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.  

Hallie’s (Bird)song: The crescendo of the Hawai’i Rainbow Wahine’s “Why”

Hallie’s (Bird)song: The crescendo of the Hawai’i Rainbow Wahine’s “Why”

Hallie’s (Bird)song: The crescendo of the Hawai’i Rainbow Wahine’s “Why”

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED JAN 17, 2024

HONOLULU – The University of Hawai’i Rainbow Wahine basketball team will enter the January 18 matchup against Long Beach State in a position that has become familiar over the past three seasons – near the very top of the Big West conference standings. 

In fact, success is something that ‘Bows fans have been accustomed to in head coach Laura Beeman’s tenure. The Rainbow Wahine snapped a 20-year absence from the NCAA Tournament in 2016, just four years after Beeman’s arrival. The year prior saw Beeman pilot the Rainbow Wahine to a 15-game win streak, the program’s longest string of wins since 1997-98, en route to a third consecutive appearance in the women’s National Invitational Tournament for UH. The CSU-San Bernardino alum would do it again in 2018, marking the fourth NIT invite for her program in six seasons. 

Close by, a local Kalani product watched intently as her state’s home school saw a revival of the women’s basketball program ahead of her high school career. For Hallie Birdsong, the University of Hawai’i was always her collegiate destination. Like basketball, UH was a shared passion amongst her family. 

Her dad is UH football great Norris Birdsong, who scored the first of many touchdowns by UH running backs inside the old Aloha Stadium. He and Birdsong’s uncle were also avid basketball players and fans, the UH junior said.  

Her dad took on duties of coaching the youthful hooper and “still coaches me now to this day,” she said cheerfully, joking that the old football player cannot help but continue to give instructions even now that she is a collegiate basketball player. 

Her dad’s coaching, coupled with a competitive nature of her own, led to a love of basketball for Birdsong. When younger brother, Norris Shaun Birdsong Jr., was introduced to her life, she saw a chance to improve her game while experiencing the thrill of being an older sister. 

“Now that he’s older and a lot bigger than me, I’d say our games of one-on-one are a lot more competitive,” UH’s junior guard laughed in a phone interview. “I’m just that big sister that’s always trying to push him and encourage him to be the best he can be.” 

Birdsong’s positivity manifests itself in many ways. In one, it makes her a great family member and friend to the inner circle that she credits for helping keep her so upbeat – serving as a constant bright light to those around her. After Hawai’i’s blowout win over CSUN on January 6 that saw Birdsong score her first collegiate bucket, Laura Beeman was sure to share how important the reserve guard has been to the team. 

“Seeing Hallie hit that pull-up jumper was very, very fun. Many games, she’s our “why” and she’s very humble about what she means to this program, but I think the reaction from the bench and the crowd kind of sums it up,” the veteran UH head coach said to the media about Birdsong after the Rainbow Wahine’s 67-38 win. 

That positivity is also what led to the Rainbow Wahine’s “Why” making the team in the first place. 

After four years of balling out in the OIA for Kalani, Birdsong looked to the next step with eyes on the biggest college in the state. As an underrecruited player with eyes on a spot within the Rainbow Wahine program, the 5-foot-7 guard knew that it would be a steep climb to reach her goals. 

“The program has a lot of history, has a deep legacy especially playing under Coach Laura Beeman and all she’s done,” Birdsong said. 

It had to start with a phone call to Beeman’s staff and a plea for a chance to try-out as a walk-on for Hawai’i, betting on herself, her work ethic and faith. Taking a “leap of faith” after being a self-admitted “late bloomer” growing up, it was a call that Birdsong is thankful for to this day. 

“I’m so blessed and thankful to have the opportunity [to play for UH],” the junior expressed. “I don’t regret [walking on] one bit.” 

While she may have been able to see more playing time at a lower division level (6 games played in 2.5 seasons at UH), the journey was about far more than what happened on the hardwood for her.  

