Winners of 5 straight, Wahine peaking at right time

Most of this season’s attention and praise has been heaped upon the Hawaii men’s basketball program, and deservedly so. The Rainbow Warriors are making a strong case for Top 25 consideration and sit alone atop the Big West standings in head coach Eran Ganot’s rookie campaign.

But while the men have assumed the spotlight, the women’s team has slowly but surely begun to resemble the club that went 14-2 in conference last year.

After a somewhat rocky start, the Wahine are winners of five straight games and hold the second-place spot in the Big West. Thursday’s 60-42 win over Long Beach State, which entered the night 17-5 on the year, is the best indicator that the Wahine might be back on track with a similar formula to last season’s NIT squad.

With Megan Huff leading the way with 16 rebounds, Hawaii outworked Long Beach State by a 53-30 margin on the glass. Last year’s squad made rebounding its calling card, averaging nine boards more per game than their opponents and five more on the offensive glass.

The last game that Hawaii lost the rebounding battle was a Jan. 9 loss to UC Davis. Since then, the Wahine have gone 7-2 to improve to 15-9 on the season.

Huff set career highs in Thursday’s win for both points (18) and rebounds (16), continuing to steady the team’s interior presence on both ends of the court. In a very short amount of time, the sophomore has become an integral part of the Wahine identity. She’s not filling the stat sheet every time out, but she has allowed UH to remain the imposing team it wants to present itself as.

Sitting three games behind UC Riverside in the loss column with five to play, it’s unlikely that Hawaii can repeat as regular-season champions. They came up one win short of the NCAA Tournament a year ago after a loss to CSUN in the Big West Tournament championship game.

Maybe this time around Hawaii can successfully play the role of spoiler and reach the Big Dance with a conference tournament title. The way they’ve played recently should make them a team nobody wants to go up against and they have one more shot against UC Riverside (Feb. 27) to use as a measuring stick.

Those early-season struggles seem to have faded into the rear view and may have even helped Hawaii get back to where they are now, setting themselves up for a strong push down the stretch. For two years, it’s been all about rebounding and the Wahine have certainly rebounded of late.

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

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