Pepper, UC Davis holds off furious Hawai’i comeback attempt to advance to Big West championship

Pepper, UC Davis holds off furious Hawai’i comeback attempt to advance to Big West championship

Pepper, UC Davis holds off furious Hawai’i comeback attempt to advance to Big West championship

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED MAR 15, 2024

Too little, too late. 

After falling down by as much as 17 in the 2nd half, fifth-seeded Hawai’i gave second-seeded UC Davis a scare in the final minutes as the ‘Bows had a shot to take the lead with five seconds to play that bounced off back iron, allowing the Aggies to escape to Saturday’s Big West Tournament championship against Long Beach State. 

Hawai’i, coming off a 75-68 victory over #7 CSUN on Thursday, started slowly as UC Davis raced out to an 11-2 lead out of the gates behind the hot shooting of the three-guard lineup of Kane Milling, Ty Johnson and Big West Player of the Year winner Elijah Pepper. The Aggies continued to flex the offensive fire power by hitting nine of the first 12 attempts from the field en route to a 20-6 lead after eight minutes of action. 

The ‘Bows shook off the slow start to stick around, cutting the UC Davis lead to three with a 18-7 run over the next four minutes of game action behind a litany of Rainbow Warriors finding their touch from the field as UH drilled a pair of triples and attacked the rim far better than early on. 

Back-to-back Munoz 3-pointers brought Hawai’i within two and the 8th-year guard whipped a pass to Bernardo de Silva for a two-handed dunk to end the opening half keeping UH down a pair, 31-29. 

The 2nd half began similar to the first for Hawai’i, watching another sizzling UC Davis offensive spurt with a 17-2 run out of the break leading to a game-high 17-point lead for the Aggies after Pablo Tamba finished an alley-oop lob from Elijah Pepper with 13:57 left to play. 

Following a 30-second timeout from head coach Eran Ganot, Hawai’i’s offense settled once again as Ryan Rapp drained a straight away triple for the ‘Bows first field goal of the 2nd half. Justin McKoy scored the next four points before Munoz drilled another 3-pointer for Hawai’i, but UH continued struggling getting stops against UC Davis as the margin remained 17 through the 10:47 mark of the 2nd half. 

A 7-0 Hawai’i run in a blink of an eye brought the ‘Bows back within ten after Akira Jacobs drilled his 2nd 3-pointer of the evening before making his third and fourth foul shots of the season to make it 58-48 UC Davis with 8:31 left to play. While the deficit remained around double-digits until the three-minute mark for Hawai’i, the ‘Bows had their swagger back for one last push for an upset in the semifinals. 

Six consecutive makes from the free throw line for UH brought Hawai’i within four, 66-62, with 1:17 left in regulation before Pepper lost the ball off his leg to give the ‘Bows a chance to cut it to a one-possession game with more than a minute left. 

Ty Johnson came up with a clutch strip on McKoy’s drive on the next possession, keeping the two-possession lead for UC Davis while the Aggies drained every second off of the clock possible. After Hawai’i forced a shot clock violation, McClanahan powered through contact for an and-one at the rim that brought UH within one, 66-65, with 27 seconds to play. 

Without any timeouts, the Rainbow Warriors came up with a steal at midcourt as Noel Coleman jumped a passing lane to provide the go-ahead chance to Hawai’i but McClanhan’s stepback jumper from the left elbow bounced off back rim and Justin McKoy was called for a loose-ball foul as the ‘Bows fell in the semifinals, 68-65. 

UC Davis All-Big West 1st team selection and conference Player of the Year Elijah Pepper willed the Aggies to victory down the stretch, pouring in a game-high 25 points on 10-of-23 shooting with 17 points coming in the final 20 minutes. Kane Milling followed behind with 14 points and seven rebounds in 34 minutes of action while Ty Johnson added 12 points and five dimes in the victory for UC Davis. 

Hawai’i was led by Bernardo de Silva’s 14 points in 34 minutes, making 5-of-6 FG attempts and going 4-for-6 at the charity stripe in the loss. Juan Munoz and Justin McKoy were the other two Rainbow Warriors in double figures, finishing with 11 and 10 points respectively. 

JoVon McClanahan added nine points off the bench for Hawai’i, going 7-for-7 at the free throw line and nearly adding one final buzzer-beating memory to his UH ledger as his jumper went awry for the ‘Bows at the end.  

