Hawai'i Favored To Claim 2015-16 Women's Hoops Title
2015-16 Big West Women's Basketball Preseason Poll
Hawai'i is deemed the favorite to cut down the nets in March as the media selected the 'Bows as the team to be in the 2015-16 women's basketball season.
UH earned the honor after collecting 147 points, which included 13 first place votes. The squad is coming off a season in which it won 23 games and claimed the Big West regular season crown for the first time since 1993-94. Reigning Big West Coach of the Year Laura Beeman returns three starters and eleven letterwinners led by second team All-Big West selection Ashleigh Karaitiana. Karaitiana, a redshirt senior, started 30 of the 31 games in which she appeared with averages of 10.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game. Senior Destiny King (9.6 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 2.2 apg) and last year's Big West Sixth Player of the Year sophomore Megan Huff (6.9 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 25 blk) also headline a returning group that will be deep and versatile. Keep an eye on twin freshmen Leah and Lahni Salanoa as the highly regarded rookies will feature in the UH lineup this season.
UC Riverside was second in the poll with 127 points and two first place votes. UCR had an excellent bounceback season a year ago, returning to the Big West Tournament and winning 17 games overall. Head coach John Margaritis returns four of the most talented players in the league in seniors Brittany Crain and Annelise Ito, junior Simone DeCoud and sophomore Michelle Curry. Crain, the reigning Big West Player of the Year, averaged a league-best 21.7 points, while also putting up 6.1 rebounds per game, connecting on 75 three-pointers and recording 2.0 steals in an astounding 38.4 minutes per game. Ito, a second-team All-Big West selection, showed her all-around game with averages of 13.7 points, 7.2 rebounds and 2.9 assists in 35.9 minutes, while DeCoud (12.4 ppg, 3.6 apg, 1.6 spg) and Curry (9.2 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 2.8 apg) translated strong seasons into honorable mention All-Big West and Big West Freshman of the Year accolades, respectively. UCR will be aiming for its first 20-win campaign since 2006-07, led by not only those talented four but joined by a deep returning cast headlined by transfer forward Réjane Verin (8.4 ppg, 5.5 rpg at UNLV in 2013-14).
Cal Poly wrapped up the top three in the poll with 107 points and one first place vote. The Mustangs lose the services of the graduated Ariana Elegado, but return plenty in the cupboard to contend for the Big West title. Faith Mimnaugh's group will be sophomore Dynn Leaupepe who averaged 7.9 points and 5.7 rebounds over her 29 games a year ago. Junior Hannah Gilbert will continue the recent trend of talented front court players in the Mustang lineup as she averaged 9.2 points, 5.8 rebounds and shot 52.5% from the floor a year ago. In all, Cal Poly has an intriguing mix of youth and veterans and a key transfer in Amanda Lovely (6.0 ppg, 4.9 rpg) as it looks to finish in the top three in the Big West for the eighth straight season.
Two-time defending Tournament champion CSUN in fourth place with 100 points, while Long Beach State nabbed the remaining first place vote on its way to a fifth place showing with 99 points. UC Davis came in sixth with 75 points and Cal State Fullerton, fresh off a semifinal appearance in the Tournament a year ago, is seventh with 46 points. Rounding out the poll are UC Irvine with 38 points and UC Santa Barbara with 26 points. UCI is the 2016 Tournament first and quarterfinal round host.
The media panel also selected a six-player preseason all-conference team comprised of four seniors and two juniors. The senior contingent is led by Crain, Ito, Karaitiana and Alyson Doherty of UC Davis. The two juniors on the squad are Long Beach State's Raven Benton and UC Irvine's Mokun Fajemisin.