Lily Wahinekapu handles the rock for Hawai’i in a home game. The junior lead guard scored a team-high 15 points in the season-ending loss to Cal in the WBIT. | Photo Credit: Michael Lasquero, HSRN

Cal ends Hawai’i Rainbow Wahine season in WBIT opener, 65-60

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED MAR 21, 2024

All good things must come to an end. 

The Hawai’i Rainbow Wahine (20-11) saw their 2023-24 season come to a close Thursday evening in Berkeley, California, falling to the 2nd-seeded Cal Golden Bears (19-14) in the opening round of the inaugural Women’s Basketball Invitation Tournament, 65-60. 

“I couldn’t be more proud of my team,” Hawai’i head coach Laura Beeman said to open her postgame press conference. “I thought we played very well today except for a few minutes in the 2nd quarter [when we scored four points].” 

For the second straight game, Hawai’i fell victim to an opponent making double-digit 3-pointers as Cal knocked down 11 triples, including seven after halftime, to help hold off a spirited Rainbow Wahine team that had multiple members feeling sick entering Day 17 of being on the road. 

After stumbling in the Big West Championships semifinals less than a week prior, Hawai’i was determined to put the disappointing end to conference to rest as MeiLani McBee got the Rainbow Wahine on the board on their opening possession after Cal’s Ugonne Onyiah started the scoring, tying the game at two just a minute in. 

UH took the team’s first lead of the day at the 7:17 mark as Olivia Davies drained a pair of free throws to put the Rainbow Wahine ahead, 6-4. The Golden Bears and ‘Bows traded baskets before seeing Cal jump back in front by three with 4:05 left in the opening quarter after Kemery Martin rattled off five straight points for the #2 seed to make it 11-8.  

The Rainbow Wahine returned fire with a 10-2 run over the final four minutes of the 1st quarter behind Brooklyn Rewers’ first two baskets of the game and the first long-distance make coming courtesy of Olivia Davies as UH entered the 2nd quarter up, 18-13. 

Cal grabbed control of the lead once again by drilling three 3-pointers to open the 2nd quarter, two coming from Leilani McIntosh, as Laura Beeman quickly called timeout after seeing her team fall down by four just two minutes into the frame. The timeout helped slow the Bears’ momentum as Hawai’i held the #2 seed scoreless over the next four minutes. 

The unfortunate part for UH was that their scoring drought continued through that stretch, finally scoring their first points of the quarter on an Imani Perez layup with 4:18 remaining in the opening half to bring the Rainbow Wahine back within a possession, 22-20. After Cal’s Onyiah split a pair of free throws, Lily Wahinekapu dropped a runner through just before the clock expired to make it a one-point game heading into the break. 

Hawai’i jumped back in front following halftime, drilling back-to-back tries from behind the arc to take a five-point lead just 90 seconds into the 3rd quarter. Cal sharpshooter Ioanna Krimili tied it at 29 with her first bucket of the night just about halfway through the period as part of the beginning stretches of an 11-1 run for the Bears. 

Wahinekapu worked her way to the cup for an and-one to snap the field goal drought for the Rainbow Wahine but missed the free throw after to make it 34-31. Another murky shooting stretch for UH allowed Cal to push the lead to a game-high 10 points before McBee drained a much-needed 3-pointer with 44 seconds left in the third to make the deficit seven, 41-34. Bears’ graduate transfer forward Ila Lane worked herself deep into the post to get fouled, knocking down a pair of free throws to give Cal a nine-point advantage heading into the final 10 minutes. 

Just as they had since the first practice of the season, Hawai’i fought back. 

Finally, Daejah Phillips got loose to begin the 4th quarter, sprinting into the frame with a layup and three consecutive makes from the charity stripe before Kelsie Imai spun home a tough layup to pull Hawai’i within a basket, 43-41, just 76 seconds into the action. 

Cal settled back with a couple of makes of their own from the foul line before Krimili worked into the midrange for a short jumper to push the lead back to six, but again the Rainbow Wahine responded as McBee drained another 3-pointer. 

Krimili and Bears’ freshman LuLu Laditan-Twidale continued to help keep UH at arms’ length with timely baskets despite the increasingly heavy offensive pressure that Wahinekapu and Phillips would put on as Laditan-Twidale drilled a triple with just under three minutes to play to give the Golden Bears an eight-point lead. 

Still, Hawai’i would not go away as Imani Perez answered back with a 3-pointer of her own before Wahinekapu came up with a steal and two makes at the free throw line to make it a one-possession game once again with 91 seconds to play.  

After fabulous freshman LuLu Laditan-Twidale calmly hit on two of three free throw attempts to push the Bears’ advantage back to five, it was again Perez swiftly swishing through a 3-pointer from the left wing to bring Hawai’i within two with 45 seconds left – well within striking distance for the program’s first postseason tournament win since 2001. 

An upset ultimately would not be in the cards for Laura Beeman’s squad as Kemery Martin stuck the dagger in the hearts of Rainbow Wahine fans with a tough right-wing three just before the end of the shot clock to make it 65-60 with just 18 ticks left. 

Hawai’i would get a quick (and quality) look for Perez with 11 seconds left that was just off the mark and the three subsequent putbacks rolled off the rim to see the end of the Rainbow Wahine season in Haas Pavillion, 65-60. 

“When you’re on the road and playing a team that’s supposed to beat you, you’ve got to beat teams, you can’t keep it close because you don’t know which way the whistle will go. I felt like we fought through a lot of great stuff today, we had a lot of people step up and I think we gave Cal a really good punch,” Beeman reflected of her team’s effort. 

Cal was led by Laditan-Twidale’s game-high 20 points – 12 coming in the 4th quarter – as the freshman missed just one shot all night with a 6-of-7 performance from the floor and 4-of-5 from 3-point range. While she was the only Golden Bear to finish in double figures, five other players finished with six or more points for Cal as the #2 seed advances to the 2nd round of the WBIT to take on #3 St. Joseph’s. 

Lily Wahinekapu bounced back in a big way after a tough shooting performance in the Big West Championships semifinals to lead Hawai’i with 15 points while shooting 60% from the floor. Forward Imani Perez also had a nice game for the Rainbow Wahine, adding 11 points and five rebounds with a team-best three 3-pointers in the loss. 

Daejah Phillips, who was still less than 100% after suffering an ankle injury in the Big West Championships semifinals and was feeling under the weather heading into the game, chipped in 10 points as the junior gave everything she had to try and deliver UH’s first postseason win under Laura Beeman. 

“I think the ankle was far less of an issue for her, Daejah has been sick all week and we didn’t even think she was going to play today. For her to be running a temperature and not be feeling well and get out of bed and come in this game just shows the fact that she loves her teammates,” Hawai’i’s 12th-year head coach said of the Big West 6th Player of the Year. “She wants to win. The ankle was an issue obviously, but she was going to play through that as well … we aren’t where we are without anybody on this team. Daejah’s a huge piece of that but so is everybody else, one through 15.” 

Hawai’i graduates two key rotation players in guards Ashley Thoms and Olivia Davies, both of whom started multiple games this season for the Rainbow Wahine, but expect to return the bulk of the roster for another run at a Big West Championship and spot in the NCAA Tournament in 2025. 

“I think we know what we need to work on individually and collectively,” Wahinekapu said heading into the offseason. “We’re trying to do big things next season.” 

“In moments like this – [it’s important] to not let our heads roll down and stay in our sadness, we’ve got to grow from it, learn from it, make those adjustments in the postseason and come back harder,” McBee added on. “That’s what we’re going to do next year, we are going to come back harder.”