Hawai’i Football: Who’s on the 2024 schedule & how does it look?

Hawai’i Football: Who’s on the 2024 schedule & how does it look?

Hawai’i Football: Who’s on the 2024 schedule & how does it look?

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED FEB 29, 2024

HONOLULU – The University of Hawai’i football program, in conjunction with the Mountain West Conference, revealed the 2024 football season schedule for the Rainbow Warriors Thursday morning that features 12 regular season games, three bye weeks, the new Pac-12/Mountain West crossover game and much more. 

In 2023, UH played a 13-game schedule and finished 5-8 overall, just missing out on bowl game eligibility in year two under Timmy Chang. The ‘Bows will play a completely different slate of non-conference opponents while only seeing four repeats from the Mountain West schedule this year as the conference works with the overall realignment in college football that impacted the remaining Pac-12 teams.

Below is a quick week-by-week breakdown of the 2024 Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors’ football opponents with dates and game locations included. 

WEEK 0 – vs Delaware State (August 24) 

Last season record: 1-10 | All-time record vs Hawai’i: 1st Meeting 

Hailing out of the FCS, the Hornets finished last in the MEAC (Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference) in 2023 after posting just one win and losing all five conference contests. It’ll be Year 2 of the Lee Hull rebuild of the Delaware State program as the former CFL wideout and Patriots’ training camp invitee looks to incorporate 13 new signees, six high school prospects and seven college transfers. 

The first-time opponent of Hawai’i returns most of last year’s extremely-youthful roster while adding key pieces like UNLV transfer WR Jordan Jakes and former 5-star QB recruit D’Wan Mathis – the later of whom previously spent time with Georgia backing up Stetson Bennett before transferring to Temple in 2021. 

WEEK 1 – vs UCLA (August 31) 

Last season record: 8-5 | All-time record vs Hawai’i: 4-0 

The ‘Bows will look for their 1st win in program history over the Bruins as UCLA visits UH for the first time since 1939 for the Poi Bowl at Honolulu Stadium. Hawai’i and UCLA have played twice since the turn of the century, both in Pasadena and both 3+ TD wins for the Bruins. 

UH will serve as first-time head coach and former UCLA All-American DeShaun Foster’s first game as HC for the Bruins. The former NFL standout spent the past seven seasons as the RBs coach for his alma mater, was promoted to associate HC ahead of the 2023 campaign and took the full-time gig after Chip Kelly’s February departure. Under Foster’s tutelage, UCLA has led the Pac-12 for two straight years but lost leading rusher Carson Steele to the NFL draft. The Bruins will still have RB T.J. Harden, who completed his sophomore season right behind Steele with 827 yards and 8 rushing TDs. 

WEEK 2 – BYE (September 7) 

WEEK 3 – at Sam Houston State (September 14) 

Last season record: 3-9 | All-time record vs Hawai’i: 1st Meeting 

The second of two first-time opponents for UH, the Bearkats will be participating in their second FBS season and first that it is eligible for the postseason. Sam Houston began to figure things out to end last season, winning three of the final four games in 2023 as they competed as members of Conference USA. 

Hawai’i serves as the home-opener for the Bearkats as Sam Houston hits the road for the opening two games of their slate. Sam Houston received six CUSA player honors, placing three players on the all-freshman team while also returning DB Da’Marcus Crosby – one of the program’s two 1st-team all-conference defenders from last year. 

WEEK 4 – vs Northern Iowa (September 21)

Last season record: 6-5 | All-time record vs Hawai’i: 0-1 

The 2nd FCS opponent on UH’s 2024 schedule, the Panthers worked through a difficult slate last year to finish above .500 with two wins over ranked FCS opponents and five total ranked opponents. Northern Iowa will see Dylan Raiola and Nebraska in Lincoln before traveling to Honolulu to take on the Rainbow Warriors for the second time ever. 

UNI is led by longtime head coach Mark Farley, who ranks second amongst active coaches in FCS wins with 180 and has guided the Panthers to winning seasons in 19 of the 23 years he has been head coach, developing 40 NFL players in that time. He is *almost* as legendary as the great Stan Sheriff, who spent 23 years as UNI’s head coach for football before becoming the school’s athletic director for another 13 calendar changes. Sheriff is in both UNI and UH Hall of Fames, serving as Hawai’i’s athletic director for 10 years as well before his passing.  

