Wahine looking to rebound
Although the Hawaii women's basketball team has returned home following its toughest -- and longest -- road trip of the year, the Rainbow Wahine find themselves at a crossroads.
If they are to make a push out of the doldrums near the bottom of the Western Athletic Conference standings, that process must begin now as the team faces the second half of the league slate.
With a favorable chunk of the schedule coming up, it could be within reach. Hawaii (8-13, 2-6 WAC) has a rare four-game homestand to look forward to starting tomorrow against Utah State. The struggling Aggies (6-14, 2-6) have lost six straight games and present a golden opportunity for Hawaii to move up, as both teams are tied for sixth place in conference.
Hawaii will have a tougher test in Nevada (15-6, 6-2) on Saturday and gets next week off before hosting Fresno State and San Jose State.
"These are all winnable games for us," coach Jim Bolla said. "At Utah State, we commit 33 turnovers and it's still a seven-point game at the end (55-48 loss). We watched film --we didn't set one pick the whole game. We just ran around."
He made setting accurate and physical screens an emphasis in a rare practice yesterday at the Stan Sheriff Center, just the third time the Wahine had worked out in the arena this season.
The Wahine lost by a combined 55 points at New Mexico State and Louisiana Tech last week, including a 37-point drubbing to the Lady Techsters. It was the worst loss all season for the Rainbow Wahine and Bolla's most lopsided defeat since a 91-52 loss to LaTech in 2006.
"We just got intimidated," Bolla said. "They blocked a couple of shots and everybody started fading away. We just couldn't get anything going, and it snowballed from there."
Tanya Smith, who is second in the NCAA in rebounds per game at 11.9, was held to six points and six boards in that contest while battling foul trouble. Her streak of 11 straight games in double-figure scoring was also snapped. Only Megan Tinnin cracked double digits with 15 points.
A good barometer for overall team success has been how the Wahine have performed in the first half. They've won 80 percent of the contests in which they've led or tied at the break, but are winless (0-11) when they don't.
Bolla continues to search for the right mix of starters to get Hawaii off to an early lead. So far, he's experimented with nine different combinations. At this point, he's looking for somebody to provide a spark.
It could be personified in junior forward Tara Hittle, who recently joined the team following the completion of UH's volleyball season. After a handful of previous stints checking in during games for a couple of minutes or less at a time, the junior posted her best outing to date, with six points and a team-high nine rebounds in 27 minutes at LaTech, including the entire second half.
"Early on, I didn't really know what my role was," Hittle said. "I didn't come on the team with any expectations. Whatever I can do to help is fine with me."
The coach said the 6-foot Hittle will start against Utah State.
"What I liked about her is, if she shoots and she gets blocked, she'll rebound it, go up and shoot it again," Bolla said. "She's got no fear. Her effort that night was better than any that we had on the whole road trip."
Amy Kotani could also return to the starting lineup after playing limited minutes on the road, but forward Dita Liepkalne reaggravated a knee injury and is doubtful for at least the USU game.