Battle-Tested ‘Bows Take Down Long Beach to Reach 2nd Straight Big West Title Game
BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED MAR 10, 2023
HENDERSON, Nev. — Two games. Two nail-biters. Two Big West Tournament wins for the Rainbow Wahine.
The 3-seed Hawai’i Rainbow Wahine took down 2-seed Long Beach State, 67-62, on Friday afternoon to advance to the program’s second straight Big West Tournament championship game.
Laura Beeman’s ‘Bows will now look for their second straight conference title in a Saturday duel with 5-seed UC Santa Barbara, who was a 75-66 winner in the day’s other semifinal matchup.
Battle of the Beach and the ‘Bows
The first half of the Big West’s second semifinal of Friday was one that resembled many of the matchups between Hawai’i and Long Beach State: hard-fought, physical and back-and-forth.
Five minutes into the contest and the two teams had combined for three made field goals and seven total points, as the Beach entered the game’s first media timeout with a 4-3 lead.
Though the ‘Bows dominated on the glass, LBSU won the turnover battle, 6-2, in the first quarter to hold a narrow one-point lead over Hawai’i after 10 minutes of play.
The second quarter was more of the same, as Hawai’i continued to out-rebound the Beach but succumb to the pressure of LBSU to the tune of 10 first half giveaways.
With each team dominating in one area of the game, the two teams who played a 48-47 thriller back in mid-February looked even once again as they entered halftime knotted at 21 apiece.
To the credit of the Hawai’i defense, Big West Player of the Year Tori Harris managed just two first-half points on 1-of-9 shooting from the floor. While the ‘Bows had struggled offensively, the defense was up to the task.
The Rainbow Wahine took control of the game in the third quarter, using three straight 3-pointers to take a six-point lead and force an LBSU-timeout with 5:44 left in the period. While the Beach was able to calm down, the offenses both woke up in the quarter.
Hawai’i entered the final 10 minutes leading by four, 46-42, and continued to play beautiful basketball through the quarter break to extend the lead to nine with under six minutes left in the fourth.
Once again, LBSU turned on the jets defensively.
A bucket followed by a steal and another score cut the Rainbow Wahine lead to three, but the calming force of All-Big West selection Lily Wahinekapu would help guide the ‘Bows through the final couple minutes of play.
The Beach would not go away, fighting to cut the deficit to three, 65-62, after a Courtney Murphy 3-pointer with 2.1 seconds to play.
Hawai’i advanced the ball to the front court with a timeout and Daejah Phillips closed out the win with a layup at the buzzer, sending the Rainbow Wahine to Saturday’s championship game against UC Santa Barbara following the 67-62 win.
Long Beach State was led by guard Kianna Hamilton-Fisher, who had 17 points while playing all 40 minutes of the game. Ma’Qhi Berry chipped in 13 points and six rebounds in the loss, as the Beach drops to 23-9 overall on the season.
Hawai’i was led once again by Wahinekapu, as the guard dropped 18 points to help propel her home school to the team’s second straight Big West title game and her first as a member of the Rainbow Wahine. Phillips filled up the box sheet with 14 points, four boards and four assists in the semifinal victory for the ‘Bows.
The Rainbow Wahine now take on 5-seeded UC Santa Barbara with a chance at the program’s fourth Big West title and second consecutive championship on the line. The two teams met just a week ago in Honolulu, when the ‘Bows used a hot Wahinekapu fourth quarter to beat the Gauchos in the regular season finale, 68-58.
Tip-off is at 1:00 PM HST and the game can be found streaming on ESPN+.
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