Historic Hawai’i season ends with close loss to California in national semifinals

Historic Hawai’i season ends with close loss to California in national semifinals

Hawai’i Rainbow Wahine water polo head coach Maureen Cole waves to the crowd following a match for UH. Hawai’i’s season came to an end on Saturday, May 11 in the national semifinals, falling to #3 Cal, 9-6. | Photo Credit: Michael Lasquero, HSRN

Historic Hawai’i season ends with close loss to California in national semifinals

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED MAY 11, 2024

All good things must come to an end. 

An all-time great season for the Rainbow Wahine water polo program came to a close on Saturday afternoon as 2nd-seeded Hawai’i (23-4) fell in the National Collegiate Women’s Water Polo Championship semifinals to 3rd-seeded California, 9-6. The hosting Bears’ defense put a straitjacket on the Rainbow Wahine offense, holding Hawai’i to a 2-for-17 clip on 6-on-5 advantage opportunities throughout the day. 

That defensive effort combined with a six-goal avalanche in the 2nd quarter from California (19-6) proved to be enough to down the number two team in the country as the Bears advanced to the program’s first national championship appearance since 2011 and second overall. Hawai’i’s season closes after advancing to the nation’s final four for the first time since 2013. 

“I’m just really proud of the Wahine team for this year, this season,” veteran Hawai’i head coach Maureen Cole said following the loss. “This game in particular didn’t go the way we wanted it to, but they fought until the end and that’s just a testament to the people they are.” 

The loss closes the coaching career of the Hawai’i water polo legend in Cole, who now heads into retirement as the all-time wins leader in program history. For the Punahou School graduate and former UCLA three-time national champion in her own playing days, there was no group of people she would have wanted to enjoy her final season at the helm with. 

“A great group of girls,” the 13-year head coaching veteran gushed. “There’s no group I would want to spend the last nine months with and I’m just really proud of their efforts. It’s sports. There’s a winner, there’s a loser. These were two evenly matched teams, [and] we couldn’t put the ball away very well today, they did. Credit to Cal … just wish this [season] could’ve gone on for another day, but proud of the team.” 

Cal provided an early jab, getting the scoring started early with the first two goals of the match to begin the 1st quarter before junior attacker Bernadette Doyle got Hawai’i on the board with her first goal at the 2:24 mark of the opening period. 

The 2nd quarter proved to be the difference as Cal’s offense delivered a haymaker with six goals in the frame while holding Hawai’i to two scores, dominating the first half’s exclusion chances with goals in 4-of-6 advantage opportunities while holding UH to 2-of-9 in first half 6-on-5’s. 

“The power play tells [the story] pretty much,” Cole said of the Rainbow Wahine’s offensive woes. “We weren’t putting the ball away … I thought we were getting good looks on the cage.” 

Hawai’i’s staunch defense settled back in during the 3rd quarter, holding Cal off the board entirely in the frame. Again, it was offensive struggles keeping the Rainbow Wahine at a deficit as the offense struggled to capitalize on chances on the net and scored only once in the defensive masterpiece of a quarter. 

Doyle pulled Hawai’i within three with her second goal of the contest coming a minute and a half into the final quarter, but an immediate answer from Cal’s Elena Flynn erased the effort quickly and gave the Bears a 9-5 lead. Still, Doyle wouldn’t allow the Rainbow Wahine to go quietly into the offseason as she completed her hat trick with her third goal of the game with 4:27 left in regulation. 

Hawai’i had another chance to pull within two with a penalty shot from five meters out with just under four minutes left, but it was saved and pushed wide of the post by Cal goal keeper Isabel Williams, who tallied 14 saves in the semifinal matchup and helped the Bears hold UH to a season-low in goals en route to the 9-6 victory for the 3rd-seed. 

Maryn Dempsey posted a hat trick of her own for the Bears, leading Cal with three scores while five other players found the back of the net for the hosting team. California advances to the national championship game to face the unbeaten top-seeded UCLA Bruins on Sunday. 

Hawai’i was led by Doyle’s trifecta of goals, her sixth hat trick of the season. Big West Player of the Year Bia Mantellato Dias followed closely with a pair of scores herself while senior Alba Bonamusa Boix closed her college career with one final goal for the Rainbow Wahine. 

