Four Rainbow Wahine Register Double-Digit Points, ‘Bows Beat UCSB on Senior Night
BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED MAR 5, 2023
MANOA — Revenge is a dish best served… as a celebration on Senior Night.
The University of Hawai’i Rainbow Wahine basketball team, ravaged by injuries all year long, once again proved their resilience on Saturday by avenging a loss to the Gauchos earlier this season.
Led by guard Lily Wahinekapu’s 21 points, the ‘Bows used a strong fourth quarter to pull away from UC Santa Barbara, 68-58, clinching the 3-seed as the team heads to Henderson, Nevada for the 2023 Hercules Tires Big West Championship.
Battle for the Three-Seed
The Rainbow Wahine felt that they let one slip back on January 26 at UC Santa Barbara, falling to the Gauchos after a rough second half saw a 20-point lead dissipate and turn into a 72-69 loss.
In a conference with teams bunched together like the Big West this season, any loss hurts. To have a road win against a good program within grasp like that be ripped away, it can be a costly blow to a team with less leadership than the Rainbow Wahine.
“We’ve lost five kids since the beginning [of the season],” Hawai’i head coach Laura Beeman said after the game. “To be sitting in the third spot just is a testament to these kids and their resiliency and their moxie and their stick-to-itiveness and every other word I can come up with.”
Hawai’i had gone 7-3 since the January loss entering the Senior Night matchup against UCSB. The hot second half play of the ‘Bows launched them up the Big West standings, setting up a winner-take-3-seed matchup on Saturday.
The Gauchos got out to a quick start, led by potential Big West Player of the Year Alexis Tucker’s 11 first quarter points, but the ‘Bows fought back as an Imani Perez buzzer-beating 3-pointer cut the UCSB lead to one, 18-17.
The ‘Bows and Gauchos would trade blows to open the second quarter, but late back-to-back triples by Hawai’i helped spur an 8-0 run to end the half and push the Rainbow Wahine into the locker rooms with the lead, 29-23.
WBB | UH answers the Gauchos 3-pointer with a pair of their own, as Phillips and Spiller knock it down from long distance on back-to-back possessions.— Paul Brecht (@12brecht) March 5, 2023
27-23, Hawai’i leads.
Following the break in the action, it appeared that UH had kept the momentum through halftime until Hawai’i’s Meilani McBee picked up a technical foul after a shooting foul, leading to six straight points and the lead for the Gauchos nearly midway through the third quarter.
The turn of events did not make the ‘Bows flinch, as they answered back on the next possession with an Ashley Thoms left-side 3-pointer to reclaim a two-point advantage, 38-36.
Back and forth went the Gauchos and ‘Bows, tying the game up again and again in the third. It was then that the size of the 6’4 first-year Perez was on display. Using every inch of her frame, the forward had a pair of key offensive rebounds and put backs to send Hawai’i into the final 10 minutes leading by three, 46-43.
Kallin Spiller, one of the two ‘Bows being honored for Senior Night, knocked down a huge 3-pointer just as UCSB looked to be creeping closer again in the fourth, giving Hawai’i the six-point lead with just over five minutes to play.
Then, it was Lily Wahinekapu’s time to shine.
The sophomore guard, hailing from ‘Iolani school on O’ahu, took the game over for the ‘Bows to close things out. Wahinekapu scored 11 of the last 12 points for the Rainbow Wahine, coming up with steal after steal to stifle the Gauchos offense in crunch time.
“She’s a gamer,” Beeman said of the guard’s performance. “This is her home. There wasn’t anybody that was going to take this game away from her.”
“She took that game over, and it was beautiful to see.”
The win by the ‘Bows broke the tie between the two schools for the Big West’s third seed for the conference tournament next week. Hawai’i will take on sixth-seeded Cal State Fullerton in the quarterfinals of the tournament.
UC Santa Barbara dropped to the fifth spot and will take on red-hot UC Davis in the quarterfinals next week in Nevada.
