WAC BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT
JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Hawaii center Brittany Grice was reinstated and practiced yesterday after a one-game suspension for violating team rules.
Wahine try to go farther
Hawaii doesn't want a third straight "one and done" in the WAC tournament
RENO, Nev. » The Hawaii women's basketball team made some big strides during the regular season.
Now the Rainbow Wahine are looking to take another significant step at the Western Athletic Conference tournament.
» Hawaii vs. Boise State, 10 a.m. (KKEA 1420-AM)
» UH vs. New Mexico State, 6:30 p.m. (KFVE Ch. 5, KKEA 1420-AM)
A UH squad that has gone one-and-out in the conference tournament the last two years will try to end that streak in a quarterfinal game tomorrow against Boise State.
"It's a new season," UH coach Jim Bolla said. "We've got a good opportunity in front of us. But we came last year as a higher seed and we ended up getting beat. We don't want to have that be repeated again so we have to get back on track."
The third-seeded Rainbow Wahine, coming off a lopsided loss at Louisiana Tech on Saturday, face Boise State at 10 a.m. Hawaii time, at the Lawlor Events Center.
The winner advances to Friday's semifinals to face either second-seeded Fresno State or seventh-seeded New Mexico State.
The tournament opens today with the preliminary round game between Idaho and Utah State. The "lucky" winner survives to face nationally ranked LaTech tomorrow.
Hawaii will seek its first WAC tournament win since 2003. The Wahine advanced to the semifinals that year and lost in the tournament's play-in game the next two seasons, including a 59-56 defeat to Boise State in 2004.
Seniors Amy Sanders, Callie Spooner and Brittney Aiwohi are the only UH players who have experienced a tournament victory.
"(The juniors) have been here and I know they don't want to (lose their first game) again," Sanders said. "Even though we only have four seniors, we have a lot of upperclassmen who have been here before."
At 18-9, Bolla said the team has been contacted by officials from the Women's National Invitation Tournament. But the Wahine are focusing on going as far as they can this week.
"Like coach says, it's the third part of the season," Sanders said. "The goal is always to win the WAC tournament. We need to get a few wins here and go to a postseason tournament. The NCAA is always the first hope, if not at least hopefully go to the NIT, just play as long as possible."
The Wahine have already been on the road more than a week and would like to extend their stay on the mainland into this weekend. They left Honolulu last Monday and closed the regular season by splitting a road trip at New Mexico State and Louisiana Tech.
UH went 7-3 on the road this season and has gotten used to living out of a suitcase.
"This is something that's just standard for us. It's not a big deal," Bolla said.
The Wahine arrived in Reno on Sunday, leaving behind a 91-52 loss at LaTech in Ruston.
"Like I said after the Tech game, we have good news and bad news. The bad news is we just got our butts kicked. The good news is everybody's 0-0," Bolla said.
"That's a game as a coach you need to just throw away. There's no point in dwelling on it, there's no point in watching the video. So you forget about it and move on."
The Wahine will be back at full strength as center Brittany Grice was reinstated and practiced with the team yesterday. The junior was suspended for the LaTech game for a "violation of team rules and policies."
Bolla said she would suit up tomorrow, but will still need to work her way back into the starting lineup.
"There's some things she still needs to do, but for all intents and purposes it's been resolved," Bolla said.
The WAC was a two-team race this season as Louisiana Tech and Fresno State broke away from the pack. LaTech, Fresno State and Hawaii were the only teams to post winning overall records.
The Lady Techsters tore through the conference schedule to win their fifth straight regular-season championship.
Fresno State, under first-year coach Adrian Wiggins, stayed just behind LaTech all season and posted its highest regular-season finish.
"Clearly with those two teams, they've got a lot of confidence, and they've had their way with the rest of the teams in the conference this year," Bolla said.
"But it's a one-game series now and anything can happen."
A team-by-team breakdown, in order of seeding
1. LOUISIANA TECH (23-4, 15-1)
Coach: Chris Long
After an early loss to Fresno State, the Lady Techsters won their next 12 games to reclaim a place in the national polls and assert themselves as the WAC's premier team. The WAC's highest-scoring team and its stingiest defensive squad won its league games by nearly 17 points per contest. All-WAC guard Tasha Williams averaged 12.6 points per game and ranked second in the league in assists. She leads a talented backcourt along with second-team picks Shan Moore and Aarica Ray-Boyd.
2. FRESNO STATE (22-6 , 14-2)
Coach: Adrian Wiggins
The Bulldogs set a school record for wins in a season, led by WAC Player of the Year Mirenda Swearengin. The guard (12.3 ppg, 6.4 rpg) orchestrates the Bulldogs offense at the point and is complemented by two-time All-WAC forward Amy Parrish (15.7 points, 6.8 rebounds per game). On the other end, guard Jasmine Plummer is a defensive stopper assigned to cover the opponent's best offensive threat.
3. HAWAII (18-9 , 9-7)
Coach: Jim Bolla
After a shaky start, the Rainbow Wahine won seven of their last nine games, the losses coming against Fresno State and Louisiana Tech. Turnovers have been a common theme in UH's WAC losses, so taking care of the ball will be a key to its hopes of advancing deep into the tournament. Senior Amy Sanders leads the team at 13.1 points per game. Center Brittany Grice is the WAC's top shot-blocker.
4. SAN JOSE STATE (14-14 , 8-8)
Coach: Janice Richard
The Spartans have two of the WAC's premier players in forwards Lamisha Augustine and Amber Jackson, but haven't gotten much production around them. Both forwards were All-WAC first-team picks and averaged close to 17 points each, accounting for close to 55 percent of the team's scoring. Jackson was also the league's top rebounder and shot 58 percent from the field.
5. NEVADA (12-16 , 8-8)
Coach: Kim Gervasoni
The Wolf Pack slid to fifth with two losses last week, but still posted its best season under Gervasoni, who had won 11 games in her first two seasons combined at Nevada. Freshman guard Brandi Fitzgerald was named the WAC's Newcomer of the Year after posting 10 points per game. Low-scoring games tend to be the norm for the Wolf Pack.
6. BOISE STATE (14-14 , 6-10)
Coach: Gordy Presnell
The Broncos were led by a freshman guard in Jessica Thompson, who missed BSU's loss to UH last month in Honolulu due to illness. She leads the team in scoring and is joined in the backcourt by Nadia Begay, one of the WAC's top 3-point shooters. Harassing the Broncos' shooters and playing tough on the boards will be a key for the Wahine to avoid the upset.
7. NEW MEXICO ST. (8-19 , 5-11)
Coach: Darin Spence
Although points were hard to come by for the Aggies, who rank near the bottom of the league along with Utah State in scoring offense, they closed the season by taking UH to overtime last Thursday. Forward Janean Ford stepped up her production in league play at 11.8 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. Cecilie Russell-Nava shot 38 percent from 3-point range in WAC games.
8. IDAHO (9-18, 5-11)
Coach: Mike Divilbiss
How the Vandals finished here is a bit puzzling, considering forward Emily Faurholt and guard Leilani Mitchell were the WAC's top two scorers and earned second-team all-conference honors. Defense is where Idaho has struggled, ranking last in opponents' FG percentage and rebounding margin.
9. UTAH STATE (3-23, 2-14)
Coach: Raegan Pebley
Utah State struggled in its first year in the league, ranking last in scoring offense and defense. But the Aggies scored one of their WAC wins against Idaho and fell by three in a road loss to the Vandals. Of course, if they beat Idaho again, they'll face a LaTech team that beat them by an average of 25 points in two meetings this season.