“For this group, I think [this season] is historic,” Cole reflected on the year for Hawai’i. “We went undefeated in conference, the first time we had ever beaten Stanford, we beat USC twice. I mean, those are things that this group will never have taken away from them. This is the first time we’ve made [a national semifinal] in the new format, I know we’ve made it before but it’s harder to get here [now].” 

“I’ve been very proud to be a part of this team,” junior attacker Bernadette Doyle added. “We all worked really hard … I’m so happy I was able to be coached by Mo again and [associate head coach James Robinson]. It’s been a great year with the team, and we’ve just tried to make Hawai’i proud.” 

With the retirement of Cole, Robinson will step into the full-time head coaching role going forward for the Hawai’i Rainbow Wahine program. Much like Cole, Robinson is a three-time national champion from his playing days in the pool at UCLA and came to the UH program after helping on the staff that led the 2021 UCLA women’s water polo team to a national championship appearance. 

“I think Coach Robinson is the best that there is [and] that Hawai’i is in phenomenal hands,” an emotional Maureen Cole responded about the future of the program. “That is really why I’m at complete peace walking away. I always want to leave things better than I found it and I think I did that, and I think the program is going to be better off with him leading the program moving forward. I’m excited for him, he’s as good as they get.” 

Cal ends Hawai’i Rainbow Wahine season in WBIT opener, 65-60

Cal ends Hawai’i Rainbow Wahine season in WBIT opener, 65-60

Lily Wahinekapu handles the rock for Hawai’i in a home game. The junior lead guard scored a team-high 15 points in the season-ending loss to Cal in the WBIT. | Photo Credit: Michael Lasquero, HSRN

Cal ends Hawai’i Rainbow Wahine season in WBIT opener, 65-60

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED MAR 21, 2024

All good things must come to an end. 

The Hawai’i Rainbow Wahine (20-11) saw their 2023-24 season come to a close Thursday evening in Berkeley, California, falling to the 2nd-seeded Cal Golden Bears (19-14) in the opening round of the inaugural Women’s Basketball Invitation Tournament, 65-60. 

“I couldn’t be more proud of my team,” Hawai’i head coach Laura Beeman said to open her postgame press conference. “I thought we played very well today except for a few minutes in the 2nd quarter [when we scored four points].” 

For the second straight game, Hawai’i fell victim to an opponent making double-digit 3-pointers as Cal knocked down 11 triples, including seven after halftime, to help hold off a spirited Rainbow Wahine team that had multiple members feeling sick entering Day 17 of being on the road. 

After stumbling in the Big West Championships semifinals less than a week prior, Hawai’i was determined to put the disappointing end to conference to rest as MeiLani McBee got the Rainbow Wahine on the board on their opening possession after Cal’s Ugonne Onyiah started the scoring, tying the game at two just a minute in. 

UH took the team’s first lead of the day at the 7:17 mark as Olivia Davies drained a pair of free throws to put the Rainbow Wahine ahead, 6-4. The Golden Bears and ‘Bows traded baskets before seeing Cal jump back in front by three with 4:05 left in the opening quarter after Kemery Martin rattled off five straight points for the #2 seed to make it 11-8.  

The Rainbow Wahine returned fire with a 10-2 run over the final four minutes of the 1st quarter behind Brooklyn Rewers’ first two baskets of the game and the first long-distance make coming courtesy of Olivia Davies as UH entered the 2nd quarter up, 18-13. 

Cal grabbed control of the lead once again by drilling three 3-pointers to open the 2nd quarter, two coming from Leilani McIntosh, as Laura Beeman quickly called timeout after seeing her team fall down by four just two minutes into the frame. The timeout helped slow the Bears’ momentum as Hawai’i held the #2 seed scoreless over the next four minutes. 

The unfortunate part for UH was that their scoring drought continued through that stretch, finally scoring their first points of the quarter on an Imani Perez layup with 4:18 remaining in the opening half to bring the Rainbow Wahine back within a possession, 22-20. After Cal’s Onyiah split a pair of free throws, Lily Wahinekapu dropped a runner through just before the clock expired to make it a one-point game heading into the break. 

