Hawaii's comeback falls short as St. Mary's prevails in WNIT

Hawaii's comeback falls short as St. Mary's prevails in WNIT

MORAGA, Calif.-The University of Hawai'i women's basketball team (23-9, 14-2 Big West) trailed by as many as 18 points in the second half, but mounted a furious rally to catch the Gaels at the end of regulation to force overtime. However, UH's comeback effort fell just short as St. Mary's (21-10, 13-5 WCC) held on to advance with a 92-88 overtime, first round WNIT win on Friday night at McKeon Pavilion in Moraga, Calif. Senior Shawna-Lei Kuehu scored 15 second half points-including two clutch free throws with 3.6-seconds left to tie the game at 75-75 to take the game to OT. Hawai'i's Briana Harris scored a career-high 24 points while Kuehu added 19 and Ashleigh Karaitiana finished with 12 points. It was the final collegiate game for four Rainbow Wahine-Shawlina Segovia, Morgan Mason, Karaitiana and Kuehu.

In the first half, the 'Bows uncharacteristically had 14 turnovers which led to 15 SMC points. Huff paced UH with eight points in the half. Early in the game, the two teams kept things close. King knotted the score at 18-18 with 10:53 left in the half, but SMC scored the next five straight points and did not relinquish the lead for the rest of the period, taking a 36-28 lead into halftime. The 'Bows and Gaels both shot well in the first half, with UH going 11-for-24 (45.8%) and SMC shooting 11-for-26 (42.3%). But the difference was the Gaels made 12-of-17 free throws after being in the bonus for the last 10 minutes, while UH was just 5-of-7 from the charity stripe. Foul trouble would be a problem that would come back to hurt UH in overtime.

Early in the second half, St. Mary's went on a 7-to-0 run to jump out to an 18 point lead. UH would start to chip away, but the Gaels would continue to hold their 18 point advantage until the 13:07 mark. UH then began with a 10-to-4 run of their own capped by a trey by Karaitiana to bring the 'Bows back to within 12 points. A few minutes later, UH closed the gap quickly, outscoring St. Mary's 14-to-2 in just two minutes and 46 seconds of time passing which brought UH to within just a bucket of the Gaels. The run was highlighted by five consecutive points by freshman Sarah Toeaina who drilled a trey and then made two big free throws to bring UH within striking distance with a single-digit deficit of nine points. Down the stretch of regulation, both teams were trading baskets, but Karaitiana sank a clutch 3-pointer with 20-seconds on the clock to trail by one point. SMC's Carly Turner then made one of two free throws and on the ensuing possession, UH's Kuehu was fouled on a put-back attempt. She calmly sank both free throws to tie the game at 75-75 with 3.6 seconds left. The Gaels final shot at the buzzer went awry and to overtime the game went.

In the OT, things were looking good for Hawai'i early. After SMC's Lauren Nicholson made one of two free throws, Toeaina drove for a layup to give UH a 77-76 lead-its first lead of the game-coming with 3:44 left on the clock. Later, Harris raced past her defender for a layup to give the 'Bows a three-point lead at 80-77 with 2:37 left. St. Mary's then went on a 6-to-0 run to take a three point lead on a layup and four made free throws, but Harris, who had the hot hand in OT, nailed a trey to tie the game for the sixth time at 83-83. But that would be the closest UH would get to the win as the Gaels made 13 of their last 14 free throws to seal the win, 92-88. A total of five Rainbow Wahine fouled out in overtime-Karaitiana, Destiny King, Toeaina, Kuehu, and Harris.

Kuehu had just two points in the first half, but erupted for 15 in the second half, shooting 5-for-14 from the floor and 5-of-6 from the free throw line. Kuehu filled the stat line with four rebounds, seven assists, and one blocked shot. She finishes her stellar, six year Rainbow Wahine career with 1,245 points, 645 rebounds, 125 blocked shots, 248 assists and 161 steals. Kuehu concludes her career ranked No. 8 all-time in points; No. 13 in scoring average (10.0 ppg); No. 8 in rebounds; No. 6 in blocked shots (125); and No. 9 in steals (161) just to mention just a few of her many accomplishments.

Harris tied her career-high with five made 3-pointers and was an efficient 7-for-10 in field goals and 5-of-8 from the free throw line. She also pulled down a career-high six rebounds in the loss. She scored six points in the first half and nine in the second half. In overtime, Harris led UH scoring nine points on 3-of-5 shooting with two treys for her 24 total points.

Karaitiana was 5-of-9 in shooting with two treys and tied Harris for the team-high with six rebounds. Karaitiana finished her three-year UH career ranked No. 8 in 2-point field goals made with 101 and No. 10 in minutes averaged with 27.7 minutes per game.

St. Mary's Shannon Mauldin poured in 32 points-the most allowed by UH this season-on 10-of-20 shooting in field goals. She also made 10-of-13 free throws. Lauren Nicholson added 23 points before she fouled out.

St. Mary's edged out the 'Bows on the glass, 40-to-38 and in points off of turnovers, 22-to-15. However, UH had a 38-to-36 advantage in points in the paint and outscored SMC 22-to-7 in second chance points helped by 13 offensive rebounds. Hawai'i's reserves kept the game close, outscoring the Gaels, 66-to-24.

Hawai'i finishes the season with a 23-9 overall record-its best mark since the 1997-98 team posted a 23-8 record under Vince Gooen route to a Western Athletic Conference Pacific Division title. UH's season was highlighted by a 15-game win streak (the most since UH won 19-straight in 1997-98) and their first conference title since 1997-98 with a regular season record of 14-2. Under the 2015 Big West Coach of the Year, Laura Beeman, UH has advanced to the WNIT all three seasons during her tenure.