With Colorado’s thin air in mind, Laura Beeman pushed the Rainbow Wahine basketball team through drills “without oxygen” leading up to the season opener.
To prepare for the altitude, Beeman and the UH coaches gave the Wahine reduced recovery time between conditioning and shooting drills in the practices leading up to the season-opening road trip to Colorado State and Denver.
The workout plan paid off on Friday when the Wahine weathered the adjustment to the altitude while taking an early lead against CSU and outlasted the Rams in overtime in a 63-58 win in Fort Collins.
“The two weeks before this game she was conditioning us hard,” UH senior Shawna-Lei Kuehu said, “not for punishment, but just to get us ready for this altitude and honestly the coaching staff did a wonderful job getting us ready.
“After you play through the adrenaline and getting to know how to breathe and how your body’s going to react, the game was easy. Like she said, we were ready for this game.”
Ashleigh Karaitiana played all 45 minutes and finished with 12 points and four rebounds, including an offensive rebound late in overtime that ultimately allowed UH to push a three-point lead to five.
“I didn’t sub her and to be honest I think she can play another game right now and be fine,” Beeman said after the game. “For her to hold our team together the way she had to at times, she’s a leader and that’s what you expect”
UH overcame 24 turnovers and foul trouble to open the season with a win for the first time since 2010. The Wahine shot 4-for-7 from both the field and from the foul line in overtime while CSU went 2-for-8 from the field.
About two hours earlier, the Wahine adjusted well to the environment while jumping out to a 19-9 lead 8 minutes into the game. CSU cut into the gap but UH hung on to a 29-28 lead going into halftime.
“When you’re up eight and you can’t breathe, it’s way better than being down eight and you can’t breathe,” Beeman said. “It was really big from them to say ‘our conditioning is pretty decent, we’re going to be able to hit shots.’ And to be able to put Colorado State on their heels was big and showed a lot of leadership.”
CSU, the preseason favorite in the Mountain West Conference, made a surge with an 11-1 run in the second half to take a seven-point lead with 12:26 left. But rather than wither on the road, UH responded to catch the Rams to set up a see-saw end of regulation with King hitting two free throws with 52 seconds left to forge a 50-50 tie.
Both teams had possessions in the final minute with Kuehu blocking a CSU shot and the Wahine turning the ball over with 2 seconds left to force overtime.
The Wahine took control in overtime with a Morgan Mason 3-pointer and a Kuehu jumper, but CSU closed to 61-58 on an AJ Newton 3-pointer with 25 seconds left. Karaitiana’s rebound off of King’s miss turned out to be a pivotal moment and King went back to the line to seal the season-opening win.
“It’s the first chapter in the book we’re writing and we have to get better every time and compete,” Kuehu said. “It’s not the end of the season, it’s the first game and it’s always where we finish the journey and not where we start. We were able to get off to the good start and we have to keep the ball rolling form here.”
The Wahine will next face a Denver team that opens its season on Sunday at Magness Arena. The Pioneers of the Summitt League went 9-23 last year and return guard Paige Bradley, who averaged 12.5 points and 4.9 assists per game.
The game is scheduled for 10 a.m. Hawaii time.