Freshman Akira Jacobs matched a season-high with eight points and a pair of 3-pointers while Tom Beattie provided physical defense across 31 minutes and chipped in a bucket in the ‘Bows loss. 

Hawai’i now discusses postseason options for a large graduating class of six seniors, considering joining the College Basketball Invitational tournament, a single-elimination tournament featuring 16 teams that were not selected to the NCAA Tournament or NIT. Teams participating in the CBI pay a $27,500 entry fee for playing in the tournament. 

Hawai’i takes rubber match over CSUN, moves into Big West semifinals

Hawai’i takes rubber match over CSUN, moves into Big West semifinals

Hawai’i guard Noel Coleman attacks the rim during a home win over UC Bakersfield. The senior was one of four ‘Bows that scored in double figures in the Rainbow Warriors’ Big West Tournament quarterfinal win over CSUN on March 14. | Photo Credit: Michael Lasquero, HSRN

Hawai’i takes rubber match over CSUN, moves into Big West semifinals

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED MAR 14, 2024

On to the next one. 

For the second time in three seasons, third-seeded Hawai’i (20-13, 11-9 Big West) advanced into the Big West Tournament semifinals after taking down tenacious seventh-seed CSUN on Thursday night in the Dollar Loan Center in Henderson, Nev., 75-68, for the ‘Bows fourth straight win. 

The Matadors (19-15, 9-11 Big West), who entered the day coming off a late-night overtime victory over Ajay Mitchell and UC Santa Barbara for the program’s first win in the conference tournament in a decade, looked like the team that received the 1st-round bye into the tournament as they scored four of the first five baskets of the game to jump out to an 8-2 lead just five minutes into action. Hawai’i’s offense struggled out the gates, needing to shake off some rust while shooting just 1-for-8 from the floor and committing a pair of turnovers. 

Bernardo de Silva split a pair of free throws before Noel Coleman finally ended the FG drought for the ‘Bows, drilling a 3-pointer from the right side to double UH’s scoring output from the first six minutes with one flick of his left wrist. 

Coleman’s bucket helped see the offense find friction for Hawai’i as Tom Beattie pushed down the floor quickly after for a right-handed layup before Justin McKoy got on the board for the first time in the Big West Tournament twenty seconds later to pull UH within a possession, trailing CSUN 12-10. 

“Early on in the year when we were struggling, teams went on runs and we didn’t respond and stop the bleeding early enough … [At this point of the season] we know to cut the bleeding, go on our own run and respond and I thought we’ve been doing a great job of that as of late and I thought we did it today,” McKoy said, discussing the team’s bounce back from a rough shooting start. 

McKoy, who earned his first career All-Conference team selection earlier this week when he was named 2nd-team All-Big West, strung together five more points in a row for the ‘Bows with a trip to the line and his first triple of the evening before sophomore forward Harry Rouhliadeff made it a new ball game with 8:38 left in the opening half, tying it at 20 with five points. 

Senior guard JoVon McClanahan delivered the ‘Bows first lead since the second possession of the game with his first basket of the night, dancing his way to the cup with 6:20 remaining before halftime. The two sides traded the lead back and forth over the next few minutes before Rouhliadeff hit a pair of free throws and Coleman sunk a close-range bucket to give Hawai’i multi-possession lead for the first time all evening. 

Trouble hit when Rouhliadeff left the game at the 2:23 mark after taking a nasty fall and appearing to hit his head on the ground. The sophomore had chipped in seven points and five rebounds while collecting an emphatic block on defense off the bench before being helped off the floor following the fall. He did not return to the game. 

“I thought that was kind of a microcosm of the year,” Hawai’i head coach Eran Ganot said after the game. “We dealt with adversity all year, we dealt with adversity in the game. Harry had a great first half and went out and he stepped up, [then] we had to step up for him.” 

Freshman forward Akira Jacobs checked in to replace Rouhliadeff for the final two minutes of the half, drilling one from long-distance to push Hawai’i into the locker rooms leading by six, 36-30. 

While the ‘Bows got plenty of help from the youth over the opening 20 minutes, it was the program’s seniors that stepped up to help Hawai’i maintain control throughout the 2nd half. 

Coleman, de Silva and McKoy scored Hawai’i’s first 17 points out of the break, helping the ‘Bows push the lead into double digits before the Matadors were able to string together an 8-0 run to make UH’s lead just 53-51 with under 12 minutes left in regulation. 

