Sports Notebook



UH middles add muscle

Wahine win WAC

By Grace Wen

RENO, Nev. >> Besides the much needed challenges Hawaii looked for and got during the Western Athletic Conference tournament, the Rainbow Wahine may have also come away with something valuable for the postseason -- the emergence of a middle attack.

Middle blockers Maja Gustin and Lauren Duggins had breakout performances in the last three matches and have made huge strides in helping Hawaii become a multi-pronged attack.

It was only a matter of time that a healthy Gustin would regain some of the form that earned her WAC co-Freshman of the Year honors in 2000. The junior hit .493 with 29 kills in three days of tournament play.

Perhaps the well-wishes of an airport security screener in Honolulu helped. The diminutive man with glasses timidly approached Gustin as she came out of the checkpoint and said "Ms. Gustin, I hope you see a lot of sets this week. That's going to be the key if we win the championship."

On Day 2 of the tournament, Gustin hit .625 and broke the tournament record for hitting percentage (.577) that Kim Willoughby set Friday against Louisiana Tech.

Yesterday, that record was snatched away by Duggins, who hit .789 (15-0-19) in Hawaii's 30-19, 30-32, 30-13, 30-23 victory. Duggins finished the tournament hitting .531 with 27 kills. She also played a huge part in the Wahine's blocking, stuffing 19 balls in three matches and earning all-tournament recognition.

Two or three?: So how does Nevada's win over Fresno State complicate the NCAA tournament picture for the WAC? It doesn't, at least not in the mind of Wolf Pack coach Devin Scruggs.

"At this point and with the schedule we have left, I'm hoping we can get a good seed and not have to play a top seed in the tournament," Scruggs said following yesterday's loss to Hawaii in the WAC final.

Respect for the WAC has not increased since the conference split in 1999. Only Hawaii was invited to the tournament in 1999 and 2000. San Jose State had a 25-6 record in 2000 and did not get an at-large berth. The WAC sent three teams to the tournament last season (Hawaii, San Jose State and Nevada) but it was an unusual tournament in light of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

The Wolf Pack's win over Fresno State (23-6) might have only flip-flopped who was going to go. Both teams split the regular-season series, but Nevada (21-8) won the deciding and influential grudge match Saturday.

For Fresno State, the postseason picture is fuzzy. Before the tournament, Bulldogs coach Lindy Vivas said her team needed to reach the finals and play Hawaii to better an already strong case.

"Do I think we're deserving? Yes, but I'm not voting," she said.

The Fresno State coach has had experience with snubs before. In 1992 -- Vivas' second year at Fresno -- the NCAA selection committee skipped the second-place Bulldogs and third-place San Diego State and gave fourth-place New Mexico the WAC's only other bid into the NCAA tournament. Brigham Young was the conference champion that season.

Fresno State had swept New Mexico twice during WAC play, but New Mexico was the host institution for the NCAA championships that year.

UH Athletics


Defensive adjustment
was the difference

Jones wants Bearcat rematch

By Dave Reardon

Hawaii's defense thrived by playing man-to-man pass coverage this season. But defensive coordinator Kevin Lempa said switching to a cover-two zone in the fourth quarter helped the Warriors come back to beat Cincinnati 20-19 on Saturday.

"They started throwing a lot of outs, so we rolled up our corners," Lempa said. "We have confidence in our corners, but they were having a little bit of problems, so we rolled them up and got them some help."

The Bearcats piled up 367 yards, but converted only three of 17 third-down attempts.

On Cincinnati's last three possessions, it netted 3 yards. The drives ended with Chris Brown's interception and two punts.

The defense was appreciated by running back Thero Mitchell.

"Our defense stepped up huge," he said. "Two red-zone stops, forcing them to kick field goals. Turnovers, our defense played huge tonight. They kept us in it and allowed us to score that last touchdown to win it. I'm proud of them."

Special stuff: Kick returner Chad Owens, back after missing four games with a knee sprain, gave UH a spark it was missing.

Owens netted 199 yards on 11 punts and kicks.

Also, punter Mat McBriar boomed five punts for a 50.2-yard average. His longest was credited for a career-best 66 yards, but actually landed 5 yards deep in the UC end zone.

Award nominees: UH nominated McBriar for WAC special teams player of the week. Jeremiah Cockheran, who caught the game-winning 33-yard touchdown pass from Tim Chang, was put up for offensive player. Linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa, who had a game-high nine tackles, was nominated for the defensive award.

Stat chat: The Warriors returned to the top of the NCAA Division I statistics with 384.9 passing yards per game. ... After its lowest point output since 22 games ago -- when it also scored 20 -- Hawaii dropped to seventh nationally in team scoring at 37.9. ... The Warriors also fell from first to third in total offense with 503.6 yards per game. ... The block of Justin Ayat's 51-yard field-goal attempt was the fourth of his career. ... Justin Colbert needs three catches to tie Ashley Lelie for the school career record of 194. ... Mitchell's two rushing scores give him a team-leading nine touchdowns. ... UH is 2-1 in nonconference games this year and has won six of seven out of the WAC over the past two seasons.

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