Hawai’i to make appearance in inaugural WBIT, will take on #2 Cal

Hawai’i to make appearance in inaugural WBIT, will take on #2 Cal

Hawai’i to make appearance in inaugural WBIT, will take on #2 Cal

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED MAR 17, 2024

HONOLULU — The Hawai’i Rainbow Wahine are dancing into March with a postseason tournament for the third consecutive season. 

The Big West Conference regular season champions found out Sunday that their season would continue in Berkeley, California on Thursday, March 21 for the first round of the inaugural Women’s Basketball Invitation Tournament as UH takes on their fourth Pac-12 opponent of the season in the Cal Golden Bears. 

The Rainbow Wahine went a sparkling 17-3 throughout the Big West slate to clinch the outright regular season conference title and top seed in last weekend’s Big West tournament. After a double-bye into the semifinals, Hawai’i’s hopes at a third consecutive conference tournament crown were stopped short by fifth-seeded UC Davis in the final four, 51-48. 

It was an uncharacteristic performance for UH, who lost Big West 6th Player of the Year Daejah Phillips to a lower leg injury midway through the semifinals while suffering one of the worst shooting days all season. Though they had eyes on the NCAA Tournament for a third straight year, the Rainbow Wahine won’t take still getting a postseason tournament chance for granted. 

“We’re playing in the postseason, that’s where we wanted to be,” Hawai’i head coach Laura Beeman said Sunday after the team found out their first-round opponent. “I think the girls in the next couple days will get pretty excited about the opportunity ahead.” 

“I think it’s great for women’s basketball that we have another tournament where it’s not pay-to-play,” she continued. “To have a tournament that they’re taking seriously – it sounds that they’re going to make it a very good event, a well-run event – I think that it’s time and women’s basketball deserves that so to be a part of that [first iteration] is great. We definitely want to keep playing, definitely want to put a mark on it all so yeah, we’re looking forward to it.” 

Hawai’i has yet to win a postseason tournament game (non-Big West tournament) under Laura Beeman and has not won a postseason tournament game in general since the 2001 WNIT. It is the lone thing missing from the decorated coach’s resume in Hawai’i and something she and a 2023-24 Rainbow Wahine team full of winners still desire. 

After going 0-3 against Pac-12 competition in non-conference play, Beeman and her team look forward to another chance against a member of the historic conference that will see itself ripped apart next season by the college re-alignment in football. 

“Cal is in the Pac-12, so they’ve played some really good competition, but I think we can show up and give them a great game and that’s what our goal is going to be,” the 12th-year head coach stated. “It gives us another opportunity to see where we measure up to them. I would love [another] opportunity to beat a Pac-12 school this year, for sure.” 

Hawai’i will play on Thursday, March 21 at 4:00 p.m. HT on ESPN+ against Cal, the #2 seed. The winner of that game will take on the victor of Seton Hall and #3 Saint Joseph’s in the Sweet 16 round on March 24. The winners from each of the four regional brackets will meet up in Indianapolis inside Hinkle Fieldhouse for the Final Four and WBIT Championship from April 1-3.  

Hawai’i Big West three-peat dreams dashed by UC Davis in semifinal loss, 51-48

Hawai’i Big West three-peat dreams dashed by UC Davis in semifinal loss, 51-48

Hawai’i Big West three-peat dreams dashed by UC Davis in semifinal loss, 51-48

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED MAR 15, 2024

“We picked a bad day to have a bad day.” 

Laura Beeman quickly stated the obvious following top-seeded Hawai’i’s semifinal Big West Tournament loss to #5 UC Davis on Friday. The Aggies’ stifling defense held the Rainbow Wahine to the team’s lowest scoring output since the conference play began, squeaking by Hawai’i 51-48 to advance to the Big West Tournament Championship. 

“I thought [UC Davis] played a very, very good game and to play three games in a row the way they did – they hit big shots when they needed to, they hit free throws when they needed to and they got stops when they needed to,” the 12th-year Hawai’i head coach opened her postgame statements with. “[UC Davis head coach Jennifer Gross] and her staff do a fantastic job so first off, I want to congratulate them.” 

The fifth-seeded Aggies made a return to the Big West Tournament championship game after a two-year absence by holding the Rainbow Wahine to 16-of-52 shooting from the floor, drilling 11 3-pointers on the other side – many of which came in swing moments of the game – to win their third game in as many days. The loss stops Hawai’i’s quest to become the first program to three-peat as Big West conference tournament champions since UC Santa Barbara did it nine times in a row from 1997-2005 but will not end the season as UH expects to receive selection into the inaugural NCAA Women’s Basketball Invitation Tournament after winning the Big West regular season title. 

