Techsters off, they are the team to beat for the WAC title. Picked first.
NEW MEXICO STATE (3-8)
Darin Spence (25-33, 3rd year)
2005 Sun Belt Conference record: 4-11.
Players to watch: Junior guard Irma Kmitaite and senior forward Jenean Ford.
Outlook: The Aggies have won three of their last five games after starting the season with six consecutive defeats. Kmitaite, a junior college transfer, is the leading scorer (12.7 ppg) and Ford is the top rebounder (6.8 rpg). Sophomore guard Monique Bribiescas is the returning assist (4.2 apg) leader. With the exception of three games, the Aggie offense has struggled. Picked seventh with Boise State.
FRESNO STATE (8-4)
Adrian Wiggins (15-8, 2nd year)
2005 WAC record: 10-8.
Players to watch: Senior guard Mirenda Swearengin and senior forward Amy Parrish.
Outlook: Wiggins scheduled up this year with three games against Pac-10 schools and an away game at Texas Tech. The Bulldogs came out with one victory (Arizona). Three of the Bulldogs top four scorers return, led by Swearengin (18.3 ppg) and Parrish (15.3 ppg). They are complimented by junior guard Chantella Perera (13.1 ppg). FSU is strong on the boards, outrebounding opponents 475-374 in the nonconference season. Picked second.
BOISE STATE (8-4)
Gordy Presnell (404-131, 19th year).
2005 WAC record: 4-14.
Players to watch: Freshman guard Jessica Thompson and junior guard Nadia Begay.
Outlook: The Broncos have been the surprise of the nonconference season with their showing. Three of their four losses have been by four points. Begay (14.6 ppg), who comes off the bench, Thompson (14.2) and sophomore forward Jackie Lee (12.9) provide most of the offense while junior center Michelle Hessing rebounds (62) and blocks shots (18). Picked seventh with New Mexico State.
UTAH STATE (1-9)
Raegan Pebley (20-45, 3rd year).
2005 Big West Conference record: 9-9.
Players to watch: Sophomore guard Taylor Richards and senior center Ali Marchant.
Outlook: The Aggies are being outscored by an average of 10 points a game, have committed 60 more turnovers than their opponents and are being outrebounded. Only Richards and junior forward Brittany Hagen have started every game as Pebley has used eight different starters trying to find the right combination. Marchant is the leading scorer (12.7 ppg). Picked ninth.
Mike Divilbiss (66-60, 5th year).
2005 Big West Conference record: 12-6.
Players to watch: Senior center Emily Faurholt and junior guard Leilani Mitchell.
Outlook: Faurholt (19.9 ppg, tops in the WAC) and Mitchell (18.3, second in the WAC) give the Vandals a solid 1-2 scoring punch from inside and outside. However, the next three starters only average a combined 18 points a game. Mitchell averages 6.82 assists and 4.16 steals, both best in the WAC. Six of the seven defeats have been on the road. The Vandals shoot well from the field (.401 on two-point attempts) and take care of the ball with just 14 turnovers a game. Picked fourth.
SAN JOSE STATE (3-6)
Janice Richard (242-134, 13th year).
2005 WAC record: 10-8.
Players to watch: Senior guard Lamisha Augustine and senior forward Amber Jackson, both preseason All-WAC first team selections.
Outlook: Augustine, a first-team All-WAC player and the Spartans second-leading scorer (16.1 ppg), was granted another year of eligibility. She or Jackson (17.7 ppg) have been SJSU's leading scorer this season in all but one game. They are averaging 10 points or more than anyone else on the team. Jackson leads the WAC with 10 rebounds a game. SJSU has lost six of its last seven games. Picked third.