“You know, it’s nice,” Beeman said of securing the third seed. “The way the Big West has worked, it came down to today to find out who the number one seed was going to be… Personally, I think [fourth-seeded UC Davis] is playing the best basketball in the conference right now. I think they’re going to be a handful for whoever sees them.”
Feel the Love in the Air
Following the huge win by the Rainbow Wahine, the program and fans celebrated the contributions of graduate transfers Kallin Spiller and McKenna Haire from the past two years, both on and off the court.
The two young women came to the island together following the graduation from their previous institutions (Spiller from Columbia, Haire from Princeton) and immediately felt Hawai’i’s “Aloha” embrace them.
For Spiller, the college journey has been anything but normal and smooth. The forward, who started her 41st consecutive game for Hawai’i on Saturday, began her collegiate career at Seattle University and was the WAC Freshman of the Year winner.
The 6’3 forward transferred to Columbia following the 2018 season, forced to sit out the next year due to the transfer rules. She finally suited up for the Lions for the 2019-20 season, only for the year to be wiped out from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The pandemic essentially ended Spiller’s Columbia career, as the Ivy League cancelled the 2020-21 basketball seasons for all the conference’s men’s and women’s teams. Her first “Senior Night” was conducted via Zoom.
It all led up to her transfer to Hawai’i though, a place Spiller had long had on her mind. With the time that had passed between her senior year of high school and her graduation from undergraduate at Columbia, the forward felt ready to take the jump to the island that she once had not felt prepared for.
Over 50 games and 41 starts for the Rainbow Wahine later, and Spiller couldn’t imagine life as anything other than a forever ‘Bow.
“Just pure thankfulness and gratitude to the community, to my coaches, to my teammates,” Spiller expressed feeling after the game. “This is unmatched. I feel so loved by the community… I’m so thankful to be a Rainbow Wahine and be part of the Hawai’i athletics community.”
For Haire, she had a similar experience with the coronavirus taking away any chance at a true senior season at an Ivy League school. The guard transferred to Hawai’i with longtime boyfriend and former University of Hawai’i basketball player Jerome Desrosiers from Princeton, where Haire helped the Tigers win three Ivy League titles.
In her first season at UH, Haire was a key depth piece to the team before getting injured late in the season. The injury forced the guard to miss out on postseason play in 2022, a postseason that saw the Rainbow Wahine win the Big West tournament and play in March Madness.
Despite the injury, Haire persevered as well. The North Carolina-native was a consistent force of positive energy during last season when she was out. Her leadership got the chance to be shown on the court this season as well.
Now, Haire gets her turn with Hawai’i while on the court, trying to win another Big West crown.
“The Dollar Loans Center is just a really fun place to play, and I was really jealous of my teammates at the time that I didn’t get to be on the court,” Haire chuckled recalling last season. “They got the job done last year, so I’m just going to be grateful and excited to be on the court with them again this year.”
The culmination of her home Hawai’i career was an emotionally charged one. Coming from the east coast, family time isn’t necessarily common for Haire these days.
“It means the world to me,” the guard said about having her family there to celebrate the night with her. “My mom lives really far away, and I don’t get to see my aunt and uncle very often, so for all of them to make the time to come and celebrate this day with me is just so amazing and an unforgettable moment.”
It was also the first (and last) time that Spiller’s family was able to see her play in the Stan Sheriff Center.
“My family hasn’t seen me play a game in the Stan before,” Spiller shared. “This was the first and the last one they’ve seen. It was truly a special experience, definitely, to go out like that because to finally close out a game the way we want to, it was pure joy.”
The two seniors were lifted by the Hawai’i crowd one last time, each with big smiles on their faces as they cashed in on their “Last Shot” in SSC.
Though they didn’t spend their whole careers in the green and white, the two seniors left a lasting impact on the program from the bottom all the way to the top.
“They enriched my life,” Beeman said of Spiller and Haire after the game. “In what they do as young women, off and on the court, they’re truly remarkable. I said this on radio, you don’t get one person like a Mac or like a Kallin in 10 years, and I got two.”
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