Coming to the University of Hawai’i as a Biology major, Birdsong was interested in health from the start. After taking a couple of public health courses early in her stay at UH, she knew that a change in major was in the cards and promptly switched over to Public Health to pursue a long-term goal here at home. 

Birdsong’s switch to Public Health came with an interest in specifically helping and working with disadvantaged communities on O’ahu with a focus on maternal and children’s health. Those two courses she took opened her eyes to the different paths she could take to help others on her home island. She’s always wanted to do just that – help those around her. 

That is where it comes back to the court. With a team looking for a three-peat in the Big West tournament, Hawai’i has had a target on their back from the moment the season began. The Rainbow Wahine were selected first in the conference’s preseason poll after returning all but two players from last season’s NCAA tournament squad.  

Despite the accolades from the outside, Birdsong reminds that it is about focusing on the people within the locker room and none of the outside noise. That is how the ‘Bows have taken care of business the previous two seasons – not coincidentally the first two years that Birdsong has been a part of the program. 

Her playing time was not much but her impact on the team’s “amazing” culture helped continue cultivating an environment for players to feel comfortable with each other and root for another teammate’s success more than their own. In turn, a family feel remains within a program that has been built upon the foundation of selflessness. 

Birdsong’s bucket perhaps is the best example of this. As Hawai’i had a hearty lead late in the contest against CSU Northridge, well on their way to the program’s best start to conference play in Beeman’s tenure, every fan and player inside SimpliFi Arena at Stan Sheriff Center remained locked into the action on the court as the junior walk-on entered play with 2:22 remaining. 

As teammates worked to get her a shot, Birdsong stayed ready. When her moment came, she let go of a pair of misses from her last outing and drilled a beautiful pull-up jumper to send the crowd (and her teammates) into a celebratory frenzy. 

It was a moment of exuberance for everyone within SSC but even more for Birdsong. 

A walk-on from the public schools on O’ahu, she made the OIA proud. Continuing to work despite knowing playing time would be scarce, Birdsong reminded herself that “just because something doesn’t go your way doesn’t mean it will always be like that.” 

It was finally time for things to go the junior’s way on the public stage. 

In the end, it also served as proof of concept to Birdsong: “Walk by faith, not by sight.” 

It is the quote she lives by every day of her life, allowing her to “keep [my] head high, eyes straight ahead and keep on walking” towards another storybook season with her Hawai’i Rainbow Wahine teammates. 

Hawai’i marches past CSUN for third straight win to begin Big West play

Hawai’i marches past CSUN for third straight win to begin Big West play

Hawai’i marches past CSUN for third straight win to begin Big West play

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED JAN 6, 2023

HONOLULU — The Hawai’i women’s basketball team (6-6, 3-0 Big West) continued a dominant start to conference play on Saturday night, dispatching CSU Northridge (2-11, 0-3 Big West), 67-38, for the program’s sixth consecutive win over the Matadors behind another night of elite defense and the spark plug play of Daejah Phillips and Meilani McBee. 

The win moves UH to 3-0 to begin conference play, the first time the Rainbow Wahine have won the first three games of conference play since the 2001-02 season as a part of the WAC (Western Athletic Conference). Hawai’i also returns to a record of .500 or better for the first time since November 17 after defeating San Francisco at home, 65-51. 

The evening got off to a bit of a slow start with the teams trading shot clock violations on each’s opening possession before CSUN’s Talo Li-Uperesa got scoring started with an acrobatic layup through traffic to give the Matadors their first (and only) lead of the game. UH’s Brooklyn Rewers tied it at two at the 7:20 mark with a pair of makes from the free throw line and followed it up with a mid-range jumper from the top of the key and spinning finish down low to give the Rainbow Wahine a 6-2 lead.  