*Note: If Hawai’i wins versus both Delaware State and Northern Iowa, only one of the victories will be counted towards bowl eligibility requirements. * 

WEEK 5 – BYE (September 28) 

WEEK 6 – at San Diego State (October 5) 

Last season record: 4-8 | All-time record vs Hawai’i: 22-9-2 

Some déja vu here for Hawai’i, who has dropped the last four meetings against SDSU with the most recent matchup ending in a 41-34 home loss for the ‘Bows while coming off of a bye week back in October of 2023. The ‘Bows have historically struggled in San Diego, sitting at 3-11 all-time while visiting the Aztecs, but will look for some revenge as they get a do-over of sorts from last season against a rebuilding San Diego State program under new head coach Sean Lewis. 

It’ll be the UH defense, newly under the watch of longtime coaching veteran Dennis Thurman, who will especially circle this one. The ‘Bows allowed 21 points in the 4th quarter of that 2023 loss to the Aztecs and hope to begin the Mountain West portion of the schedule with a resounding response one year later while changing the series’ historical narrative. 

WEEK 7 – vs Boise State (October 12) 

Last season record: 8-6 | All-time record vs Hawai’i: 15-3 

The 2023 season was a strange one for Boise State, but one that ended in a record fifth overall Mountain West title and the conference-best fourth championship game behind over 300 rushing yards. The Broncos did it under the leadership of then-interim head coach Spencer Danielson, who won the final three games of the year (including the MW title game against UNLV) before being elevated to the full-time head coaching position. 

Boise State will be boosted by On3’s highest-rated Mountain West recruiting class since 2002 with 28 total players being added to the defending conference champions. The most notable is former 5-star recruit and USC transfer QB Malachi Nelson, the 13th-rated high school recruit in the class of 2023. The 6-foot-3 redshirt freshman will likely compete for the starting job for the Broncos after previous starting QB Taylen Green transferred to Arkansas this offseason. 

WEEK 8 – at Washington State (October 19) 

Last season record: 5-7 | All-time record vs Hawai’i: 2-3 

Taking the place of Hawai’i visiting Air Force, the ‘Bows will head to Pullman instead as part of the Pac 12/Mountain West alliance (agreement? partnership?) that sees all MW teams playing one of Oregon State or Washington State during the conference schedule. The programs haven’t met in 15 years – the last matchup was September 12, 2009 – but both sides have something to prove after five-win seasons. 

It’ll be a matchup of young, third-year head coaches as WSU head coach Jake Dickert and UH head coach Timmy Chang face off. Hawai’i has struggled on the road over the past two seasons and Dickert sits a game under .500 after his couple years as Pullman’s main man. The Cougs have a couple Hawai’i connections on the roster in DBs Kapena Gushiken and Tanner Moku. Gushiken is a KS-Maui graduate and transferred into WSU after two seasons at Saddleback College while Moku is a KS-Kapālama alum who is the younger brother of former UH offensive lineman Kaiwi Chung (‘18). 

WEEK 9 – vs Nevada (October 26) 

Last season record: 2-10 | All-time record vs Hawai’i: 12-13 

Another team with a change in the lead chair, Nevada hired Jeff Choate as the 28th head coach in program history back on December 4, 2023, replacing Ken Wilson after serving as the co-defensive coordinator at Texas for the past three seasons. The Wolfpack won’t be Choate’s first head coaching job at the college level, though. The longtime football coach spent four years as the head man at FCS Montana State, leading the Bobcats to back-to-back playoff appearances in his final two seasons. 

This matchup is always fun for multiple reasons, perhaps none bigger than the connections between the two programs. Defensive tackle Dion Washington made the flip in the transfer portal from the Wolfpack to the ‘Bows this past offseason while Hawai’i’s head coach Timmy Chang spent a few seasons with Nevada before taking over his alma mater’s football program. Nevada also started redshirt freshman QB A.J. Bianco for eight games last season as the former Saint Louis standout battled for the position all year.

WEEK 10 – at Fresno State (November 2) 

Last season record: 9-4 | All-time record vs Hawai’i: 25-20-1 

The Bulldogs looked like the Mountain West favorite through the non-conference schedule in 2023 with a perfect 4-0 start and winning four of their first five conference games – and then the wheels fell off. Fresno State lost the final three regular season games, crushing conference hopes, before salvaging the end of the year with a win in the Isleta New Mexico Bowl over NMSU, 37-10. 

