Hawai’i guard Daejah Phillips pulls up for a jumper during the second half of the Rainbow Wahine’s 66-61 win over CSU Fullerton. | Photo Credit: Michael Lasquero, HSRN

Short-handed Hawai’i fights by CSU Fullerton despite Lewis’ season-high

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED FEB 1, 2024

HONOLULU — Just another night in the Stan. 

Down two starters that stand over 6-foot-4, it took some time for UH to figure out the size and strength of Ashlee Lewis and Cal State Fullerton on Thursday night.  

For Hawai’i, figuring out challenges of changing personnel within the ebbs and flows of the season is nothing new, so they just turned to the backcourt for help. 

The Hawai’i Rainbow Wahine (11-8, 8-2 Big West) used the hot-handed backcourt of Lily Wahinekapu and Daejah Phillips to eek out a home victory over the CSU Fullerton Titans (7-13, 3-7 Big West), 66-61. The backcourt duo combined for 36 of the Rainbow Wahine’s 66 total points, 30 of which came after the halftime break, as Laura Beeman’s squad remained tied atop the Big West with UC Irvine, posting their eighth win in ten conference games. 

Forward Jacque David, starting in place for usual standout Imani Perez for the first time this season and first time since suffering a season-ending injury during the 2022-23 season, got the scoring started for both sides with a left-wing three-pointer for her first long-range make in just five games of action this season. 

CSU Fullerton responded with an 11 straight points as the home squad struggled to find the touch on the jump shot, going up by eight just over halfway through the opening quarter. Following the first media break of the night, the Rainbow Wahine ripped off an 8-2 run of their own to cut the Titans’ lead to two before CSUF’s Hope Hassmann beat the first quarter buzzer with a left-wing three to go into the second up, 16-11.

Hawai’i tied the game with just under six minutes left in the first half as Meilani McBee drained her first three of the night, making it 18-all before Fujika Nimmo answered on the following possession to put the visitors back in front by a trifecta. After a couple of traded baskets, UH’s Jade Peacock got a decent look just before the halftime horn that went off the mark as the ‘Bows entered halftime trailing, 25-22. 

The Rainbow Wahine started the second half the same as the first as David knocked home her second three-pointer of the night to knot things momentarily at 25, stacking that on top of a forced shot-clock violation on the other end before CSUF rattled off six points in a row to reclaim the lead. Behind former Titan and newly-minted 1,000-point collegiate scorer Lily Wahinekapu, UH tied the game once again at 33 about midway through the quarter. 

Hawai’i finally re-took the lead with just over a minute left in the third as Daejah Phillips took over, driving by Ashlee Lewis for a right-handed layup before drilling a right-corner three to push the Rainbow Wahine ahead, 43-42. CSUF’s Eva Levingston knocked down a pair of free throws on the other end to push the away squad ahead but again, Phillips would answer with two points of her own – giving Hawai’i a one-point lead heading into the final quarter of play. 

Wahinekapu began the final 10 minutes with another bucket, extending the UH advantage to three before Levingston knotted it back up at 47. The forward for the Titans fouled out just a few possessions later as the “Daejah Show” continued with a foray to the cup, plus the foul, to make it 51-51 with just under six minutes remaining. Kelsie Imai pushed Hawai’i back out in front with a pair of makes from the charity stripe and Phillips rattled off back-to-back buckets to make it a six-point lead for the Rainbow Wahine with 3:18 left to play.  

The Titans wouldn’t concede the contest to Hawai’i quite yet, playing the foul game to extend the clock as Lewis put up a pair of baskets while UH missed four consecutive free throws to make the Stan Sheriff Center crowd on hand sweat a bit before Phillips, Imai and Wahinekapu closed things out from the line to keep the Rainbow Wahine perfect at home since conference play began, taking down CSU Fullerton, 66-61. 

CSU Fullerton’s Ashlee Lewis posted a season-best 25 points to go along with 13 rebounds, leading both teams in those categories. Hope Hassman chipped in 11 points on 4-of-8 shooting in the loss for the Titans. 

Hawai’i’s Phillips also posted a season-high in points with 22 in just 26 minutes, showing potential as a small-ball forward after Beeman experimented with Phillips and McBee staffing the four and five positions down Brooklyn Rewers and Imani Perez. MeiLani McBee closed the night with 11 points, going just 1-of-7 from distance but providing excellent post defense without fouling late to help lead the Rainbow Wahine to the win. 

The victory sets up an exciting Saturday night clash of the Big West’s best as Hawai’i welcomes UC Irvine into Mānoa for a first-place bout. Both teams are currently tied atop the conference standings with identical 8-2 records in Big West play, though the Anteaters did not play Thursday night after Cal Poly was forced to forfeit the contest and enter Saturday in the islands with just one game that needed to prep for this week. 

“I think knowing that we missed an opportunity to defend home court last year [versus UC Irvine] … knowing what they had to prepare for this week? It’s going to be personal,” McBee said ahead of Saturday’s matchup.