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Preview: Hawaii vs Baylor

By Lance Tominaga, ESPN Honolulu Web Editor.

In 1982, Chaminade stunned Virginia. In 1990, Buster Douglas KO’ed Mike Tyson. And in 2007, Appalachian State shocked Michigan. So, yes, upsets happen.

For University of Hawaii fans, the latest David-vs-Goliath opportunity comes this Friday, when the Rainbow Wahine basketball team takes on the heavily-favored Baylor Bears in the first round of the 2022 NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament. Baylor (27-6) is the No. 2 seed in the Wichita Region of the tourney, while Hawaii (20-9) is the No. 15 seed. The game will tip off at 10:00 a.m. Hawaii time on the Bears’ home court, the 10,284-seat Ferrell Center in Waco, Texas.

Baylor is currently a 28.5-point favorite to beat the Rainbow Wahine. The game will be broadcast live on ESPN Honolulu (92.7 FM/1420 AM), with Dave Kawada calling the action.

The Bears, just seasons removed from their most recent national championship, are led by a true ”Goliath” of a player: 6’4” senior forward NaLyssa Smith, a consensus First-Team All-American and the likely No. 1 selection in next month’s WNBA Draft. The former five-star recruit out of San Antonio, Texas leads her team in scoring (22.5 ppg), rebounds (11.5 rpg) and field goal percentage (.550). Even more scary is this: Smith has been playing her best ball of late, averaging 28.2 points and 13.2 boards in her last six games.

If you think Baylor is a one-woman team, think again. Three other starters are averaging double-figure scoring. including guard Jordan Lewis, a transfer from Alabama who was recently named the Big 12 Conference’s ”Newcomer of the Year.” The 5’7” Lewis is putting up 11.7 points per game and leads her team in assists (5.3 apg).

Hawaii’s most dangerous weapon, of course, is Big West ”Player of the Year” Amy Atwell. The graduate senior forward is averaging 17.4 points and 6.7 rebounds a game. But for the Rainbow Wahine to stay within striking distance of the Bears, they’ll need all their players to contribute, including Daejae Phillips, Olivia Davies, Kallin Spencer, Nnenna Orji, Kelcie Imai and Nae Nae Calhoun. In particular, they’ll have to shoot lights-out from beyond the arc.

One way the Rainbow Wahine might try to slow Baylor down is to use their depth. Hawaii has 10 players who have played at least 20 games and average at least 13 minutes of action per outing. Baylor first-year head coach Nicki Collen utilizes a tighter rotation, going with seven players who averaging at least 18 minutes per game.

Hey, No. 15-seed Saint Peters just beat No. 2-seed Kentucky in the men’s tournament. So you never know.

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