No. 1 UConn escapes Tulane with 101st straight win

Tulane guard Kayla Manuirirangi (5) screens Connecticut guard/forward Katie Lou Samuelson as guard Kolby Morgan last year in New Orleans.

Associated Press file photo

One of the areas of uncertainty heading into this season for Tulane's women's basketball team was at point guard, where sophomore Kayla Manuirirangi is replacing All-American Athletic Conference player Leslie Vorpahl.

Manuirirangi averaged 8 minutes per game last year behind Vorpahl and small forward Courtnie Latham, who also was the backup point guard.

Through the first three games of the new season, all on the road, Manuirirangi hasn't played poorly but knows she is a work in progress.

“This is quite new to me, the starting position and being on the floor,” said Manuirirangi, who is from New Zealand. “It's a big responsibility. At the moment, I'm just trying to be safe with the ball, set the team up in an offense and try to facilitate.

“I know my scoring options will come.”

So far Manuirirangi — called Manu by teammates — has 15 assists and four turnovers playing an average of 25 minutes per game against Maine, Dayton and Southern Mississippi.

Tulane (1-2) and Manuirirangi, however, are about to enter into a stretch of games against difficult opponents, starting with the Green Wave's home opener at noon Friday against Vanderbilt (0-2).

Tulane faltered down the stretch for the second consecutive game Tuesday during a 66-58 loss at Southern Mississippi.

“As far as these next section of games, I'm just excited for everyone to find their role,” Manuirirangi said. “We definitely regrouped after the last game. We had to. We didn't stay together as a team. I feel like we were playing out there as individuals.”

A big part of the job of a point guard is to make sure that doesn't happen. However, this early in the season, coach Lisa Stockton said that's not all on Manuirirangi. Citing her point guard's assists-to-turnover ratio, Stockton said Manuirirangi is playing well.

“We have to do a better job of being consistent for 40 minutes, and we have to share the ball better,” Stockton said. “Some of that is youth, and some of that is (players in) different roles. But I think we are a lot better than we played on Tuesday.”

Manuirirangi is averaging 3.0 points per game, and she said she can score better, too. The Green Wave has been working in practice on playing her on the wing, where she can concentrate on shooting along with leading scorer Kolby Morgan.

“I think I can hit the 3 consistently,” she said. “It's something I worked on all summer. The coaches drill that into me every day, and my teammates encourage me to shoot more.”

Changing plays against opponents' defenses and changing defenses against foes has been a challenge. Going against good, often quicker point guards she'll face could be a bigger one. But Manuirirangi, a very good ball-handler, said she's up to the task.

“Going against quicker defenders, I just use a lot of change of pace,” she said. “Defensively, I'm never going to have great foot speed, but I pay attention to the scouting report, and try to stay in front of them best I can.”

It helps that Morgan, the shooting guard, often guards point guards while Manuirirangi defends against shooting guards.

Manuirirangi said she's ready for Vanderbilt, which beat Tulane last year in Nashville.

“They overplay the passing lanes and are aggressive,” she said. “Offensively, they can shoot the 3. That was the difference between winning and losing in last year's game. But they also give up a lot of shots, and we may be able to exploit their transition defense.”