Wahine win first road opener in Takahara-Dias' coaching debut


POSTED: Wednesday, November 18, 2009

RIVERSIDE, Calif. >> During pregame warmups, the members of the Hawaii women's basketball team proclaimed to anyone watching that yesterday marked “;the beginning of a new era,”; to quote the back of their black T-shirts.

Nearly 2 hours later, the Rainbow Wahine punctuated that declaration by winning a season opener away from the Stan Sheriff Center for the first time in school history.

But Hawaii had to recover from a 12-point deficit late in the first half to earn a 63-58 victory over UC Riverside in front of 168 spectators — including some 50 Wahine supporters — at UC Riverside's Student Recreation Center.

Dita Liepkalne came off the bench to score a team-high 12 points. Keisha Kanekoa and Shawna Kuehu contributed 10 points apiece and Katie Wilson grabbed 11 rebounds as the Wahine outrebounded the Highlanders 44-34.

Yet for new head coach Dana Takahara-Dias, who won her inaugural regular-season game, statistics told only part of the story.

“;What a battle it was,”; the former UH guard said. “;I cannot tell you how proud we are of the team. They really, really believed in themselves. They poured it on when they needed to and they played with heart. It was a very good test.”;

The new era did not begin well. Riverside (1-2) made six of 17 shots from 3-point range in the first half, scored 15 points off 13 Hawaii turnovers and used an 11-3 surge to build a 35-23 lead with 2:03 left in the first half.

Nevertheless, Takahara-Dias felt undaunted.

“;I truly felt that we were playing well,”; she said. “;It's just that Riverside was playing phenomenally. They're a very athletic team.”;

Hawaii took control when it changed from a zone to a man-to-man defense. As a result, Riverside missed 20 of 26 field-goal attempts in the second half — including all six of its 3-point shots.

“;We had to work to get the open looks that we got against the zone,”; Highlanders coach John Margaritis said. “;We still are struggling to be on the same page, and we didn't get the ball to the right spots. We simply didn't make plays.”;

The Wahine man-to-man defense also enabled Hawaii to exploit its superior quickness.

“;Our matchups were not very good,”; Margaritis said. “;When we were playing with three taller players, we didn't have the speed to keep up.”;

That lack of speed would prove devastating.

“;We just kept running,”; said Kuehu, who played her first real game since leading Punahou to the state championship in 2008. “;That was (Takahara-Dias') emphasis from Day 1. When the final minutes came, we were running and they just ran out of gas.”;

Riverside held a 55-51 lead with 4:47 to play, but would score only one point in the next 4:36.

Breanna Arbuckle converted two free throws to put Hawaii ahead for the first time, 57-56, with 2:33 remaining. Leilani Galdones extended the lead to 59-56 when she made a 16-foot jump shot just as the shot clock expired with 1:32 to go and just after Riverside's Marissa Rivera partially blocked the shot.

Kuehu's foul shot with 45.6 seconds left and Kanekoa's two free throws with 35.1 seconds to play gave the Wahine their biggest advantage, 62-56.

“;It all comes down to heart,”; said Riverside's Tre'Shonti Nottingham, who tied teammate Alyssa Morris as the game's scoring leader with 14 points. “;I think if we came out more aggressive on our home court, it would probably have been a whole different game.”;

Hawaii 63, UC Riverside 58

Highlanders (1-2)

Neabors, Rhe.3-71-47583519
Neabors, Rha.2-61-22260117
TEAM  2    

Rainbow Wahine (1-0)

TEAM  9    

Key — fg-a: field goals made-attempted; ft-a: free throws made-attempted; rb: rebounds; pf: personal fouls; pts: total points; a: assists; to: turnovers; min: minutes played.

Halftime — UC Riverside 38, Hawaii 32

3-point goals — UCR 6-23 (Nottingham 2-4, Rhe. Neabors 1-2, Schmuckal 2-6, Rha. Neabors 1-3, Morris 0-5, Cox 0-3), Hawaii 3-10 (Liepkalne 2-3, Galdones 1-2, Arbuckle 0-1, Patterson 0-1, Linton 0-1).

Steals — UCR 12 (Nottingham 4, Morris 3, Cox 2, Rha. Neabors, Rhe. Neabors, Washington), Hawaii 7 (Arbuckle 2, Galdones, Kanekoa, Linton, Patterson, Wilson). Blocked shots — UCR 4 (Cox 2, Rhe. Neabors, Rivera), Hawaii 3 (Kuehu 2, Dew).

Officials — Cathi Cornell, Wanda Szeremeta, Andy Wolf. A— 168.