Hawai’i didn’t play the Bulldogs in 2023, last meeting in Fresno in 2022 – Chang’s first season. This could be a particularly good measuring stick game to show how far Hawai’i has come in a couple seasons against one of the conference’s typical powers. The matchup also pits the Mountain West’s top two passing touchdown leaders against each other in Hawai’i senior Brayden Schager (26 TDs in ‘23) and Fresno State junior Mikey Keene (24 TDs in ‘23). Preemptively take the over in this one. 

WEEK 11 – vs UNLV (November 9) 

Last season record: 9-5 | All-time record vs Hawai’i: 14-19 

One of the four rivalry trophy games, it’s the “Island Showdown” Trophy on the line. The Rebels took the rivalry trophy back last season with a 44-20 win over Hawai’i as UNLV turned into the “Runnin’ Rebels” with 307 yards on the ground while the ‘Bows went 1-of-11 on 3rd down. 

It’ll be a much different UNLV squad coming to the islands after redshirt freshman QB Jayden Maiava transferred to USC this offseason and former starter Doug Brumfield retired from football. That doesn’t mean the Rebels will be in trouble in year two under 2023 Mountain West Coach of the Year Barry Odom, who recruited and gained the commitment of Holy Cross graduate transfer QB Matt Sluka – an FCS standout that totaled 29 total TDs, over 1,200 yards rushing and more than 1,700 yards through the air in his senior season. The 6-foot-3 dual-threat quarterback should be an excellent fit in Brennan Marion’s “Go-Go Offense” that saw great success last season. 

WEEK 12 – at Utah State (November 16) 

Last season record: 6-7 | All-time record vs Hawai’i: 12-5 

The fifth and final of Hawai’i’s opponents that made a bowl game in 2023, the Aggies have won seven consecutive matchups with the Rainbow Warriors and the last three in Logan, Utah. In fact, Hawai’i is just 2-6 on the road against USU since 1957.  As the ‘Bows look to switch back to an FBS contender again, this can be a statement of sorts on the road. 

Utah State finished just a game ahead of the Rainbow Warriors in 2023 and could be one of the key swing games for Hawai’i’s bowl hopes in Chang’s third year. There will be some NFL-level receiving talent on display in this one as Utah State’s All-Mountain West 1st-Team receiver Jalen Royals and Hawai’i’s 2nd-Team All-Mountain West receiver Steven McBride both returned to their respective programs. That doesn’t even mention UH’s Freshman All-America selection Pofele Ashlock, who led the team with 83 receptions last season while hauling in nine scores, tied with McBride for tops on the team. 

WEEK 13 – BYE (November 23) 

WEEK 14 – vs New Mexico (November 30) 

Last season record: 4-8 | All-time record vs Hawai’i: 11-16 

The loss at New Mexico last season ended up being a crushing blow to the bowl chances of Hawai’i as the Lobos were one of three teams to finish below the ‘Bows in the final conference standings. There’s a chance that this season’s bowl hopes will rest on this final regular season game and the Rainbow Warriors don’t want to repeat history. 

New Mexico will be the fifth team with a new head coach that Hawai’i faces in 2024 as Bronco Mendenhall takes over the program in his return to the Mountain West. The 57-year-old was BYU’s head coach for 11 seasons, beginning in 2005. He compiled double-digit wins in five of those seasons with the first one coming in year two. Mendenhall was also 2-0 in his time at BYU against Hawai’i with a win at home and at Aloha Stadium. The ‘Bows will have to expel former demons all the way through the end of the year for bowl opportunities. 

Hawai’i grabs home revenge, holds off Long Beach State for important Big West win

Hawai’i grabs home revenge, holds off Long Beach State for important Big West win

Hawai’i forward Justin McKoy puts up a shot during a home game. The graduate transfer poured in a career-high 26 points in UH’s Feb. 24 win over LBSU, 73-65. | Photo Credit: Michael Lasquero, HSRN

Hawai’i grabs home revenge, holds off Long Beach State for important Big West win

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED FEB 24, 2024

HONOLULU – Play your best ball at the best time, they say. 

The University of Hawai’i men’s basketball team continued to fight back up the Big West standings behind big efforts from Justin McKoy and Noel Coleman, knocking off Long Beach State (18-10, 10-6 Big West) in the islands Saturday night, 73-65. 

