Conference hoops schedules to begin on high notes for both men, women

After almost pulling off what would have been one of the signature wins in recent memory, the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors have won three straight and are set to head into conference play with a 12-4 overall record.

The ‘Bows battled with then-11th ranked Wichita State for 40 minutes, then got to play an extra five before the Shockers came away with the 80-79 overtime victory on Dec. 23. That semifinal game of the Diamond Head Classic could have put the ‘Bows into the tournament’s final game for the first time, but even in defeat, Hawaii showed that its early-season success may be due to more than just a soft schedule.

Since that game, coach Benjy Taylor and the ‘Bows have knocked off Colorado (69-66), Southern University (71-57) and Prarie View A&M (76-68), all at the Stan Sheriff Center. It’s now time to put their efforts towards Big West play, which will open up with a Wednesday night home game against Cal Poly (7-5).

Aaron Valdes continues to lead the team in both scoring and rebounding (14.9 points, 6.3 rebounds per game), but he has only 22 points and eight rebounds combined in the team’s last three contests. Though they have all been wins, the ‘Bows will need Valdes to be a more consistent contributor as it lines up its Big West schedule.

I was one who thought Garrett Nevels would have to carry much of the offensive load for this team, but the senior guard hasn’t scored more than 12 points in any of the team’s past seven contests, of which they’ve won five. Nevels continues to struggle from long distance, shooting under 32 percent from three-point range. But his all-around game has remained steady, which has been a trademark of Hawaii as a whole. Everyone seems to do a bit of everything, so an off night from one or two players hasn’t been too much to overcome.

After missing a pair of games, including the team’s 90-70 loss to BYU, Negus Webster-Chan is on fire from the perimeter. He has become the team’s most lethal three-point shooter and is 10 for 17 from beyond the arc in the last four games. Continuing the all-around theme, he’s also the team’s second-leading rebounder at 4.8 per game.

We’re going to get a much better understanding of this team’s capabilities starting this week. The Big West may not get much respect nationally, but there’s rarely a night off.

Wahine enter Big West on hot streak

As winners of four of their past five, the Hawaii Rainbow Wahine go into their Big West Conference schedule sporting an 8-5 overall record. They have also taken on some of the country’s top programs, which should give them plenty of confidence moving forward.

With home wins last week over Hawaii Pacific (76-68) and UNC Greensboro (74-54), Hawaii now heads to the Mainland and will start conference play Thursday night at Cal Poly. It will stay on the West Coast to then take on Cal State Northridge on Saturday.

Shawna-Lei Kuehu leads the Wahine in both scoring and rebounding at 13.5 points and 7.4 points per game. Morgan Mason and Ashleigh Karaitiana follow closely behind at 11 points apiece. Karaitiana is really the team’s only three-point shooter. She’s knocked down 16 from long distance so far, but the team has made just 39 as a whole.

UH got to face some great competition in losses against both Stanford (86-73) and North Carolina (74-65) in the Rainbow Wahine Shootout. If competition breeds success, then it could be the beginning of what the team hopes becomes its third straight winning season.

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David Simon can be reached at dsimon@thegardenisland.com.

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