Big West awards hard-earned for Hawaii basketball teams

Tia Kanoa is Hawaii's first Big West second-teamer in women's basketball since Megan Huff and Ashleigh Karaitiana in 2015-16. / Photo by Jamm Aquino, Star-Advertiser

It is a credit to the Hawaii men’s and women’s basketball teams that they have done what they’ve done in their respective 2019 conference seasons without possessing a singularly dominant player.

Fourth place in the Big West for the Rainbow Warriors with a 9-7 record (18-12 overall). Second place for the Rainbow Wahine at 10-6 (14-15 overall).

Top-half seeding like that going into the Big West tournament usually means that’s good for some significant hardware in the conference postseason awards. A first-team nod or two, or perhaps even a player or coach of the year award in the right situation.

But UH, while not totally bereft, came up pretty light in the men’s and women’s awards announcements Monday.

(Also, point guard Brocke Stepteau was named Big West player of the week on Monday, becoming the first Rainbow Warrior so honored this season. Stepteau went off in the second halves of UH’s two road wins last week, scoring 17 and 21 points and setting the program record for consecutive free throws made at 34 and counting.)

The second-team honors for men’s forward Jack Purchase and women’s point guard Tia Kanoa were deserved. They were also the biggest UH got.

For those who’ve been tracking box scores, it shouldn’t have come as a huge surprise. It’s always a different person leading the way for UH (both teams) from night to night, which can be a blessing and a curse. A double-edged sword. Whatever you want to call it.

Often, the awards come down to scoring. On the women’s side, five of the top six scorers made the first team. On the men’s side, four of six.

Purchase is his team’s leading scorer at 11.5 points per game, an uncommonly low number for a team leader. It checks in at 14th among Big West players. The upside is that Zigmars Raimo (11.4) and Eddie Stansberry (11.3) are right behind him, and Stepteau (10.4) isn’t far behind that.

Jack Purchase is Hawaii’s first All-Big West second-teamer since Aaron Valdes in 2015-16. / Photo by Jamm Aquino, Star-Advertiser

Purchase got the second-team nod because his importance to the team goes beyond the simple scoring stat. He must be accounted for at all times, which has the effect of spreading and bending a defense. He’s an able and willing passer and an underrated rebounder.

(Side note: It’s disappointing there’s no ‘Most Improved’ award handed out by the Big West, because Raimo, who is No. 4 in BWC field-goal percentage at .546, would’ve almost certainly won that this year.)

For some perspective, the lowest scoring average in UH’s recorded history of year-by-year leaders (since 1970-71) belongs to Eric Bowman in 1978-79, at 12.5 points per game. (Last season, it was close, but Mike Thomas led the way at 13.1.)

And the Wahine? Leah Salanoa leads the way at 8.7 points per game. Of course, it must be noted that Makenna Woodfolk left the program with five games to play in the regular season, and she would’ve likely been the full season’s scoring leader with her 10.7 per game.

That 10.7 would still have been the third-lowest leader average since Wahine stat tracking began in 1978-79. Or, if we’re going with Salanoa’s 8.7, that is THE lowest, by a significant amount; Megan Tinnin’s 10.3 in 2008-09 is the mark to beat right now.

Anyway, no Wahine players rank among the top 25 in scoring, which makes it tough sell. The exception is a player like Kanoa, whose fingerprints can be all over a box score in some combination of scoring, assisting, rebounding and steals, depending on the night. Drew Buggs rightly received an honorable mention on the men’s side for similar reasons.

The Wahine, to their credit, have figured out creative ways to get it done over the last two weeks. Salanoa and her twin Lahni, guard Courtney Middap, wing Amy Atwell, Kanoa and freshman Myrrah Joseph have been among those who’ve passed the scoring load around like a macro version of the ball in their important wins over Cal State Fullerton, UC Riverside and Cal State Northridge, allowing them to rise to No. 2 and pick up a double bye.


  1. Chicken Grease March 12, 2019 9:08 pm

    This was a really terrific sendoff/tribute! Congrats!

Comments are closed.