Hawai’i (16-12, 8-8 Big West) took an early 5-2 lead behind an aggressive McKoy before the Beach strung together a pair of baskets to jump back ahead by one. A Ryan Rapp runout layup off a turnover and another tough McKoy finish gave a three-point lead to the ‘Bows again in a teetertotter opening four minutes of action. 

Hawai’i’s lead grew to six thanks to the creative Juan Munoz, diming Bernardo de Silva for a layup before drilling a three on the right wing off the dribble. After an AJ George bucket for LBSU brought the visitors back within two with just over 10 minutes left in the first half, UH freshman forward Akira Jacobs got the friendly bounce on a left-wing three to push the advantage back to five. 

Munoz continued to cook with six and a half left in the opening 20, handing out a nifty assist to de Silva off a pick-and-roll before slicing through the lane and spinning a layup off the glass to give Hawai’i its largest lead to that point, 27-20. 

Once again, the Beach fought back within a possession as Varick Lewis dropped home a tough jumper before Munoz’s off-ball gravity drew a foul to send the game into the 1st half under-4-minute timeout. Following the stoppage, it was McKoy lighting it up once again with back-to-back 3-pointers to push Hawai’i’s lead to eight with two and a half minutes left in the half. 

JoVon McClanahan made his long-anticipated return to the floor for the Rainbow Warriors with just over 90 ticks remaining and immediately made an impact, assisting another McKoy bucket to extend the Hawai’i lead. Noel Coleman gave the ‘Bows their largest lead of the first half the very next possession with his first points of the night on a triple, making it 40-31 in favor of UH with 45 seconds before half. 

Amari Stroud, who replaced an injured Lassina Traore after the all-conference forward went down with a right leg injury late in the opening half, drained a pair of foul shots after drawing contact from UH forward Harry Rouhliadeff to make it a seven-point deficit for the visitors going into the break. 

McKoy picked up directly where he had left off to begin the 2nd half, drilling a 3-pointer to get play started out of the midway break. Noel Coleman cashed in seven of Hawai’i’s next nine points (with McKoy scoring the other basket) as the ‘Bows opened up a 15-point lead quickly, forcing LBSU head coach Dan Monson to call for a 30-second timeout ahead of the under-16-minute break. 

Long Beach State drew back within 11 again after a putback by George, but another Coleman transition triple sparked the SimpliFi Arena crowd once again going into the under-12-minute media timeout with Hawai’i leading, 57-43.  

“[The coaching staff] has always talked about wanting to play fast and get in transition and we kind of struggled with that in the beginning of the season,” Coleman said of the Hawai’i transition attack postgame. “We’re starting to find a rhythm and you can see the results … it just motivates the team to [run] more and more.” 

The stop in momentum came to the advantage of the Beach as the visitors cut the ‘Bows cushion down to 8 with 7:59 to play after Aboubacar Traore knocked down three free throws in four attempts. 

McKoy got a teardrop floater to fall after the timeout to push Hawai’i back up double digits as the ‘Bows turned up the intensity on the other end. A pair of Rouhliadeff makes from the line made it an 11-point game with less than five to play and Munoz ended his quiet 2nd half with an important triple at the 4:22 mark to give a 66-53 lead to the Rainbow Warriors. 

Long Beach would not go away, tightening the game to six with just over a minute to play behind Lassina Traore and AJ George’s efforts before a clutch Coleman finish with his off hand gave the breathing room needed to close things out. The left-handed Belgian swished home four straight free throws to ice the game and help Hawai’i snag a significant win, 73-65.  

Long Beach State was led by AJ George’s 18 points on 8-of-14 shooting as the sophomore guard toiled for 37 minutes against the Rainbow Warriors. Aboubacar Traore added 15 points and seven rebounds for The Beach while 6-foot-10 forward Lassina Traore collected 14 points and 14 rebounds as LBSU’s five-game win streak was snapped. 

Justin McKoy put up a career-high for the second time against Long Beach State this season with a game-best 26 points and six rebounds, going 10-of-14 from the floor while drilling four 3-pointers. The graduate transfer put up a then-career-best 22 points at Long Beach back on January 18. 

“I think [McKoy] is putting it all together,” Hawai’i head coach Eran Ganot said of the UNC transfer’s recent star turn. “He’s just checking boxes and now he’s playing probably as well as he’s played in his career … He’s got a bright future.” 

Hawai’i won the battle on the glass against the Big West’s 2nd-best rebounding team in LBSU, 34-29, while holding the Beach to just four offensive rebounds all night. Saturday night against UH marked the first time Long Beach State failed to score above 70 points in the month of February. 