Imani Perez scored the first non-Rewers UH points on a give-and-go and Lily Wahinekapu made it a 10-4 advantage for Hawai’i with her first points on a nice show-and-go to free space on the way to the rim. CSUN’s Amiyah Ferguson drilled the game’s first triple on the following possession to bring the visitors back within three and the Matadors tied it at 11 after Arina Nikishina snagged an offensive rebound and put it back up and in with two minutes left in the opening quarter.  

Ashley Thoms gave the lead right back to Hawai’i after a 1-for-2 trip to the free throw line with 53 seconds left in the quarter and UH extended it to three just before the second quarter with another Wahinekapu layup, 14-11. 

Imani Perez got the action going again with a finish from the left block to begin the second and Rewers continued her sweet-shooting first half by drilling a straight-away three to give UH a 20-15 lead early in the period.  

CSUN would respond with a quick 5-0 run as forward Laney Amundsen tied it at 20 with a strong post seal and finish, but Kelsie Imai’s first points of the night gave the lead back to the ‘Bows after the guard raced down the floor in transition for a layup and forced a Matadors’ timeout. 

That Imai layup was only the start of another avalanche by the ‘Bows. 

Hawai’i’s Daejah Phillips drained a right-corner three after the timeout to reclaim the five-point lead for UH and extended the lead to 27-20 with a pair of free throws after CSUN’s Kayanna Spriggs was called for intentional foul for hitting Phillips in the face with her elbow. Wahinekapu got a layup to go on the give-and-go to extend the lead to nine for the Rainbow Wahine with just over a minute left in the half and Phillips cashed in from the right corner again to make it 32-20 in favor of the defending Big West champions at halftime. 

The hot shooting for Phillips continued through the break as she drilled her first shot after checking back in, another triple from the left corner this time to give UH a 15-point lead, 37-22. Meilani McBee got in on the fun with a left wing three to push it to 18 by the third quarter’s media timeout with just over four minutes left. 

After the break in action, Wahinekapu knocked down a triple of her own, followed by another McBee three that gave the ‘Bows a 27-point lead heading into the fourth. 

In all? A 29-2 run from the 4:10 mark of the second quarter and all the way through to the start of the fourth for UH. 

Clamps, camaraderie and cashing in from long range to take the game over — also known as the “Rainbow Wahine” way. 

The Matadors opened the final ten minutes with five quick points before UH freshman Jade Peacock spun home a layup to push the ‘Bows above the 50-point threshold on the night. Imai would keep the scoring going in the interim to move into double-digits on the night with a season-high 11 points. Freshman big Vivienne Berrett finally got a look to go with just under a minute left to get on the scoresheet and junior and team-favorite Hallie Birdsong swished home a dribble-pull up for her first career points for her home school to cap a dominant 67-38 win for the ‘Bows that left everyone smiling. 

Phillips led the way for Hawai’i with 12 points on a perfect 3-of-3 shooting from three-point range and finished as a +27 in her 26 minutes on the floor. McBee knocked home three three-pointers of her own, all coming in the third quarter as Hawai’i pulled away from CSU Northridge. Brooklyn Rewers added an important nine points and six rebounds, helping keep the ‘Bows afloat in the first quarter while the offense struggled. Hawai’i posted a season-high with 43 rebounds, winning the battle on the glass over the Matadors, 43-32. 

Saturday marked the second straight game that UH posted a season-low in points allowed and the 38 points given up to CSUN is the lowest to an opponent for the Rainbow Wahine since their 47-35 win over UC Santa Barbara on January 26, 2019. It also marked the third consecutive game holding an opponent under 50 points for Hawai’i.  

The Rainbow Wahine will now put their perfect conference record on the line for an important road trip, taking on UC Irvine on January 11 and facing off with UC Riverside on January 13 before returning home on January 18.  

Hawai’i continues strong start to conference play with blowout win over Bakersfield

Hawai’i continues strong start to conference play with blowout win over Bakersfield

Hawai’i continues strong start to conference play with blowout win over Bakersfield

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED JAN 4, 2024

HONOLULU — Home, sweet home. 