The offense actually started quickly for Hawai’i, who waited and watched the first two days of the tournament after securing a double-bye as a top-two finisher in regular season play. Lily Wahinekapu knocked down her first jumper of the day to open the scoring and Ashley Thoms followed it up by banking in a 3-pointer to give the Rainbow Wahine a 5-0 lead in the blink of an eye. 

UC Davis forward Tova Sabel finally got the fifth-seed on the board at the 7:27 mark of the 1st quarter by draining her first 3-pointer of the day, foreshadowing the Aggies’ upcoming marksmanship from behind the arc. 

Jacque David and MeiLani McBee both finished strong around the rim for their first points of the game, extending Hawai’i’s lead to six by the 6:15 mark, 9-3. Again, UC Davis hit a triple to pull within a possession as Evanne Turner cashed in from deep. 

After a 12-minute break in the action after the 1st quarter media timeout due to a shot-clock malfunction above one of the baskets, play resumed with Hawai’i’s offense suddenly sputtering. The Rainbow Wahine could not scrape across another basket as the Aggies pulled within one by the end of the opening frame, 9-8. 

McBee provided some breathing room for Hawai’i by drilling a 3-pointer, sparking a 9-2 run that saw David and Big West 6th Player of the Year Daejah Phillips also get in on the long-range fun to push UH’s lead up to eight with 5:21 left in the 1st half, 18-10. 

UC Davis caught fire from distance to close the half, draining four 3-pointers over the final 3:11 of the 2nd quarter, including a 23-footer by Mazatlan Harris from straight away to beat the shot clock. That final three gave the Aggies the lead for the first time all game, 23-20, with six seconds left before the break and entered the locker rooms leading by that trifecta after UH’s answer was called off because it didn’t leave David’s hand before the buzzer sounded. 

“We just didn’t make adjustments on offense like we needed to earlier in the game and I thought the way we closed out the 1st half was very poor defensively,” a disappointed Laura Beeman said. 

Hawai’i’s scoring drought continued for the opening three minutes of the 3rd quarter until Phillips rolled in a close-range look to keep UH within a score with 6:36 left in the frame. Things did not improve for the Rainbow Wahine in the ensuing minutes as Phillips suffered a lower leg injury with 4:52 left, exiting to the locker room as Hawai’i fell behind by nine after Harris drilled another triple. 

UC Davis extended the lead all the way to 13 with two and a half minutes remaining in the 3rd as Sabel drained another three and split a pair of free throws before Hawai’i finally re-settled and returned fire with a 12-2 to close the quarter and enter the final 10 minutes trailing by just three. 

“We’ve played all year unhealthy, we’ve played all year down,” Beeman said of her team’s resilience after Phillips went down. “We knew [Daejah] wasn’t coming back but whether she came back or not, this team has fought all year long and they put themselves in position to win all year long and that wasn’t going to change because we got down.” 

Hawai’i took a 40-39 lead with 7:40 left in regulation after Kelsie Imai’s perfect trip to the charity stripe, but the advantage was short-lived as UC Davis strung off the next four points to re-take a three-point lead. UH’s McBee spun home a tough reverse layup to pull back within one with 5:12 remaining and swatted away a transition layup, trying to will the ‘Bows to stay in it after taking some critical blows. 

The Rainbow Wahine would take one final lead, 48-46, with 1:17 left after Wahinekapu went 2-for-2 at the foul line as Hawai’i gave themselves a chance to advance to Saturday’s Big West Conference tournament championship game despite playing one of the sloppiest games in recent memory. 

The three-peat dreams slipped away 20 seconds later as UC Davis drilled the team’s 11th triple of the night, coming from Turner to jump ahead by one with under a minute left. Despite a chance at the line to tie or take the lead for Wahinekapu, the junior’s nightmare afternoon bounced along as both shots rolled out and Jacque David’s desperation heave to tie at the final horn was tipped as Hawai’i watched the fifth-seeded Aggies celebrate their third win in three days and second upset in 48 hours, 51-48. 

“We just had kids who did not have their typical game,” Beeman reflected postgame. “We have two of our top scorers go 1-for-21, it’s tough to win a ballgame. Daejah Phillips gets 10 minutes between fouls and an injury … it was a bad day to play bad basketball.” 

UC Davis actually shot worse than Hawai’i, being held to just 29% shooting over 52 shots but hit 11-of-26 from behind the arc to make up the difference on the margins. Aggies’ junior guard Tova Sabel led the fifth seed with 14 points on 4-of-15 shooting, three of the makes coming from 3-point range. Evanne Turner and Mazatlan Harris both finished in double figures with 13 points apiece, combining for six makes from long distance to push UC Davis into the championship for the first time since 2021. 

MeiLani McBee left it all on the floor by leading Hawai’i through an ugly offensive game, scoring 12 points on an efficient 5-of-7 performance (2/2 3PT) and adding four rebounds and four steals for the Rainbow Wahine. UH junior forward Jacque David added 11 points and six rebounds off the bench in 24 minutes for Laura Beeman’s squad, who now must recalibrate as the program looks for the first postseason tournament (non-Big West) win this century for the Rainbow Wahine program. 

