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When the nine children of Hank and Eve Nawahine are together, which is more rare these days, they play pickup basketball deep into the evening.

Valerie Nawahine usually is tasked with guarding her younger sister Malia by default.

"Because she's more aggressive, people don't like to play against her, but I don't mind," she said with a laugh. "I'd rather play against anybody else. But I'll take one for the team."

Malia Nawahine doesn't take plays off against her own family, just like it would be far from the junior guard to take off plays when she's suited up for the Utes (12-4, 1-4).

Coach Lynne Roberts can count on the 5-foot-10 former Springville prep star to know what's going on defensively and make opponents fight for every inch. She's racked up 50 steals between her sophomore and junior seasons. Her tenacity also translates to rebounding, where Nawahine usually is good for at least four per game despite playing in the backcourt.

But competitiveness isn't all a player needs to bring to the floor, and with the Utes in a three-game slide, Nawahine is one of the players on the team working her way out of a slump.

She hasn't cracked double figures in scoring in her last three starts. She averaged about 13 points per game in Utah's 12 wins this season, but she averaged six in the four losses. She's missed her last 11 attempts from 3-point range.

She's far from the only player on the team who still needs to get rolling in Pac-12 play. Even though Roberts recently told her in front of teammates that she needed to produce more because she's on the floor for almost the entire game, the coach is not worried that Nawahine won't turn it around.

"Usually with achievers, they already are aware of what they need to get better at and what they need to do," Roberts said. "Sometimes when you hear things in front of everybody, there's more accountability, but I have no doubt she'll be ready to roll."

Nawahine long has been a self-starter, undaunted by expectations.

She transferred to Springville from California as a junior and took up the mantle for the Red Devils the year after Parade All-American Lexi Eaton graduated. Nawahine carved her own legacy, getting Springville to two more state title games and winning it in 2013. She was the Utah Gatorade player of the year after that 25-0 season.

At Utah, her career hit a speed bump in the 2014-15 season when she missed most of it because of an injury. Roberts was hired the following year, and Nawahine acknowledges it hasn't always been easy going.

"At first it really was difficult, especially for me, because both of us are pretty stubborn," she said. "If she said something on the court, some of those heat-of-the-moment things, I might think differently. But I think this year it's been more on the same page. We're really similar in a lot of ways."

She's close with her family. She and Valerie live in a house with her teammates and cousins Wendy Anae and Joeseta Fatuesi, as well as Utes volleyball star Adora Anae. Valerie, who played for the Utes for two seasons, comes to as many home games as she can.

The Nawahine sense of fierce loyalty has been extended to Malia's teammates. She's among the first to stand up for a fellow player who is fouled or hit hard by an opponent. Roberts has found herself asking Nawahine to dial back the intensity, which she understands, because she had the same quality as a player.

"I'd much rather turn down a fire than have to light one," Roberts said. "Pull the reins rather than slap them to get her going."

She's still in a slump, but she's finding ways around it. Despite starting out 0 for 6 from the field against Stanford on Friday night, Nawahine started finding teammates and dished out a season-best seven assists. She also made her last two shots of the game, never quitting even as the Cardinal took a commanding fourth-quarter lead.

No one has to light a fire under her. She does it for herself. And her sometimes reluctant pick-up partner thinks that's what eventually will turn around things for her, and potentially the Utes.

"She works really hard and she puts in the extra hours," Valerie Nawahine said about her sister. "I think the worst thing she could do is stop shooting."

Twitter: @kylegoon —

Malia Nawahine

• Averaging 11.1 ppg, 3.9 rpg this season.

• Utah's leader in minutes, averaging 31.8 per game.

• Won 2013 title at Springville HS, Utah Gatorade player of the year.

Pac-12 women's standings

Conference Overall


Washington 5 1 17 2

Oregon State 4 1 15 2

Stanford 4 1 14 3

Arizona State 4 1 13 3

UCLA 3 2 12 4

Washington State 3 3 8 9

California 2 3 14 3

Oregon 1 3 11 5

USC 1 3 10 5

Utah 1 4 12 4

Colorado 1 4 11 5

Arizona 1 4 10 6

Sunday's games

California at Utah, Noon

Washington State at Arizona, Noon

Stanford at Colorado, 2 p.m.

Oregon at UCLA, 2 p.m.

Oregon State at USC, 4 p.m.

Washington at Arizona State, 6 p.m.