On the surface, it sounds impossible.
A 1-7 team — a team that’s struggled to close out winnable games — with designs on a 5-0 run through its December schedule? “Yeah, good luck with that,” you might say.
But that’s exactly what the Rainbow Wahine basketball team envisioned going into Wednesday’s matchup with former WAC foe Idaho at the Stan Sheriff Center. After holding on for a 69-61 win over the Vandals that snapped a three-game losing streak, UH players Tia Kanoa and Kenna Woodfolk talked up the theoretic turnaround. Those two were instrumental in keeping that goal alive going into this weekend.
Woodfolk scored an efficient 21, making half her 10 field-goal attempts and nine of her 11 free throws. And Kanoa was just about perfect in the fourth quarter, making all four shots in the period for 10 of her 12 points, to go with some timely assists and steals that helped seal the outcome. She had no turnovers, part of a season-low 10 as a team.
“It felt good,” Woodfolk said. “After our last game (an 81-59 loss to No. 8 Stanford) Coach (Laura Beeman) said, ‘we’re going (through) December 5-0.’ And that was our mentality. Practices have been intense.”
“We have a goal of 5-0 in December. And we’re gonna get that goal,” Kanoa said. “It definitely feels great to get this first one and get the ball rolling, but we have to keep that momentum and be consistent. When we’re consistent, then we win.”
Consistent attention to detail on defense was the reason UH got this one. Be it man or zone, the Wahine generally had their scheme down and harassed the Vandals’ prolific-scoring backcourt of Mikayla Ferenz and Taylor Pierce, who both looked to launch with a shred of daylight from anywhere within 25 feet.
Defensive-minded guards Savannah Reier, Rachel Odumu and Jadynn Alexander took turns helping hold Ferenz, who entered the night as the nation’s No. 7 scorer (23.8 ppg), to a woeful 18 points on 6-for-22 shooting. Granted, she just flat-out missed some shots she’d probably normally make. But even Julissa Tago, known as an offense-over-defense player, swatted a UI guard on a drive. Pierce scored 20, but other than an explosive third quarter, she was mostly held in check.
And no question, UH got a boost from the return of senior Lahni Salanoa, who scored seven in her season debut coming off injury.
Had UH not been on its game Wednesday, it would’ve dropped to 1-8 — a nine-game start matched only by the 1981-82 Wahine in program history.
But now, you’d expect UH, now 2-7 (and 1-0 in December) to build on this with a win over Hawaii Pacific in its next game, 2:30 p.m. Sunday.
After that comes a 10-day break before the Duel in the Desert two-game tournament against host UNLV, followed by either Florida or Utah on Dec. 21. (If it’s Utah, that’s particularly interesting, as former Wahine player Megan Huff has blossomed into a full-blown star. She’s averaging 19.6 points and 9.4 rebounds as a fifth-year senior coming off an All-Pac-12 junior season.)
The Wahine end the holiday trip at Nevada on Dec. 29.
So, the difficulty obviously picks up after the HPU game. But with their goal of a perfect December, the Wahine are shooting high — and for at least one game, looking like they mean it.