Along with his quality perimeter defense, Noel Coleman added 18 points, 15 coming after halftime as the senior guard helped the ‘Bows hold off a hard-charging LBSU squad and move back to .500 in the Big West. The win keeps top-4 seed hopes alive for the Rainbow Warriors with two weeks remaining in the regular season. 

After beginning the conference slate 2-6, Hawai’i has won six of eight to push the momentum in the right direction with four games remaining before the Big West tournament. 

“We’ve just been having a lot more fun,” Coleman said of the recent on-court success of the ‘Bows. “I think we’re on the right path, but we still have a lot of work to do.” 

Hawai’i hits the road for one final two-game series still looking to clinch an official berth in the conference tournament as they visit UC Davis on Thursday, February 29 before heading to UC Riverside on March 2 for two pivotal games for the Rainbow Warriors. 

Phillips’ career-high pushes first-place Hawai’i by Long Beach State, 80-68

Phillips’ career-high pushes first-place Hawai’i by Long Beach State, 80-68

UH guard Daejah Phillips brings the ball down the floor in a home game. The junior had a career-high 29 points in UH’s 80-68 road win over LBSU on Feb. 24 | Photo credit: Michael Lasquero, HSRN

Phillips’ career-high pushes first-place Hawai’i by Long Beach State, 80-68

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED FEB 24, 2024

LONG BEACH, CA – Daejah doing Daejah things. 

The Hawai’i Rainbow Wahine kept sole possession atop the Big West Saturday afternoon, using a career-high 29 points from junior guard Daejah Phillips to take down Long Beach State on the road with a wire-to-wire win, 80-68. The 80 points are a season-best for UH, surpassing the 73 points scored against San Jose State back on December 3. 

Hawai’i jumped out to an early 10-2 advantage behind back-to-back 3-pointers from MeiLani McBee and Imani Perez. The triple from McBee was the Kennewick, Washington native’s 142nd career 3-pointer, tying the junior with Ashleigh Karaitiana (‘13 – ‘16) for third-most in UH program history. The Rainbow Wahine carried the 8-point cushion through the opening quarter, holding LBSU to 17% shooting across 18 attempts from the floor to take a 19-11 lead into the second frame. 

Long Beach State opened the scoring in the 2nd quarter with a Cheyenne Givens pull-up before McBee answered with a 3-pointer on the other end to give her sole possession of third place amongst long-distance shooters in Hawai’i history. The Beach pulled within four with a 7-2 run over the following two and a half minutes to force a timeout from Laura Beeman’s ‘Bows. 

The break in the action helped UH get back on track, trading baskets with the Beach before Imani Perez’s back-to-back buckets pushed the lead back up to seven just ahead of halftime, 35-28. 

Hawai’i blasted out of the locker rooms with 7 of the first 10 points of the second half to go up double digits for the first time since late in the 1st quarter, but Savannah Tucker hit a three on the other end with 6:43 left in the third to quickly pull LBSU back within eight. 

Then, Daejah was Daejah, again. 

The junior guard ripped off six of UH’s final 11 points in the quarter including back-to-back finishes out of the media timeout as Hawai’i carried a 12-point advantage into the final frame. 

Phillips continued her onslaught, assisting Jacque David for a score to open the 4th quarter before dropping through an and-one to match the Rainbow Wahine’s largest lead to that point at 15 less than a minute into play resuming. Despite a quick LBSU timeout to try and slow Phillips and Hawai’i’s momentum, the stud guard rattled off 13 of UH’s final 20 points as the Rainbow Wahine cruised to an 80-68 victory to reclaim the top of the Big West totem pole. 

Long Beach State was led by Cheyenne Givens’ 14 points off the bench as five different players finished in double digits for the hosting Beach, including three with 12 points apiece. LBSU’s defense was able to force 19 turnovers but only produced 14 points from the UH giveaways. 

Hawai’i was paced by Phillips’ career-best 29 points on 12-of-14 shooting, doing it in just 19 minutes and 41 seconds of action. The junior now has 1,041 points, good enough for 21st-most in UH Rainbow Wahine history. MeiLani McBee finished the night with nine points and seven boards. 

Hawai’i forward Imani Perez chipped in 12 points, nine rebounds, four assists and three blocks in the victory. The sophomore exited with an injury with 3:04 left to play and did not return. 

