Battle in the Bayou: Rainbow Wahine Head to Baton Rouge for NCAA Tournament Test against Reese, LSU
BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED MAR 17, 2023
Last season ended with the ‘Bows securing a 15-seed in the NCAA tournament before bowing out following a loss to Baylor. This season, the Hawai’i women’s basketball team jumped up a rank to the 14-seed, setting up a Friday battle with 1st Team All-American Angel Reese and 3-seeded LSU in the NCAA Tournament Round of 64.
Hawai’i enters the tournament on a five-game win streak, clawing through the Big West tournament en route to a second consecutive Big West championship for the Rainbow Wahine.
Sitting at 18-14 overall, the ‘Bows turned the season around after a tough 1-7 start to the year. While part of the struggles came by design, as five of the seven losses came at the hands of teams who are playing in the NCAA tournament as well, part of the struggles came from injuries the team suffered.
The Big West champions closed out the rest of the season 17-7, playing the best basketball of the year as the regular season came to an end. While the ‘Bows were forced to reconfigure their lineup repeatedly to figure out the best mix of the new personnel after injuries, early-season struggles closing games flourished into the right formula going into the conference tournament.
Reese and the Tigers have enjoyed a dominant season, cruising along to a 28-2 record as they head into Friday’s matchup with the ‘Bows.
LSU fell to Tennessee in the SEC tournament semifinals back on March 4, 69-67, in the team’s last action before the tournament. The Tigers’ only other loss of the year came on February 12 on the road against defending national champion South Carolina, 88-64.
LSU has yet to lose at home this season, going a perfect 15-0 in regular season play. They’ve proven to be one of the best home teams in the country, followed by a crowd of over 8,000 fans per night. That would be the largest crowd the ‘Bows have played in front of this season.
Reese’s impact does not end at her counting stats, as the forward has gained some attention this season for her affinity for trash talk. She’s very good, she knows she’s very good and she has no issue letting opponents know it too. It has caused some opponents to get out of sorts and frustrated, helping the Tigers increase leads.
Alexis Morris is the dynamic guard to go with the dominant frontcourt player that is Angel Reese. LSU’s second-leading scorer, Morris is averaging more than 15 points per game while shooting 37% from long distance. While teams would like to collapse defenses down to the paint where Reese can dominate, the guard forces defenses to respect the outside shot of the Tigers.
Jasmine Carson, the Tigers’ other starting guard, adds another elite shooter to the lineup for LSU as she leads the team with over 50 3-pointers made this season.
While LSU’s monster season has been spearheaded by the elite one-two punch of Reese and Morris, the overall length of the usual eight players in the rotation helps the Tigers typically win the rebounding battle and force opponents to think twice before attacking the basket.
LaDazhia Williams, a graduate student, stands at 6’4 and is a solid rebounder on both ends of the floor. Her length has also allowed her to protect the paint when teams get Reese out of the lane.
Overall, the Tigers have a solid, albeit short, rotation of players that can put pressure on opposing defenses with their offensive rebounding ability and shot-making from long range.
As with any #3 versus #14 matchup, the odds are in the favor of the higher seed. The game will be played in Baton Rouge, home for a team without a loss on that floor this season.
This does not mean that the LSU Tigers are unbeatable, although it will be a tall task for the Rainbow Wahine. Here are a couple things that will be important for Hawai’i, should the ‘Bows potentially pull off the upset.
Battle on the Glass
As mentioned before, LSU is one of the better rebounding teams that Hawai’i will have faced this season. The Tigers are aided by a frontcourt that employs multiple players over 6’3 and the aforementioned Reese’s dominance on the glass.
Freshman Imani Perez, the ‘Bows 6’4 forward, has come on late in the season with her development. Her ability to grab offensive rebounds and create second-chance opportunities for Hawai’i was a key factor in the comeback win over UCSB in the Big West championship.
Perez will be tasked with competing with Reese and Williams on the glass and while it shouldn’t be expected to be a dominant performance by Perez on the O-boards, any additional chances she can help create will be paramount for keeping pace with the Tigers.
Nnenna Orji and Kallin Spiller will also be expected to compete on the glass. If Hawai’i can keep the rebounding battle close and grab some extra chances off misses, the ‘Bows will be in good shape.
Dynamic Scoring Guards Galore
Lily Wahinekapu and Daejah Phillips have been fantastic for the ‘Bows, handling the ball and creating offensive looks for themselves and teammates through the stretch run.
They will be met by a pair of guards who can really score it for LSU in Morris and Carson.
While offense has been a big part of their contributions for the Rainbow Wahine this season, Phillips and Wahinekapu don’t slack on the defensive end. Wahinekapu came up with clutch steal after clutch steal during the Big West tournament and Phillips is a consistent menace in the passing lanes and on the ball getting tips.
The scoring of the two guards will be important against LSU, a team that can lock it down on defense sometimes. The defense will arguably be bigger.
Reese will most likely get her production in, no matter what game plan she sees against her. That makes it even more vital for teams like Hawai’i trying to pull off the upset to limit the chances that Carson and Morris get from long distance.
If Phillips and Wahinekapu can hold down the Tigers’ dynamic backcourt, the inconsistency of LSU closing games could be a door to the upset for the ‘Bows.
It will be a dogfight between Hawai’i and LSU. The Tigers will come out looking to put away the ‘Bows early, but the Rainbow Wahine will keep it within striking distance heading into halftime. The ‘Bows have experience against top teams this season, so LSU won’t be able to shock Hawai’i with pure different athletes.
The second half will obviously decide things, as each team will get a chance to make adjustments. In the end, the length of the Tigers and the talent of Reese will push LSU over the top late, 72-59.
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