Akira Jacobs ended the Hawai’i scoring drought with an easy finish inside off a nice feed from Ryan Rapp to put UH back up four before de Silva sandwiched a Coleman 3-pointer with a couple of layups and Beattie scampered out for a fast-break layup to give the ‘Bows an 8-point lead once again with 5:25 remaining. 

CSUN junior Keonte George would not let the Matadors fade easily, dashing down the floor for back-to-back transition buckets to pull CSUN within a possession a minute and a half after the Rainbow Warriors’ run. Dionte Bostick put one last scare in Hawai’i fans by bringing CSUN within two, 68-66, with 2:35 left but that was the closest that the seventh-seeded Matadors would get the rest of the night. 

Hawai’i iced the game from the line as Coleman, McKoy and de Silva all made foul shots down the stretch to deliver the Rainbow Warriors to victory, 75-68. 

All-Big West 1st-Team selection De’Sean Allen-Eikens led all scorers on the night, pouring in 22 points and nine rebounds, going 9-of-19 from the field in 39 minutes for CSUN. Guard Dionte Bostick added 18 points but went 0-for-4 from 3-point range as the Matadors struggled from distance all night, going 3-of-17 from behind the arc in the loss. 

Hawai’i’s Justin McKoy shook off a poor shooting night to lead the ‘Bows in scoring, dropping 16 points while drilling three triples as four different Rainbow Warriors finished the game in double-figures for points. Bernardo de Silva, who was an All-Big West honorable mention this year, followed closely behind with 14 points and nine boards in the win for the ‘Bows. The 5th-year senior also passed the career 1,000-point threshold in the 2nd half, becoming the second Rainbow Warrior to achieve the feat this year (Coleman). 

“Bernardo has been great all year … [playing with] four fouls and he was able to stay in the game and just defend and I think that defense was huge for us, especially in the paint,” McKoy said of his Brazilian forward’s savvy play down the stretch. 

Noel Coleman and Juan Munoz finished with 12 points and 11 points respectively, hitting a combined five 3-pointers to out-shoot CSUN from long range by themselves. 

Hawai’i advances to Friday’s Big West Tournament semifinals and a date with #2 UC Davis, another program that the ‘Bows split the regular season series with. The Aggies pose a tough challenge, boasting Big West Player of the Year Elijah Pepper alongside a talented supporting cast. UH head coach Eran Ganot was unable to give an update on the status of forward Harry Rouhliadeff’s availability for Friday following the game. 

“We were smart about [his injury] and we’ll get more information. I don’t have any information now, but we’ll get it and provide it and kind of go from there,” Ganot shared. “It was good to be able to get it done without him and step up for him while we figure out his situation.” 

Hawai’i dominated UC Davis back on February 10, 87-70, part of the stark late-season turnaround by the ‘Bows that saw UH go 9-3 over the final 12 games of the regular season. One of those three losses did come when Hawai’i visited UC Davis two and a half weeks later and fell, 75-63. 

“I just think those [earlier] experiences – losing close games early, winning close games late, losing overtime games and then winning overtime games late,” Ganot said postgame. “Sometimes you got to go through it and sometimes you have got to grow from pain, but this group stayed together through all of that.” 

Beeman collects 200th UH win as Rainbow Wahine beat Cal State Bakersfield

Beeman collects 200th UH win as Rainbow Wahine beat Cal State Bakersfield

UH Rainbow Wahine HC Laura Beeman looks on during “Beeman’s Big Bash” on Feb. 17. The 12th-year head coach picked up her 200th win at UH in Hawai’i’s regular-season finale at CSU Bakersfield on March 9. | Photo Credit: Michael Lasquero, HSRN

Beeman collects 200th UH win as Rainbow Wahine beat Cal State Bakersfield

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED MAR 9, 2024

BAKERSFIELD, CA – Two bills for Laura Beeman. 

The 12th-year head coach secured her 200th win as the head coach of the Hawai’i Rainbow Wahine basketball program Saturday afternoon, becoming the second head coach in program history to hit the milestone (Vincent Goo, 334 wins) as UH clinched their third Big West regular season crown under Beeman and fifth overall. While the Rainbow Wahine clinched a share of the regular season title on Thursday with a win over CSUN, Saturday’s victory delivered lone possession of the top of the conference as the regular season ends. 

“The locker room was amazing, these kids are truly amazing,” the longtime head coach said after the game. “To win a conference championship outright, the way these kids did it, I could not be more proud and this staff could not be more proud. These guys get it done and we’re really excited to end our regular season this way.” 

