Karaitiana leads Hawaii women by UC Davis for Big West title
ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) Ashleigh Karaitiana was four years old the last time Hawaii made it to the NCAA Tournament.
Clearly, the senior guard felt like it had been long enough.
Karaitiana scored 17 points, making five 3-pointers, and Hawaii throttled UC Davis 78-59 in the Big West Conference Tournament championship game Saturday afternoon.
The Rainbow Wahine (21-10) secured an automatic bid to their sixth NCAA Tournament and first since 1998.
''It was all part of the process,'' Karaitiana said. ''Not just for this year, but the last four years. This is what we worked for, and I'm really proud of the outcome.''
Karaitiana was named tournament MVP after averaging 15 points per game. She shot 6 of 13 from the field to help second-seeded Hawaii earn a measure of redemption after losing the Big West title game last year.
''We were in this game last year and got the result we didn't want,'' she said. ''We came into this game more prepared and knowing what we need to do and took care of it on the floor tonight.''
While Karaitiana controlled the game on the perimeter, her teammates stepped up en masse to dominate inside.
The Rainbow Wahine outrebounded the fourth-seeded Aggies 47-29 and outscored them 50-39 in the paint. They led the entire second half by at least 15 points in large part because of those edges.
Briana Harris scored 13 points with eight rebounds, Megan Huff had 10 points and five rebounds and center Kalei Adolpho had nine points and nine rebounds to anchor the effort down low.
''They were so aggressive crashing to the basket and that gave us a lot of problems even though that was a focal point for us,'' UC Davis coach Jennifer Gross said. ''They were too good.''
Point guard Destiny King had eight points, seven rebounds and five assists and was named to the all-tournament team for Hawaii.
Morgan Bertsch scored 19 points lead the Aggies (19-13) and was named all-tournament as well.
Hawaii blew the game open with a 20-6 run to begin the second quarter. King and Huff combined for 10 points in the paint during the spurt and the Rainbow Wahine cruised into halftime up 40-25.
Thirty of their 40 first-half points came in the paint.
Karaitiana took over in the third quarter, hitting back-to-back 3-pointers from the left wing to give the Rainbow Wahine a commanding 50-29 edge and added another from the left corner minutes later. Olivia Crawford added a final 3 with 39 seconds left to give Hawaii its largest lead and a 62-40 edge going into the fourth quarter.
The Rainbow Wahine held on easily from there, punching their ticket to the Big Dance.
''This is for all of Hawaii,'' coach Laura Beeman said. ''They supported us all year long. This is for them.''
UC Davis: The Aggies were just 2 for 16 from 3-point range and 13 of 24 from the free throw line..No one had more than five rebounds..UC Davis fell to 1-3 all-time in Big West championship games. Its lone victory came in their previous appearance in 2011.
Hawaii: The Rainbow Wahine shot 50 percent (34-68) from the field..With her five assists, King became the fifth player in school history with 1,000 points, 500 rebounds and 250 assists in a career..Hawaii improved to 2-3 all-time in Big West championship games. Its other tournament titles came in the WAC.
OFF TO THE RACES
Another area UC Davis struggled was in transition. Hawaii outscored the Aggies 10-0 in fastbreak points, with eight coming in the decisive second quarter.
''That was one of our keys to win, slowing them down in transition,'' Gross said. ''We just couldn't do it. We were trying to crash and struggling to get back and they took advantage.''
Karaitiana, King and Bertsch made up half of the all-tournament team. UC Davis center Alyson Doherty also earned a spot after scoring 12 points in the title game, while UC Riverside guard Brittany Crain and Long Beach State guard Raven Benton rounded out the team.
UC Davis: Awaits a possible postseason bid.
Hawaii: Will find out its NCAA Tournament seed Monday.