Laura Beeman’s squad returns to action on Thursday, February 29 to play host to UC Davis, one of just three Big West teams to beat the Rainbow Wahine this season. The Aggies were 61-51 winners over Hawai’i back on February 10. 

PacWest Power: HPU’s 20 hits hand Sharks conference-opening win over Chaminade

PacWest Power: HPU’s 20 hits hand Sharks conference-opening win over Chaminade

PacWest Power: HPU’s 20 hits hand Sharks conference-opening win over Chaminade

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED FEB 23, 2024

WAIPAHU – The Hawai’i Pacific Sharks baseball team continued the program’s best start to a year since the 2016 season on Thursday night, racking up 20 hits on the way to a 14-5 win over island-rival Chaminade (5-9, 0-1 PacWest) to begin PacWest conference play for both teams. 

It was the third meeting between the programs this season – the first two came a couple weekends ago during the “Big Island Bash” over on Hilo when the teams split the matchups with an 8-7 extra-inning win for Chaminade in game one before HPU returned fire with a 5-1 victory the very next day. Sharks’ freshman starting pitcher Jordan Otjen spun a gem in his second college game in the February 10 win for HPU, going seven innings while giving up just one run against the Silverswords at Wong Stadium. 

It was once again Otjen getting the nod for Dane Fujinaka’s squad on Thursday at Central Oahu Regional Park against Chaminade. The freshman right-hander continued his instant production at the college level by spinning six beautiful innings for the Sharks, striking out five Chaminade batters while allowing just one run across six hits to pick up his second win of the season. 

His performance was complimented by an impressive offensive outburst for Hawai’i Pacific as the Sharks tallied a dozen runs before the fourth inning had been completed, six in the bottom half of the first frame as HPU sent 11 batters to the plate to open things up. 

HPU (9-1, 1-0 PacWest) tacked on another run in each of the 7th and 8th innings to stall Chaminade’s comeback efforts as the Sharks grabbed their fourth consecutive victory, 14-5, in the first of a four-game weekend set with the Silverswords. 

Chaminade starter Mac Elske was tagged with the loss for Chad Konishi’s program, dropping the junior to 1-1 on the season after going just three innings while giving up nine runs (7 ER) over 10 hits. The Swords committed six errors in the loss to the Sharks’ zero. 

Hawai’i Pacific’s offense was led by a monster effort from shortstop TJ Smith, who went 4-for-5 with three runs scored and a pair of RBI for the Sharks. In total, eight different HPU batters finished the night with a run batted in as Hawai’i Pacific University remained near the top of every offensive category among PacWest teams through ten games. 

HPU third baseman Skylar Agnew tallied three hits and an RBI in the win, continuing a nice start to his junior season as he ranks second in the PacWest in batting average at .444 through his eight games this year. 

The Sharks and Swords return to the diamond on Friday evening for a non-conference meeting with first pitch scheduled around 6 p.m. HT before playing a twin bill on Saturday with one of the games holding PacWest implications. 

“Beeman’s Big Bash” smashing success as Hawai’i beats UCSB in front of record-setting crowd

“Beeman’s Big Bash” smashing success as Hawai’i beats UCSB in front of record-setting crowd

Hawai’i Rainbow Wahine celebrate during UH’s 68-64 win over UC Santa Barbara. Hawai’i set a new attendance record under HC Laura Beeman with 4,080 fans in attendance on Feb. 17, 2024. | Photo Credit: Michael Lasquero, HSRN

“Beeman’s Big Bash” smashing success as Hawai’i beats UCSB in front of record-setting crowd

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED FEB 17, 2024

HONOLULU – Laura Beeman said earlier in the week that she hadn’t allowed herself to think about the possibility of what a perfect week looked like leading up to a brand-new event that hoped to display the back-to-back Big West tournament champion Rainbow Wahine to the largest crowd in Beeman’s 12 seasons.  

How could she? Her team had a high-quality Cal Poly squad coming to the islands on Thursday and an arguably even-better team in UC Santa Barbara to close out the week to worry about before she could think about postgame Saturday. Nonetheless, she was honored that the school would put on an entire evening in her name and even more excited at the prospect of an “electric atmosphere” for the young women representing the University of Hawai’i. 