Hawai’i drilled a season-high 17 3-pointers, one short of the UH WBB program record for a single game, as the Rainbow Wahine walloped CSU Bakersfield on the road in the regular-season finale, 85-48. The 85 points for UH mark a season-high and the second time this year they have eclipsed the 80-point threshold. 

Though they rested senior guard Olivia Davies, the Rainbow Wahine enjoyed the return of sophomore Imani Perez after the 6-foot-4 forward missed the previous three games after suffering a lower-leg injury late against Long Beach State on February 24. It was the first time all season that Hawai’i had all three of the Jacque David, Brooklyn Rewers and Perez active for the same game.  

“It was just amazing to see the chemistry and see that they’re all feeling good and getting back, comfortable playing on the court and playing together,” Hawai’i assistant coach Khalilah Mitchell, who Beeman says oversees a majority of rotations and substitutions, said of the frontcourt trio finally getting to play in the same game together. “[It’s been good for us] just seeing what lineups work with each other to see what we have to do as we go through the tournament, to see who is going to be the best lineups for who our opponents are.” 

Hawai’i blitzed Bakersfield early, making the team’s first nine shots – the first being Perez knocking down a free-throw line jumper – on the way to a 25-14 lead after 10 minutes of action. Daejah Phillips and the Rainbow Wahine defense keyed the run as the junior guard scored nine points in the opening frame and UH held the Roadrunners to just 23.5% shooting from the field. 

The Roadrunners saw UH continue to grow the lead, pushing it all the way to 19 after MeiLani McBee cashed in on her first triple of the afternoon before CSUB’s offense finally awoke. An 11-2 run to close the first half for Cal State Bakersfield helped bring the margin back to 10 at the break, 37-27.  

Perez opened the 2nd half with a 3-pointer of her own, foreshadowing the upcoming onslaught of triples the Rainbow Wahine would rain down in the third quarter. UH’s Ashley Thoms rang in from deep right before Phillips did the same on the next possession to give a 14-point lead to Hawai’i just over three minutes out of the break. 

Then, it was suddenly Lily Wahinekapu’s world. 

The junior standout scored 11 of the next 13 points for Hawai’i as the Rainbow Wahine lead pushed over the 20-point mark with just under two minutes left in the 3rd quarter. Wahinekapu knocked down three 3-pointers in the frame to make it a 22-point lead before McBee showed off the shooters’ touch on back-to-back 3-pointers to end the period up by 28. 

Hawai’i refused to take the foot off the gas pedal once the final frame began as freshman forward Vivienne Berrett pushed the Rainbow Wahine lead to 30 with her first bucket of the day and fellow freshie Jade Peacock drilled another three for the first two 4th quarter possessions for UH. 

“This is what we wanted to do,” Beeman said postgame about her team’s impressive performance. “We talked about it as a staff that we wanted to have a dominating last game going into [the Big West Tournament]. We did not want there to be any doubt that we are the number one team in this conference from start to finish.” 

Wahinekapu put home two more jumpers to push her point total to 22, a season-high for the junior, as Hawai’i watched the lead grow to nearly 40 over the final minutes before a few CSU Bakersfield baskets right before the end allowed the Roadrunners to escape without becoming the lowest point total allowed for UH this season with 48 points. 

David would close the fun on the day for the Rainbow Wahine with one last long-range make from the left corner for UH’s 17th 3-pointer of the game, setting a new season-high and falling just one make short of the program record 18 3-pointers in a single game as Hawai’i won their 17th conference game of the year and 20th overall, 85-48. 

“I think that the seeding committee definitely takes a look at how you’re playing at the end [of the regular season],” Beeman said when asked about the significance of reaching the 20-win threshold. “We wanted to get to that 20th win for the seeding, for the championship, for the state of Hawai’i, for these kids… that’s what we’re pushing for, for sure.”  

Phillips added 12 points in the win for the Rainbow Wahine, who saw 10 different players score throughout the game and eight different players make a 3-pointer. The “team” aspect of UH was on display all day, tallying 20 assists on 31 made field goals. 

Hawai’i enters the Big West Tournament with a double-bye, riding a seven-game winning streak as they await in the tournament semifinals. UH will play the first of the two semifinal games on March 15 with tip-off scheduled for 9 a.m. HT, looking to return to the Big West Tournament championship game for the third straight season and defend their back-to-back conference tournament crowns. 

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

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

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. 

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.