UPDATE: Well, umm, the rosy outlook has changed a little bit. Here’s today’s breaking news on leading scorer and rebounder Makenna Woodfolk leaving the program due to her pregnancy.
Coming up on the most important time of the season, the Hawaii women’s basketball team feels like it’s found something. Something good.
UH (11-13, 7-4) is tied for second place in the Big West with five games remaining before the Big West tournament. Because of the benefit of byes in the women’s bracket — a single bye for third or fourth place and a double bye for first or second — the Rainbow Wahine are in remarkably better standing than they were in conference play the last two years, when they finished 7-9 and 5-11 and had to play on the opening day.
This year’s team, it seemed, had to get worse before it could get better. It started 1-7 overall. Then, even after beating first-place UC Davis, UH was 1-2 in conference play coming off its 29-point game against Cal State Northridge.
“What I said to the girls in our postgame talk (Saturday) was, ‘Failure doesn’t define you. Failure refines you,’ ” coach Laura Beeman said after a 63-49 win over Long Beach State. “And early on, we were failing. We were losing. It was getting us down. We were playing frustrated. We did not have a next-play mentality. And I think over these last few weeks, those failures, and I use that lightly because losing is not failing, but those failures refined this team to be who they are today. And I think we need to continue to be refined.”
Guard Courtney Middap emerged as a more consistent scorer last week (14 and 17 points) and forward Kenna Woodfolk busted out of a recent scoring slump. One of the better 3-point-shooting teams in the Big West has now been defending and rebounding at a better level, too.
The Wahine have won four of their last five. They for three straight on Thursday at home against UC Irvine. That might not sound all too remarkable, but consider this: The last time they won three straight conference games was late in the 2016-17 season.
“I feel very happy. It’s my last year. We haven’t been this, I’ll say successful, in conference in a long time. Since my freshman year,” senior wing Leah Salanoa. “It’s fun. I love playing with these girls. And we’re about to have a good time.”
A turning point may have come at halftime of the LBSU game. UH, which had lost by 16 points at LBSU the previous Saturday, was threatening to revert to its bad habit of inconsistency coming off a 23-point win over UC Santa Barbara three days prior. The Wahine led just 24-23 at the break.
“We talked about growth,” Beeman said. “We talked about, here’s the time right now where we’re struggling the same way we did at Long Beach. It’s time to grow now. We can’t stay where we are, where we were.”
UH responded by closing out the game about as effectively as it has all season, dominating the last five minutes.
“Growing like that this time if year is what you want to do, because you want to be playing your best basketball,” Beeman said.