After a month away from the friendly confines of SimpliFi Arena at Stan Sheriff Center, the Hawai’i Rainbow Wahine (5-6, 2-0 Big West) wasted little time sprinting away from the Cal State Bakersfield Roadrunners (4-8, 1-2 Big West) on Thursday night, using strong long-range shooting early to jump out a lead they would never look back from to win, 67-43. 

Three of UH’s first four makes came from distance as redshirt junior guard Olivia Davies got the party started with a triple from the left wing before Meilani McBee mirrored Davies with a three-pointer of her own from the other side of the court to make it 6-0 in the blink of an eye. Roadrunners’ guard Shaunae Brown started the scoring for CSUB to make it 6-2 before UH forward Brooklyn Rewers knocked home a straight-away three-pointer in response. 

Hawai’i’s dominant first quarter continued behind the team’s depth, using birthday gal Vivienne Berrett’s back-to-back finishes down low to make it a 15-2 lead for the ‘Bows before Bakersfield’s Julia Riley knocked down a right-corner three to slow the momentum momentarily. 

Hawai’i fans did not need to wait long for a response from the Rainbow Wahine as Kelsie Imai pushed the tempo and tossed a beautiful pass in transition to Ashley Thoms for a wide-open triple from beyond the arc and freshman guard Jade Peacock got in on the fun with a three of her own, giving UH a 16-point lead after 10 minutes of play. 

After CSUB nearly matched its first quarter point total in the first few possessions of the second period and held the Rainbow Wahine without any points, Hawai’i’s defense locked right back in after McBee hit her second three of the night. UH extended the lead above 20 for the first time as Imai raced down the floor and spun a transition layup up and in to make it 32-11 with about three minutes left to play in the half and continued the strong play to enter the break with a 22-point lead in hand. 

“I think it’s nice when you come out in the first quarter and play the way we did,” Hawai’i head coach Laura Beeman said postgame of her team’s performance. “[CSU Bakersfield] is a good team, I think we just kind of took the wind out of them early, not allowing them double-digits in points for the first two quarters. Third and fourth? We just need to continue to grow our game and continue to stay consistent.” 

The visitors would start the third quarter much like the previous frame with quality defense, holding UH scoreless for over three and a half minutes after halftime as the Roadrunners brought it to 19 on a Brown triple – but that was the closest they would get. 

Imani Perez ended the ‘Bows scoring drought with a pair of free throw makes at the 6:25 mark and Lily Wahinekapu followed them up with a triple, starting a run to extend the lead to a game-high 28 points at time before the end of the quarter. The Roadrunners dropped in a couple of buckets before Perez beat the buzzer to give UH a 26-point lead heading into the final 10 minutes, 52-26. 

While CSUB would win the final 10 minutes, Wahinekapu and crew refused to let their foot off the gas as Hawai’i closed out its second Big West win in as many games to open the conference slate with a 24-point home win over the Roadrunners, 67-43. 

Hawai’i was led by Lily Wahinekapu’s season-best 15 points as the guard became the seventh different player to lead the Rainbow Wahine in scoring for a game this season, shooting 6-for-11 from the floor and drilling 3-of-6 three-point attempts. Daejah Phillips returned from a one-game absence for the ‘Bows to tie a career-high with 10 rebounds while chipping in seven points in the win. 

Berrett enjoyed herself a nice birthday outing, posting a career-best seven points in just nine minutes of action as she continues to develop into a nice depth piece for the Rainbow Wahine. 

Ten different UH players scored at least once in the win on Thursday. The Rainbow Wahine are back in action on Saturday, hosting CSUN with tip-off scheduled for 7 p.m. inside SimpliFi Arena at Stan Sheriff Center. 

“We shot the ball pretty well, we shared a lot of minutes and we just have got to keep pushing along – we’ve got a good team coming in here Saturday,” Beeman closed her thoughts with. 

PHOTOS BY MICHAEL LASQUERO