“Honestly, and I don’t know if you’re going to believe me or not, I haven’t thought about that trifecta [of beating Cal Poly, UCSB and setting the attendance record],” Beeman chuckled back on Tuesday. “If all of those things happen, ask me after that [UC Santa Barbara] game. I’m sure I’d be emotional about it.” 

Well, she was. 

The Hawai’i Rainbow Wahine (15-9, 12-3 Big West) completed the perfect trifecta Beeman alluded to on that Tuesday, outlasting the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos (16-9, 10-5 Big West) in front of a Beeman-era record of 4,080 fans that entered through the turnstiles Saturday night, 68-64. 

The goal had been set far in advance to try and break the attendance record for a single-game Rainbow Wahine contest under the longtime head coach of 3,491 fans in the building that came back on senior night for Hawai’i at the conclusion of the 2014-15 season, her third at the helm of UH. The overall program record was set back in February of 1998 when 6,192 fans joined together to cheer on the Rainbow Wahine. 

With the Beeman-era record of more than four thousand fans in the building for tip-off, Laura Beeman and the team knew they were in for a special night very early. 

“Coming out from the locker room … walking out and hearing the ovation that the players got, and the staff got, I think at that moment I was like ‘Oh, this might be for real because there’s a lot of people here tonight,’” The 12th-year Hawai’i head coach smiled in her postgame press conference.  

The packed Stan Sheriff Center crowd made an impact from the opening possession of the game as Hawai’i forced a shot-clock violation and followed it with Ashley Thoms finding Imani Perez for the game’s first points. UCSB responded with eight straight points as both Alexis Whitfield and Anya Choice got into the scorebook for the first time, watching some Hawai’i nerves on display as the Rainbow Wahine shots rimmed out. 

The entrance of Daejah Phillips quickly changed UH’s fortunes as the junior guard rattled off 11 consecutive points for the Rainbow Wahine to suddenly ignite the jam-packed crowd’s energy, pushing Hawai’i out in front by five with 2:43 left. Her final bucket of the 11-point flurry also pushed the junior over the 1,000 career-point mark as the Las Vegas native became the 24th player in program history to eclipse the milestone. 

“Daejah’s a winner,” Beeman simply stated about the star junior guard. “She doesn’t think about the moment, she is just in the moment and when you can play in the moment, you do extraordinary things. Daejah has a tendency to just be in the moment and do extraordinary things … In my entire career, she’s up at the top of kids that I’m proud of for their growth and just for how she loves her teammates, how she loves her staff and how she loves herself.” 

Despite the pressure of Phillips and the loud crowd, the battle-tested Gauchos turned up the defensive heat to hold hosting Hawai’i scoreless for the remainder of the first quarter to send the game into the second quarter tied at 13. 

Thoms put the Rainbow Wahine back in front by three with her first make of the night coming from behind the arc to start the second, but Whitfield had the answer a minute later to knot it up at 16. The Gauchos’ all-conference forward hit another triple three minutes later as UCSB went up by five ahead of the media timeout and forced a timeout from Hawai’i. 

The break helped the Wahine stop the bleeding, coming out of the stoppage with three of the next four buckets to make it a two-point game with three minutes left in the first half before the continued hot shooting from long range for the visiting Gauchos saw a pair of 3-pointers drop through to push the lead back to eight. 

Lily Wahinekapu, the team’s scoring leader this season, finally got on the board with a 3-pointer of her own with just over a minute before halftime that brought Hawai’i back within five and settled the nerves of everyone just a bit. 

“I think the crowd got her a little bit in the first half,” Beeman said of the ‘Iolani alum and starting point guard for the Rainbow Wahine. “For whatever reason, the lights weren’t as bright for her in the second half, and she was able to get to the basket. You know, hit a big three, [too].” 

Wahinekapu quickly took over to open the third quarter, rattling off five straight points to knot things at 32 before she found Olivia Davies on the right wing to put the Wahine out in front once again and force a timeout from UCSB’s head coach Bonnie Henrickson just 77 seconds into the second half. 

Hawai’i continued the break-neck pace out of the locker rooms as Thoms got in on the long-range fun herself with a triple from the left corner out of the timeout, pushing UH ahead by six, 38-32. UCSB’s Choice and Whitfield got a pair of layups to go to bring the Gauchos back within a possession with 6:48 left in the third and took the lead two minutes later as Choice got to the cup again to make it 41-40 in favor of the visitors. 

