“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].”  

Hawaii starts conference play, ends 2023 with 10-point win at Cal State Fullerton

Hawaii starts conference play, ends 2023 with 10-point win at Cal State Fullerton

Hawaii starts conference play, ends 2023 with 10-point win at Cal State Fullerton

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED DEC 30, 2023

Daejah who, vu, don’t be blue.

For the third consecutive season, Hawai’i women’s basketball has won their conference-opener. For the ninth straight time, Hawai’i women’s basketball has defeated Cal State Fullerton on the hardwood.

Jokes aside, the Hawai’i Rainbow Wahine (4-6, 1-0 Big West) closed out the 2023 calendar year in style, picking up a road conference win by taking down Cal State Fullerton (5-7, 1-1 Big West) on the mainland Saturday afternoon, 59-49. The victory also was the first road win of the year for the Rainbow Wahine, who had previously fallen at #2 UCLA, #9 Stanford and a Santa Clara squad that sits at 12-3 heading into 2024 in three previous road contests. 

More impressive, UH did so without the services of one their leading scorers in guard Daejah Phillips, who did not suit up for the conference-opener for the Rainbow Wahine. Phillips could be seen on the end of the bench, engaged in the game and cheering on teammates despite missing her first game of the year. 

It looked like Hawai’i would struggle without the shot-making prowess of the junior early on as CSU Fullerton held the ‘Bows scoreless for the game’s first four minutes before UH’s Kelsie Imai got a layup to go to get the visitors on the board to provide a spark. 

The spark quickly turned into flames as MeiLani McBee and Ashley Thoms drained back-to-back triples to push Hawai’i in front, 8-4, with 4:11 remaining in the opening frame. The Rainbow Wahine flexed the defensive tenacity that has become a calling card in the past two Big West-winning seasons by allowing just one basket in the final six minutes of the first quarter and extending the lead to 13-6 after 10 minutes of action — forcing seven Titans’ turnovers in the process. 

The complimentary basketball on both sides of the court for Hawai’i trickled into the second quarter as Lily Wahinekapu’s steal and score opened action in the period and set the tone for the Rainbow Wahine to grow the advantage to a game-high 14 points ahead of halftime after another steal and score by Wahinekapu with seven seconds left in the first half. 

Hawai’i’s Imai led the charge through 20 minutes for the Rainbow Wahine, filling up the box sheet with eight points, four steals and three assists off the bench to help fill the void felt by the loss of usual “Energizer-Bunny” in Phillips. Thoms came off the pine for UH as well and added a game-best nine points on a perfect 3-of-3 shooting from distance in the first half. 

Cal State Fullerton used a pair of Fujika Nimmo makes from range to open the second half quickly, going on a 7-0 run in just two minutes of game action to cut the Hawai’i lead in half and force a timeout. The momentum shift continued through the break in the action with another Nimmo triple to cut it to four before UH’s Brooklyn Rewers got a look inside to go for the ‘Bows first points since the break. 

The Titans brought it within two before Thoms drilled her career-best fourth three-pointer of the contest to give the Rainbow Wahine breathing room with a five-point lead with 5:11 left in the quarter. After Nimmo cut it to a one-possession game again, it would be McBee with the “Midas Touch” from distance putting Hawai’i up by six with 3:28 left in the third quarter, 41-35. The teams traded late-shot clock makes to close out the quarter, but it was the visiting Rainbow Wahine leading by five with 10 minutes left in regulation. 

When it turned to winning time, the battle-tested ‘Bows (both from past seasons and the challenging non-conference schedule) turned up the defensive heat again, holding CSU Fullerton without a point for the first six minutes and 52 seconds of the fourth while extending the lead into double-digits for the first time since the opening moments of the second half. CSU-Fullerton’s Ashlee Lewis ended the scoring drought for the Titans, but it was too little, too late for the hosts, who dropped to 1-1 in conference play. 

Hawai’i, who has seen rebounding struggles throughout the first nine games, won the battle on the glass versus CSU Fullerton, 42-33, while flexing an impressive bench unit that produced 25 of 59 points for UH.

CSU-Fullerton was led by Nimmo’s game-high 17 points on 5-of-10 shooting from long range, though the guard was just 6-for-17 overall from the floor. The Titans committed 15 turnovers on the afternoon, though just five came after halftime. 

Hawai’i’s Ashley Thoms had a season-high 12 points on the career-best four three-pointers off the bench in the win. Junior guard Kelsie Imai finished with nine points, five rebounds, four assists and four steals and was a +13 in her 23 minutes off the bench, helping the Rainbow Wahine finish 2023 on the right foot and head into 2024 flying high (and back to the islands) with a win.