Rice brings offense
on trip to visit slumping

The Rice basketball team has always had the quickness and athleticism to play dominating defense. Now the Owls have an offense to go with their trademark defense.

None of this means good things for Hawaii. The Rainbow Wahine (5-11, 3-4) face one of their stiffest Western Athletic Conference challenges at home tomorrow against Rice. Tip-off is at 7 p.m. at the Stan Sheriff Center.

UH vs. Rice

When: Tomorrow, 7 p.m.
Where:: Stan Sheriff Center
Radio/TV: Live, KKEA (1420-AM) and KFVE-TV (Ch. 5)
Tickets: $7 (adults); $6 (senior citizens); free (children and UH students).
Parking: $3

"They're very good. Any team that beats Louisiana Tech two years in a row has got to be pretty good," Hawaii coach Vince Goo said. "They have very good post people and quick athletic perimeter people. They're solid and tied for the lead in conference. What more can you say? They're legit."

But how good are the Owls this season? Rice (9-7, 6-1) opened the year 0-3 for the first time in coach Cristy McKinney's tenure. The Owls got pounded in the preseason and went 3-6 during a tough nonconference schedule with losses to Stanford, Baylor and Arkansas. But Rice got its act together and opened WAC play with three straight victories, including an upset of ninth-ranked Louisiana Tech. Rice has given the Lady Techsters their only two losses in two seasons of WAC domination.

For all their physical gifts, the Owls are occasionally vulnerable to lapses in concentration. A loss to Texas-El Paso earlier this month exposed a soft side.

"Maybe, there's a glimmer of hope for us," Goo said. "(But) they have the talent and if they play well every night, they're hard to beat. Whether they're inconsistent or not I don't know that."

It is also a vexing issue for McKinney.

"I wish I knew (which team we are)," she said. "I think we're more the team that played LaTech but I don't think we're out of the woods yet. We've got to show up every night. Since that lost to UTEP, we have, but we've got to continue to do that."

McKinney has the luxury of going to her bench if her starters don't show. Redshirt freshman Lauren Neaves has already filled in nicely for Johnetta Hayes, a first team All-WAC selection last year. Hayes was lost in November due to injury but Rice hasn't missed her much with Neaves averaging 9.4 points and 2.4 blocks per game. The Owls lead the nation in blocked shots with 7.1 per game.

While defense has long been a tradition, Rice has also been piling up points for a change. Since losing to the Miners, the Owls own a modest three-game win streak and have blown out their opponents by an average of 29 points in that span. Michelle Woods and Lindsey Maynard each average more than 10 points a game.

"The one thing we're doing better this year than in the past is shooting the ball," McKinney said. "In the past, our defense has really carried us but we would still lose games. We'd give up 50 points and still lose games because we couldn't score. So we're a little more balanced."

Balance that Hawaii would love to have. The Rainbow Wahine have been inconsistent in scoring but have relied on defense to stay in games. Hawaii leads the conference in field-goal percentage defense (.340) and held three of its last four opponents to less than 30 percent shooting.

Games against Rice have traditionally been tough with both sides bringing out the ugly in each other.

"We've had some very good matchups over the years, really good matchups," Goo said. "They're a tough team to defend against and they're a tough team to score against. If we play man, all five people are going to have their hands full with whoever they're guarding. They don't have any weaknesses offensively in their starting five or their first seven or eight people. Every possession is important."

Hawaii learned that two years ago. Home-court advantage hasn't protected Hawaii in its last two meetings at the Sheriff Center.

As a sophomore, Maynard hit the game winner with one second left as the Owls snuck out of the arena with a one-point victory. Last year, Rice ruined senior night for the Rainbow Wahine.

But McKinney isn't counting on taking three in a row.

"This is just a tough place to play. It doesn't matter who is in (Goo's) program or who he loses," she said. "He always does a great job with who he has. You have to be ready to play here. ...We're trying to figure out how to win on the road, period. Hawaii is a tough road trip.

"We have a lot to play for. We had that loss but we're tied for the top in the league. Every game is important. I've been here enough to know that we won the last two but there are no guarantees on the third one."


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