Wahine Succeed As Men Falter

The Wahine are where the Rainbow Warriors should be. This fact is an area of excitement and disappointment. For the Wahine, it’s the joy of exceeding expectations. For their male counterparts, it’s a reminder of what could have been.

For her part, Wahine coach Laura Beeman has exceeded all reasonable expectations. Picked a flattering sixth in the preseason media poll, the Wahine have, with one regular season game to go at the time of this writing, a chance to finish tied for the Big West Conference lead and a near-certain invite to the Women’s National Invitational Tournament should they not win the conference tournament title.

So often do coaches talk about decision-making and defensive effort being the key to unlocking playing time that such statements have become meaningless. Not with Beeman. Outside of forward Kamilah Martin, the Wahine are starless. Yet, through good coaching and effort, the ladies are third in the conference in scoring and second in defense.

They aren’t perfect. Offensive execution has waned at times and, as has become custom in Stan Sheriff Center, turnovers are far too prevalent. But those deficiencies have been countered largely by an active and aggressive defense.

How they are getting it done sans big-name talent is interesting.

In the 13 statistical categories listed on the conference website, UH shows up only nine times. Seven of those listings belong to Martin, who already has established herself as one of the greatest Wahine basketball players ever. The other two are Monica DeAngelis, eighth in three-point shooting, and ShawnaLei Kuehu, who is tied for fifth in blocks per game. Talent-wise, this is a team playing above its individual levels.

Then there are the men. Back in November, I felt strong enough about the physical talent of this team – and the lack of quality conference competition – to predict a 20- to 23-win season. Admittedly, the three-game buffer didn’t make it a particularly bold statement, but the reasoning seemed sound. UH is a big team in a physically small conference. Center Vander Joaquim returned after a good junior year and playing time with the Angolan national team. Hauns Brereton was expected to be the team’s next good deep-shooting guard, and Jace Tavita was to provide senior leadership at the game’s most-important position. Almost none of that happened.

Brereton went into a massive shooting slump, Joaquim couldn’t pass out of the post and Tavita’s free-throw shooting forced his removal at the end of games.

They turned the ball over, didn’t box out for rebounds, couldn’t cover three-point shooters, and the setting of screens to free up shooters was non-existent. UH went 4-6 against the bottom five teams in the conference, and head coach Gib Arnold stuck with a piecemeal starting lineup long after conventional wisdom would normally suggest otherwise. Yet, they still are capable of winning 20, and that’s what’s frustrating.

Athletics director Ben Jay has a difficult decision to make.

Arnold has one year remaining on his contract, and it’s unlikely the automatic rollover clauses will come into effect. Therefore, Jay must either fire or extend Arnold as soon as the last game is played. A lame-duck season would cripple recruiting and act as a de facto punishment of the coach. That’s not fair to Arnold or his players.

A one-year extension for Arnold, with the clear message that things must improve, would be best for all parties. UH stays away from a revolving door of coaches while Arnold gets another shot to prove his abilities. There are reasons to believe next season could be a good one.

The potential starting five of Keith Shamburger, Brandon Spearman, Isaac Fotu, Christian Standhardinger and Caleb Dresser should have no trouble maintaining this season’s offensive production while cutting down on turnovers.

Going small with a three-guard rotation and Fotu, their best interior scorer, in the post is another possibility that should also improve perimeter defense. If the bench can kick in 12-15 points – Brandon Jawato should provide the bulk of that amount – then the Warriors should compete for a conference title.

If things don’t work out, Jay can bring his own style of coach to lead a mediocre program in a mediocre conference in a state that produces almost no D-I talent.