Wahine stymie Davis for first NCAA berth since 1998

I’m sure they didn’t expect it to be quite so one-sided, but the Hawaii Rainbow Wahine took their mission one step further than last season with a dominant 78-59 performance Saturday against UC Davis. With memories of last year’s championship game loss to CSUN ready to be exorcised, Hawaii outworked Davis from the get-go and have earned their spot in the NCAA Tournament.

This season hasn’t been so easy for Hawaii. The year began with a few humbling defeats against some power conference opponents and the Wahine were just 4-5 entering mid-December. They didn’t appear to have the same persona as last year’s crew that won 14 of 16 conference games and held opponents to minuscule point totals.

But the formula didn’t change, even if the early results had. The Rainbow Wahine stuck with their model of defense and rebounding and remained focused on last season’s unfinished business. It has paid off handsomely and what began as a potentially tough year has now blossomed into a triumph.

Not only has Hawaii achieved their goal, they have done so convincingly. The Wahine will enter the NCAA Tournament as winners of 11 of their final 12 games, many of those by decisive margins. Their last seven victories have been by an average of more than 18 points per contest.

Saturday’s finale took shape early on as Hawaii blitzed Davis with a 25-13 second quarter edge and never saw their second-half lead dip below 15 points. Their 78 points, thanks in large part to Ashleigh Karaitiana’s 17 on five 3-pointers, are their most since Jan. 21.

But the glass always tells the story and Hawaii held a 47-29 rebounding edge. The Wahine grab 10 more boards per game than their opponents, which has made them such a tough matchup. Teams have to shoot lights out to keep pace, because they just aren’t getting as many offensive possessions.

It’s hard to say where UH will be placed when the bracket emerges, but CSUN earned a 13-seed last season and almost pulled off a first-round stunner against Stanford. Hawaii will probably be given similar treatment, maybe bumping up a line with a 12-seed seeming likely.

Coach Laura Beeman deserves a ton of credit for getting Hawaii into the big dance for the first time since 1998. One of the toughest things a college team must accomplish is establishing an identity. That hasn’t been a problem since Beeman took over four seasons ago and the results are speaking for themselves. Unlike many of her contemporaries within the UH athletic department, Beeman has instilled a sense of calm and continuity within her program.

The Wahine should be proud of their accomplishments and ready to show the rest of the country the style we’ve grown accustomed to the past few seasons.

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

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