Hawai’i’s Senior Night delight caps off perfect home conference schedule

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED MAR 2, 2024

HONOLULU – Special. 

That’s the only word for this Rainbow Wahine basketball program, team and growing fanbase.  

Special. 

The Hawai’i Rainbow Wahine (19-9, 15-3 Big West) sent off Olivia Davies and Ashley Thoms in style Saturday night, hammering the UC Riverside Highlanders (16-12, 11-7 Big West), 62-51, for a big win in the senior duo’s final appearance inside SimpliFi Arena. Daejah Phillips paced Hawai’i with 18 points and nine rebounds in the win as UH completed a perfect 10-0 run through the Big West schedule at home for the first time ever under Laura Beeman. 

Davies dropped in seven points in the victory while Thoms flashed her defensive chops all night by helping hold the conference’s top scorer in Jordan Webster to just 1-of-14 shooting from the floor. 

“I don’t know if I can sum up what Olivia and Tommy mean,” a beaming Beeman said of her seniors following the night. 

Some early offensive jitters for UH were on display in front of the packed-out Stan Sheriff Center as the Rainbow Wahine went 1-for-6 to open things off and fell behind by four entering the first media timeout of the night. The entrance of Jacque David, Kelsie Imai and Daejah Phillips after the stoppage sparked the offense of the Rainbow Wahine to the tune of a 9-2 run to close the opening quarter. 

An and-one for UCR’s to start the second frame knotted the game at 14, but MeiLani McBee’s first 3-pointer of the night gave the lead right back to UH moments later. Lily Wahinekapu doubled the lead up to six a minute later with a deep three from the top of the key and Phillips got a tough layup between a pair of defenders to drop on the very next possession to make it eight points separating each side.  

After UCR’s Makayla Jackson spun home a tough layup to bring the Highlanders back within a pair of 3-pointers, Phillips added three the old-fashioned way for Hawai’i with the hoop and the harm on the other end. UH guard Kelsie Imai brought the Hawai’i lead into double figures for the first time all night with a pair of free throw makes with just over three minutes remaining in the first half. 

UCR and UH traded defensive stops to close out the half, allowing just one free throw make from each side to end the 2nd quarter and head into the locker rooms with Hawai’i leading by 11. 

UH’s Davies got her first points of her Senior Night to begin the 3rd quarter, drilling a left wing three before following it with another trey 45 seconds later to give the Rainbow Wahine a 17-point lead, 36-19. 

UCR’s Webster, the Big West’s leading scorer this season, finally got herself on the board after halftime with a 1-for-2 trip to the charity stripe with 6:48 left in the third, but four straight points from Phillips extended the margin to 20 just after half the quarter had passed. 

The Highlanders brought the contest back within reach just before the end of the 3rd quarter as tempers flared from both sides. Thoms got mixed up with UCR forward Matehya Bryant before Bryant shoved Thoms. The UH guard was assessed a technical foul along with a personal foul while Bryant was given an intentional foul after a lengthy review. 

David pushed Hawai’i’s lead back up to 15 just before the 3rd quarter ended, but Riverside’s Jackson dropped home another bucket for the final points of the frame to pull within 13 heading into the final quarter of action. 

Despite the increasingly closer score, the Hawai’i fans did not waver. 

The raucous crowd continued to cheer on their Rainbow Wahine as Wahinekapu got a layup to drop before the building exploded at a McBee three in transition with seven minutes remaining.  

“There’s nothing like a ‘Sixth Man,’” Beeman said of the ear-piercing crowd. “Every team finds a “why” and our why all year long has been a little bit of Hallie Birdsong, a little bit of each other and it has been a lot for this state – for these fans.” 

The Hawai’i lead remained in the double-digits all the way into one last final minute push from the Highlanders with UCR cutting it to eight with 46 seconds to play, but the lead proved to be enough of a cushion as the Rainbow Wahine closed out their 10th win at home in conference play and 16th Big West win of the season overall, 62-51. 

UC Riverside was led by Makayla Jackson’s 20 points on an impressive 8-for-10 from the field while draining three triples as the guard attempted to keep the visitors within striking distance on Hawai’i’s special night. Jordan Webster ended the night with just 10 points as she was held to an uncharacteristic 1-of-14 from the floor. 

“[Ashley Thoms’] defense has been phenomenal for us all year long,” Beeman said of her unsung defensive hero/perimeter stopper. “To hold [UC Davis guard] Evanne Turner to 0-for-7 from three and then [UCR forward Jordan Webster] to 1-of-14, those are two phenomenal players and we’ve needed Tommy … her grit, her intensity. She’s a phenomenal team player, she’s a great teammate and we’ve needed her throughout this entire season.” 

Hawai’i was paced by Phillips’ 18 points, nine rebounds and four assists off the bench, drawing seven fouls throughout the night as she caused headaches for the Highlanders’ defense. Forward Jacque David poured in 11 points and eight rebounds in the win, going 3-of-4 from long distance to help boost the Rainbow Wahine offense. 

Hawai’i will close out the regular season on the road for the first time in half-a-decade as the Rainbow Wahine visit CSUN and CSU Bakersfield ahead of the Big West tournament. With the victory, UH clinched one of the top two seeds entering the conference tournament.