FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Keisha Kanekoa's introduction to the WAC was a cold one when the Wahine arrived in frigid Utah.
Wahine warm up for WAC
You know it's a team's first real road trip when its starting point guard sports island attire walking around in the snow.
Hawaii arrived in Logan, Utah, on Monday for its first Western Athletic Conference game of the season today against Utah State. Some of the Rainbow Wahine players were ill-equipped for the frigid weather -- namely, freshman playmaker Keisha Kanekoa.
"We're expecting some more snow, but the roads were clear," coach Jim Bolla said. "Some of our kids ... we've got Keisha walking around in shorts and her slippers" -- he laughed -- "so we're trying to educate her on what to do in the snow."
The whole team will try to avoid getting an education by its four road opponents -- Utah State, Nevada, Fresno State, San Jose State -- to start the WAC season, a brutal opening that doesn't get any easier with the start of the school semester dissecting the second and third games.
Bolla's looking to jump-start the team's offense in time for conference play, getting back to the run-and-gun style he hyped before the season. To do so, he's had the team practice with a 20-second shot clock for the past two weeks.
"We can put pressure on teams just by playing aggressively with our up-tempo game, not giving them an opportunity to set their defenses, and see if we can get some quick scores," he said.
Hawaii has technically not played an "away" game yet, with both of its games outside of the Stan Sheriff Center against Portland State and Grambling State coming at neutral USC in the Women of Troy Basketball Classic.
As for a perceived lack of toughness from his team in its 91-69 loss to Iona Dec. 29 in the Bank of Hawaii Invitational title game, Bolla noticed some grit in practice, but still thinks he needs to see it when it counts.
"We have to go out and actually do it," said Bolla, in his fourth year at UH. "Utah State's not a real physical team, (but) Nevada will be real physical and aggressive. The nice part is we play (today) and don't play again until Saturday. We'll see how we do against Utah State, and then we've gotta be ready for Nevada's aggressiveness."
The team will fly home for two days next week before resuming play at Fresno State's Save Mart Center on Jan. 17. On the positive side, the home swing allows the team to pick up junior forward Tara Hittle for her first action of the year after completing her third season of Rainbow Wahine volleyball. She could give an already solid rebounding team a boost on the boards.
"Right now we're tentatively scheduled to begin practice with her on Monday and Tuesday, and her going on the road trip with us on Tuesday afternoon," Bolla said.
Defending WAC champion Boise State was picked to win the conference again in the preseason, but stumbled already against Fresno State, which is surprisingly atop the standings at 2-0 despite a 7-8 overall record.
New Mexico State has posted its best start in years, while Louisiana Tech has underperformed but lurks as a perennial contender. Nevada, the only other team yet to begin WAC play besides Hawaii, is off to a solid start.
The Rainbow Wahine were picked to finish sixth in the preseason.
"The teams in the preseason voted high are playing well, and we just gotta be able to step up and answer the call," Bolla said.
Boise State (8-5, 0-1 WAC)
Gordy Presnell (third year)
2006-07 WAC finish: 12-4 (tied for first), NCAA tournament appearance
Names to know: Jessica Thompson (5-9, junior), Tasha Harris (5-7, junior)
Scouting the Broncos: One of just three current winning teams in the WAC. ... Boise State is undefeated at home and is the highest scoring team in the conference at 72.2 points per game. That's thanks to All-WAC picks Thompson and Harris, who are Nos. 1 and 2 in scoring among all WAC players, going for a combined 33.8 ppg. ... However, Fresno State already surprised the Broncos with a loss in the team's WAC opener last week. ... Thompson is the reigning WAC player of the year.
Fresno State (7-8, 2-0 WAC)
Adrian Wiggins (fourth year)
2006-07 WAC finish: 9-7 ( tied for fourth)
Names to know: Tierre Wilson (5-8, senior), Erica Henry (6-2, senior)
Scouting the Bulldogs: After getting off to an 0-6 start, Fresno State started conference play by dumping Boise State and Louisiana Tech, and currently rides a league-best five-game winning streak. The Bulldogs could be better than their record indicates, with early losses to No. 14 California and No. 21 Arizona State. ... Wilson is third in WAC scoring at 16.2 ppg. ... The Bulldogs have lost three times at the Save Mart Center this season, losing there only four times over the previous three years. ... Jaleesa Ross has made the most 3-pointers in the WAC with 33.
Hawaii (6-7, 0-0 WAC)
Jim Bolla (fourth year)
2006-07 WAC finish: 9-7 (tied for fourth)
Names to know: Tanya Smith (6-2, senior), Saundra Cariaga (5-9, senior), Keisha Kanekoa (5-6, freshman), Dita Liepkalne (6-0, sophomore)
Scouting the Rainbow Wahine: Bolla sports a 25-25 WAC record going into the season. ... Smith, the WAC's leading rebounder (11.0 rpg), has led or tied for the team lead in rebounds in 11 of 13 games. ... Liepkalne went from scoring 1.3 ppg last year to becoming the WAC leader in field-goal percentage this season (.528), but is out with a knee injury. ... Hawaii leads the conference in assists per game (15.31), but is sixth in both points for (67.2) and allowed (68.8). ... Six different players -- Smith, Cariaga, Kanekoa, Liepkalne, Megan Tinnin and Iwona Zagrobelna -- have been the team's top scorer in at least one game this season.