Whitfield drilled a three and got a tough turnaround to go to extend the Gauchos’ lead to five, 46-41, before an onslaught from the three-guard Hawai’i lineup of Phillips, Wahinekapu and McBee helped the Rainbow Wahine take a one-point advantage into the fourth, 48-47. 

Wahinekapu and Hawai’i continued rolling to open the final frame as the guard scored five points in a row after Jacque David got the Rainbow Wahine to the 50-point mark to open the quarter and take an eight-point lead. UCSB guard Mary McMorris got a layup to drop in for the Gauchos’ first points of the fourth, coming more than two minutes into the action. 

Again, Wahinekapu answered with five points in a row for UH, scoring 10 consecutive points for the Rainbow Wahine in total as the team maintained the eight-point advantage. After Phillips hit a pair of free throws, Thoms and Perez connected on a play identical to the start of the game to give Hawai’i an 11-point lead with 5:35 left to play and send the Stan Sheriff Center faithful into a frenzy.  

Once more, the Gauchos’ 3-point marksmanship was on display as Choice and Jessica Grant hit back-to-back triples to pull UCSB back within five with four minutes remaining. Zoe Borter’s short jumper with 3:03 to play made it a three-point affair before UH’s Phillips calmly knocked down a couple free throws with 53 seconds left to make it five again. 

Four straight missed free throws for Hawai’i put slight panic in the crowd after another three went down for Grant to pull the Gauchos within two with 29 seconds left, but MeiLani McBee sent the packed house of Rainbow Wahine fans home happy after icing the game with a pair of makes from the charity stripe – clinching the aforementioned “perfect trifecta” for Laura Beeman’s team. 

So, what was it like for the head woman who had refused to imagine it a moment before the final buzzer? 

“Obviously, a very memorable night for me personally. To have so many people come out… I know it was for these kids; I also know a bit of it was for me and that really, really means a lot to me. Twelve years I’ve been here; I miss my California family, but Hawai’i fills the hole pretty good. To have this many people here tonight… I promise you my mom was in tears on the couch watching this and just the tribute to this team and the program and the hard work,” an emotional, happy Laura Beeman said. 

“I just cannot, I don’t have enough of the right words – *chuckle* I probably need [Spectrum Sports play-by-play talent Kanoa Leahey] for this – to just thank people and my appreciation just runs incredibly deep,” the longtime head coach continued. 

UC Santa Barbara shot an astounding 41.4% from behind the 3-point arc across 29 attempts, perhaps the only sour taste left in the mouth of the Rainbow Wahine on an otherwise perfect night. 

“As far as the game goes, we gave up 36 points from [3-point range]. That’s not something we do, we’re much better from behind the arc,” Beeman said of UH’s defense of the arc. “We need to figure some things out defensively, we’ve kind of stalled and we need to get back to much better defense.” 

The Gauchos were led by another monster Whitfield double-double as the forward posted 21 points and 17 rebounds in a losing effort. Anya Choice and Jessica Grant each poured in 15 points for the visitors, combining for eight of the 12 3-pointers on the night for UCSB. 

Daejah Phillips and Lily Wahinekapu combined for 42 points as the backcourt duo became the first pair of Rainbow Wahine players to score 20 or more points in a game since Amy Atwell and Kallin Spiller did it versus Portland State back on November 21, 2021. Phillips had a game-high 22 points as the junior moved into 23rd all-time on the Rainbow Wahine scoring ladder, passing Val Agee (‘89-’93) on a spectacular night.  

“I thought Daejah Phillips had an amazing first half. She carried us, got her 1,000th point, which is pretty spectacular to do that in one of the biggest-attended games ever,” Laura Beeman beamed about the junior. 

UH got an additional 10 points and eight rebounds from Imani Perez as the 6-foot-4 sophomore once again showed off her continued efficiency with a 5-of-9 night shooting from the floor. 

With the win, the Rainbow Wahine continue to sit atop the entire Big West conference with a 12-3 record since league play began. Hawai’i stays half-a-game ahead of UC Irvine in the win column while holding the season tiebreaker against the Anteaters after the series sweep. 

UH will return to action next Saturday, hitting the road for a matchup against Long Beach State in a rare one-game week for the Rainbow Wahine. Laura Beeman’s squad returns to the Stan Sheriff Center on February 29 to host UC Davis, one of three teams to beat the Wahine this season out of the Big West. 

“I hope fans come back,” Beeman confessed. “I hope they see what we’re trying to build here and the excitement that was in this place… It was electric [tonight].”