Wahine can build steam at home
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If the Hawaii women's basketball team is to build some momentum entering the Western Athletic Conference tournament, it must be done now.
Louisiana Tech at Hawaii, tomorrow, 7 p.m.; TV: Ch. 5; Radio: KKEA 1420-AM
The Wahine (11-16, 5-9 WAC) play WAC foes Louisiana Tech tomorrow and New Mexico State on Saturday's senior night to close out the regular season before heading to Las Cruces, N.M., next week for a WAC quarterfinal.
Hawaii has won two of its last three, but the wins came against bottom-feeders San Jose State and Idaho. Coach Jim Bolla's team, tied for sixth with Utah State, is still looking for a trademark upset of one of the conference's top-five teams after falling just short several times this year.
The Wahine will have to do it with a depleted front line against the best rebounding team in the WAC in the Lady Techsters (14-13, 8-6 WAC).
Reserve center Iwona Zagrobelna is done for the year with a knee injury, and Bolla estimated forward Dita Liepkalne at about "60 percent" while recovering from a knee injury of her own.
"Not having Iwona makes a big difference," Bolla said.
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Five games left on the schedule.
That's how coach Jim Bolla and the Hawaii women's basketball team are taking it as the Rainbow Wahine close out their Western Athletic Conference schedule with two home games this week starting tomorrow against Louisiana Tech, with the WAC tournament to follow next week in Las Cruces, N.M.
Of course, the Wahine have to score a quarterfinal win on March 12 against the third or fourth tournament seed to earn the opportunity to play one or two more WAC games. Hawaii (11-16, 5-9 WAC) is locked in to either sixth or seventh place.
"That's our goal, and I usually don't do this but I kind of said (to the team) right now we're on a five-game trip: Two at home, three on the road," Bolla said. "The only thing that would be acceptable is winning the tournament and getting the automatic (NCAA tournament) bid and kind of upsetting some people along the way."
The fifth slot which Hawaii earned last year, currently held by the Lady Techsters, is out of reach after a 66-55 loss in its road finale at WAC leader Boise State last week.
Hawaii hasn't advanced to the semifinals in the last three years under Bolla, and the Wahine haven't scored an upset of a winning WAC team yet this season. He's optimistic that both change over the next two weeks.
If the Wahine beat out Utah State for sixth place and New Mexico State remains in third, it sets up a tough pairing for Hawaii against the tournament host. The Aggies went 7-1 at home in conference play, including a blowout of the Wahine in Las Cruces, 71-53, on Jan. 31. Boise State and Fresno State are other possible opponents, with Nevada a longshot.
New Mexico State (20-7, 10-4 WAC) arrives in Honolulu for Hawaii's senior night on Saturday. The Aggies surprised many as the seventh seed last year in riding home court advantage all the way to the tournament final, but Bolla -- who missed that tournament on a leave of absence from lung surgery -- places more importance on playing well going in than worrying about matchups.
"We don't really care who we play, because we'll have to play the better teams to win the thing anyway," Bolla said. " We just want to get something going into the tournament. Right now our biggest priority is getting this first game with Louisiana Tech and getting ready for New Mexico State."