RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM
Hawaii's Shannon Nishi was smothered in lei during senior night Saturday. The Rainbow Wahine got a rematch with New Mexico State in the WAC tournament opener.
Rainbow Wahine welcome rematch with Aggies
Any logic that the Hawaii women's basketball team wouldn't want to face Western Athletic Conference tournament host New Mexico State in the first round flew out the window Saturday night.
When the Aggies spoiled Hawaii's senior night by taking a 59-58 victory on a last-second basket after trailing the whole game, it ignited a fire in the Rainbow Wahine to return the favor Wednesday on NMSU's home court, the Pan American Center.
The WAC likely won't be granted an at-large bid in the NCAA tournament. Hawaii (12-17, 6-10 WAC) will have to capture three straight wins to take the tournament title in order to advance to the postseason for the first time since Vince Goo was head coach and guided the Wahine to the 2003 Women's NIT.
Road wins were hard to come by for any team in the conference this year, including the elite; Fresno State, Boise State and New Mexico State combined to go 23-1 at home.
Hawaii's hoping that trend ends with a victory and coach Jim Bolla's first trip to the WAC semifinals with the Wahine. He's preached to his players that they're arriving in Las Cruces, N.M., for three full games to play instead of a one-and-done scenario.
They gladly await the rematch in the first round. Hawaii's three participating seniors on senior night -- Amy Kotani, Saundra Cariaga, and Tanya Smith -- all spoke of wanting to see the Aggies again.
NMSU beat Hawaii there in January, 71-53, but the team feels it can hang with the third seed now.
"We showed we can play with them, and we're going to turn around and play them again," Bolla said. "It came down to two possessions -- they make theirs, we miss ours."
The Wahine nailed seven 3-pointers in the first half, but the Aggies -- the best defensive team in the WAC -- took their coverage into another gear in chasing Hawaii off the arc in the second half, allowing only one make in two attempts from that point.
"Next time we play them, it'll be different," Kotani said.
The team left late last night for Phoenix, and were to catch a connecting flight to El Paso, Texas, followed by a bus ride to Las Cruces, leaving a day and a half of preparation.