“It’s just going to hurt,” David said of the loss for UH. “Mentally, we just have to get back and recalibrate like Coach Beeman says because we’re not done. We still have another tournament, more games.” 

With their outright claim to the regular season Big West champions, Hawai’i clinched an automatic berth into the new WBIT following the final buzzer on Friday. Beeman spoke candidly about how UH could not dwell on the performance and had more to accomplish in a wonderful season to date. 

The WBIT is set to run all the way through the quarterfinals from March 21-March 28 before the remaining four programs coverage at Hinkle Fieldhouse at Butler University in Indianapolis for the semifinals (April 1) and championship (April 3). 

“It’s what sports do to you, they challenge you,” said an eerily-locked in Beeman. “They put you in positions that you don’t want to be in, and you can either quit or you can grow. We have a very young team; we have everyone coming back but two. We need this postseason experience; we have not won a postseason game before.” 

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 remains hot, grabs season sweep of UC Irvine behind McBee’s strong 2nd half

Hawai’i remains hot, grabs season sweep of UC Irvine behind McBee’s strong 2nd half

UH guard MeiLani McBee handles the ball in a Feb. 1 game against Cal State Fullerton. McBee had a team-high 14 points two days later in a win against UC Irvine. | Photo Credit: Michael Lasquero, HSRN

Hawai’i remains hot, grabs season sweep of UC Irvine behind McBee’s strong 2nd half

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED FEB 3, 2024

HONOLULU — Not bad practice before “Beeman’s Big Bash” for UH. 

In a fight for first place in the Big West, the Hawai’i Rainbow Wahine (12-8, 9-2 Big West) muscled past the UC Irvine Anteaters, 55-43, Saturday night inside SimpliFi Arena at Stan Sheriff Center to take sole possession of first place in the conference. 

UH entered the night tied atop the league with UCI (14-7, 8-3 Big West), excited for another chance to defend home court in front of over 1,500 fans and avenge last season’s overtime loss inside the Stan to the Anteaters. The young women responded with an inspired defensive effort against a physical UC Irvine squad, tying the second lowest point total against the Rainbow Wahine since BWC play started. 

“We love Hawai’i, we love playing for our fans and when we can do what we’re supposed to do on our home court, that means a lot to our kids,” Hawai’i head coach Laura Beeman said of her squad after moving to 6-0 inside the friendly confines of Mānoa since Big West play began and 8-3 overall at SimpliFi Arena this season. 

Hawai’i guard Olivia Davies opened the scoring with a left-wing triple, banking in the try to give the lead to the hometown Rainbow Wahine just a minute into action. UCI responded in turn, rattling off the next six points to take a 6-3 lead with 4:59 remaining in the opening quarter. Freshman guard Jade Peacock would end a near-six-minute scoring drought for UH with a pair of free throws before the Rainbow Wahine jumped back ahead 25 seconds later as Daejah Phillips went coast-to-coast and dropped in a layup over the front of the iron to make it 7-6.  

In all, the Rainbow Wahine closed the opening frame on a 10-3 run behind their defense and quality foul shooting to take a 13-9 lead into the second. 

UH’s dynamic backcourt of Phillips and Lily Wahinekapu continued to produce on the offensive end, trading turns creating points for the Rainbow Wahine as the advantage grew as large as 10 not even midway through the second quarter. Hawai’i would maintain around the double-digit lead up until right before halftime when UCI’s Nikki Tom stole away a Davies pass and quickly pushed it ahead to Deja Lee for a layup to beat the clock and bring the Anteaters within nine at the break, 27-18.  

Star sophomore forward Imani Perez, back from a one-game absence due to personal reasons, got the Hawai’i scoring going once again to open the third quarter by draining a mid-range jumper from the top of the key to make it an 11-point lead before back-to-back buckets from Lee brought the visitors back within seven.

After seeing the Hawai’i lead go back up to 11, UC Irvine head coach Tamara Inoue and staff decided to employ a 2-2-1 zone press, slowing down the Rainbow Wahine offense enough to cut the margin down to six with two and a half minutes left in the period — enough to make for an awkwardly-anxious crowd inside the Stan Sheriff Center. 

Laura Beeman’s battle-tested squad did not flinch despite the ever-shrinking lead, responding calmly with a Davies drive-and-kick to a wide open Wahinekapu for a much-needed three-pointer to give UH a nine-point lead heading into the final 10 minutes. 

The Rainbow Wahine opened the final frame with a continued hot hand from long range as MeiLani McBee showed off the quick trigger on a pair of threes and Perez got the hoop-and-harm to extend to a 14-point lead for UH.