Idaho (1-12, 0-1 WAC)
Mike Divilbiss (seventh year)
2006-07 WAC finish: 3-13 (ninth)
Names to know: Katie Madison (6-0, sophomore), Yinka Olorunnife (6-0, freshman)
Scouting the Vandals: Idaho's had a rough start, opening 0-9 before beating Colorado State last month. Youngsters Madison and Olorunnife, the team's top scorers, haven't had much help, as the Vandals put up a WAC-worst 53.4 ppg and get outscored by a margin of 15.9. ... Madison, the 2007 WAC Newcomer of the Year, broke onto the scene nicely as a freshman, scoring a league-best 19.1 ppg. But her numbers are down this season at 11.4 as the only Vandal averaging double-figure scoring. ... Last year's six overall wins marked the first time since 2001 that Idaho failed to reach at least 10, and Divilbiss will be hard-pressed to reach that mark again.
Louisiana Tech (6-8, 0-1 WAC)
Chris Long (third year)
2006-07 WAC finish: 12-4 (T-first)
Names to know: JoKeirra Sneed (6-2, senior), Shanavia Dowdell (6-1, sophomore), Adrienne Johnson (6-0, freshman)
Scouting the Lady Techsters: Being the best is the status quo at Louisiana Tech, so the sub-.500 start is irregular. The Techsters passed on a women's NIT bid last year after falling to New Mexico State in the WAC tournament quarterfinals last season, ending a run of 26 straight postseason appearances. ... Two of the losses came to No. 1 Tennessee and No. 8 LSU. ... Long guided LaTech to a 27-5 WAC record going into this season. ... LaTech has won at least a share of the WAC regular season title the last six years going back to 2001, and has 32 consecutive winning seasons. ... Only Sneed and Hawaii's Tanya Smith average double-doubles. ... Best rebounding team in conference at 45.6 rpg and rebounding margin (plus-5.8). ... Johnson has made an impact defensively with 19 blocked shots.
Nevada (9-4, 0-0 WAC)
Kim Gervasoni (fifth year)
2006-07 WAC finish: 10-6 (T-third), WNIT
Names to know: Dellena Criner (5-7, junior), Mikail Price (5-7, senior)
Scouting the Wolf Pack: Nevada made its first women's postseason Division I appearance last year in the Women's NIT, losing to eventual champion Wyoming. ... The Wolf Pack have won seven of their past nine, and have increased their win total in each year under Gervasoni going back to 2003-04. ... Only other team besides Hawaii yet to begin WAC play. ... Best in league in scoring margin (plus-6.2) and turnover margin (plus-6.23), and tops in steals per game at 13.5, more than 3.5 higher than any other team. ... Criner leads the team in both points (16.2) and assists (3.2).
New Mexico State (11-3, 1-0 WAC)
Darin Spence (fifth year)
2006-07 WAC finish: 6-10 (seventh)
Names to know: Sherell Neal (6-0, senior), Anikia Jawara (6-0, senior), Madison Spence (5-11, freshman)
Scouting the Aggies: New Mexico State has just one winning season in the last 11 years and hasn't posted a winning team under Spence yet, but is poised to do so this year. Despite the futility, the Aggies reached the WAC tournament title game in each of the last two years, and will enjoy hosting it for the second straight year at the Pan American Center. ... Picked to finish fifth in WAC preseason poll.... The Aggies' only home loss so far came in overtime to UTEP. ... Neal, Jawara, and Spence all average double-figure points, a more balanced attack than NMSU's enjoyed in the past. ... Tops in WAC in scoring defense (62.2 ppg) and blocked shots per game (4.7). Neal and Carla Danning are two and three in blocks in the WAC behind Tanya Smith. ... Second in scoring margin (plus-5.6) behind Nevada.
San Jose State (1-13, 0-1 WAC)
Pam DeCosta (first year)
2006-07 WAC finish: 4-12 (eighth)
Names to know: Natalie White (5-9, junior), Brittany Powell (6-0, sophomore)
Scouting the Spartans: DeCosta's first year has been a rough one, despite all five starters returning this season. San Jose State's lone win came against Cal State Northridge. ... The Spartans give up the most points in WAC at 70.7 ppg. ... Powell, the WAC Newcomer of the Year, led the team in scoring last year as a freshman (12.1 ppg), but averages just 8.3 ppg this season. ... SJSU hasn't finished better than fourth since joining the WAC in 1996.
Utah State (5-8, 1-0 WAC)
Raegan Pebley (fifth year)
2006-07 WAC finish: 7-9 (sixth)
Names to know: Danyelle Snelgro (5-5, junior), Taylor Richards (5-4, senior)
Scouting the Aggies: Utah State has counted on its diminutive backcourt duo of Snelgro and Richards to carry the offense while senior Jenny Gross's production (5.8 ppg) has fallen off from last season's 9.0. ... Aggies haven't posted a winning season since reinstituting women's basketball in 2003-04. ... No player averages more than 30 minutes per game. ... Only team to average higher than 70 percent free-throw shooting (73.6).