“Great to have Imani back,” Beeman smiled admitting postgame. “We needed her as much as she needed us.” 

Despite the Anteaters’ best efforts, UCI’s 0-of-15 night from long distance and the Rainbow Wahine’s defensive grit saw Hawai’i close out the victory, 55-43. 

“We knew it was going to be physical, it was physical the first time [against UC Irvine],” Perez said postgame. “[Coach Beeman] says that we need to be the aggressor and I feel like our team was really ready to take hits today and we knew what they were coming out with.” 

The hard-fought battle resulted in 37 free throws being taken between the two squads and likely just as many bruises from block-outs underneath the basket as the Rainbow Wahine dominated the glass, 44-32.  

“Like I said on Thursday, they are an aggressive team, and we knew we needed to be aggressive, and I think we capitalized on it today,” McBee added. 

McBee led the way in scoring for Hawai’i, dropping all 14 of her points in the second half while collecting seven rebounds along the way. UH’s Wahinekapu added 11 points while Perez piled up 10 points to go along with six boards in her return. 

UCI’s Deja Lee led all scorers with 21 points on 9-of-19 shooting, racking up four steals on the night. No other UC Irvine player broke the double-digit threshold for points as Hawai’i held the Anteaters to just 25% (16-of-64 FG) shooting from the floor overall. 

UH hits the road once again next week for a two-game trip, facing off with UC San Diego for the second time this season before stopping by UC Davis. Hawai’i was a 64-52 winner over UCSD back on January 20 at home and enters the game as the lone team atop the Big West totem pole.  

Hawai’i picks up first home victory against UC San Diego, continue sizzling conference start

Hawai’i picks up first home victory against UC San Diego, continue sizzling conference start

Hawai’i picks up first home victory against UC San Diego, continue sizzling conference start

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED JAN 20, 2024

HONOLULU — Another night, another dominant defensive showing. 

The Hawai’i Rainbow Wahine (9-7, 6-1 Big West) continued to tear through the Big West schedule Saturday night, defeating UC San Diego (7-11, 3-4 Big West) inside SimpliFi Arena at Stan Sheriff Center, 64-52, behind a strong beginning and end to the contest. 

UH guard Lily Wahinekapu got the action going with a running layup in the lane for the game’s first points as Hawai’i took the lead from the jump and never relinquished it. The Rainbow Wahine would sprint out to a 14-5 lead through the opening 10 minutes behind stellar defense, holding UCSD to 2-of-10 shooting from the floor and forcing seven turnovers to grab the nine-point advantage. 

The good vibes and play continued into the start of the second frame for the Rainbow Wahine with a quick 5-0 run to force a Tritons’ timeout with 7:12 left in the first half with UH leading, 19-5. Following the stoppage, the visitors began to see better success on the offensive end by cutting down on the turnovers — committing just two giveaways in the frame as UCSD kept within 12 at the halftime break. 

Hawai’i came out of the locker rooms slowly to start the third quarter as UC San Diego brought the score within five before three minutes had run off the game clock, forcing a UH timeout. 

The Rainbow Wahine stabilized momentarily, cracking off an 8-0 run over 84 seconds to put the lead back above 10 before UCSD tightened things up on the defensive end. The programs would trade buckets over the final four and a half minutes of the quarter as Hawai’i entered the fourth with a nine-point lead. 

The Tritons’ comeback effort was aided by a tighter whistle from officials as the visitors used an aggressive offensive attack to quickly force five fouls on UH and enter the bonus with 5:56 left in regulation. With the help of solid free throw shooting, UCSD cut Hawai’i’s lead down to just three with 4:30 remaining after a pair of makes from the charity stripe by guard Sumayah Sugapong. 

That’s when the battle-tested ‘Bows would come through again. 

Wahinekapu and fellow guard Daejah Phillips scored ten consecutive points over the next three minutes of game action to put the contest away to pick up the Rainbow Wahine’s first home victory against UC San Diego. UH is now 2-3 all-time against the Tritons since the programs began competing against one another two years ago.  

UCSD’s Sugapong and Damilola Sule each contributed 15 points in the loss for the Tritons, who fell to 3-4 in conference play — seeing the teeth of the Big West gauntlet early. 

Wahinekapu led all scorers with 16 points, adding five rebounds and three assists for good measure as the Rainbow Wahine continue the best start to conference play under coach Laura Beeman. Phillips enjoyed herself another nice, stat sheet-stuffing night off the bench with 15 points on 50% shooting (4-of-8 FG) to go along with three boards, a pair of assists and a couple steals for good measure.  

Hawai’i now packs up for a critical road trip against some of the Big West’s best, first visiting UC Santa Barbara for a re-match of the 2023 Big West Tournament title game in a matchup between #1 and #2 in the conference’s standings before taking on a Cal Poly squad that sits just a game and a half back of the Rainbow Wahine’s current place on the hilltop.