Hawai’i jumped back in front following halftime, drilling back-to-back tries from behind the arc to take a five-point lead just 90 seconds into the 3rd quarter. Cal sharpshooter Ioanna Krimili tied it at 29 with her first bucket of the night just about halfway through the period as part of the beginning stretches of an 11-1 run for the Bears. 

Wahinekapu worked her way to the cup for an and-one to snap the field goal drought for the Rainbow Wahine but missed the free throw after to make it 34-31. Another murky shooting stretch for UH allowed Cal to push the lead to a game-high 10 points before McBee drained a much-needed 3-pointer with 44 seconds left in the third to make the deficit seven, 41-34. Bears’ graduate transfer forward Ila Lane worked herself deep into the post to get fouled, knocking down a pair of free throws to give Cal a nine-point advantage heading into the final 10 minutes. 

Just as they had since the first practice of the season, Hawai’i fought back. 

Finally, Daejah Phillips got loose to begin the 4th quarter, sprinting into the frame with a layup and three consecutive makes from the charity stripe before Kelsie Imai spun home a tough layup to pull Hawai’i within a basket, 43-41, just 76 seconds into the action. 

Cal settled back with a couple of makes of their own from the foul line before Krimili worked into the midrange for a short jumper to push the lead back to six, but again the Rainbow Wahine responded as McBee drained another 3-pointer. 

Krimili and Bears’ freshman LuLu Laditan-Twidale continued to help keep UH at arms’ length with timely baskets despite the increasingly heavy offensive pressure that Wahinekapu and Phillips would put on as Laditan-Twidale drilled a triple with just under three minutes to play to give the Golden Bears an eight-point lead. 

Still, Hawai’i would not go away as Imani Perez answered back with a 3-pointer of her own before Wahinekapu came up with a steal and two makes at the free throw line to make it a one-possession game once again with 91 seconds to play.  

After fabulous freshman LuLu Laditan-Twidale calmly hit on two of three free throw attempts to push the Bears’ advantage back to five, it was again Perez swiftly swishing through a 3-pointer from the left wing to bring Hawai’i within two with 45 seconds left – well within striking distance for the program’s first postseason tournament win since 2001. 

An upset ultimately would not be in the cards for Laura Beeman’s squad as Kemery Martin stuck the dagger in the hearts of Rainbow Wahine fans with a tough right-wing three just before the end of the shot clock to make it 65-60 with just 18 ticks left. 

Hawai’i would get a quick (and quality) look for Perez with 11 seconds left that was just off the mark and the three subsequent putbacks rolled off the rim to see the end of the Rainbow Wahine season in Haas Pavillion, 65-60. 

“When you’re on the road and playing a team that’s supposed to beat you, you’ve got to beat teams, you can’t keep it close because you don’t know which way the whistle will go. I felt like we fought through a lot of great stuff today, we had a lot of people step up and I think we gave Cal a really good punch,” Beeman reflected of her team’s effort. 

Cal was led by Laditan-Twidale’s game-high 20 points – 12 coming in the 4th quarter – as the freshman missed just one shot all night with a 6-of-7 performance from the floor and 4-of-5 from 3-point range. While she was the only Golden Bear to finish in double figures, five other players finished with six or more points for Cal as the #2 seed advances to the 2nd round of the WBIT to take on #3 St. Joseph’s. 

Lily Wahinekapu bounced back in a big way after a tough shooting performance in the Big West Championships semifinals to lead Hawai’i with 15 points while shooting 60% from the floor. Forward Imani Perez also had a nice game for the Rainbow Wahine, adding 11 points and five rebounds with a team-best three 3-pointers in the loss. 

Daejah Phillips, who was still less than 100% after suffering an ankle injury in the Big West Championships semifinals and was feeling under the weather heading into the game, chipped in 10 points as the junior gave everything she had to try and deliver UH’s first postseason win under Laura Beeman. 

“I think the ankle was far less of an issue for her, Daejah has been sick all week and we didn’t even think she was going to play today. For her to be running a temperature and not be feeling well and get out of bed and come in this game just shows the fact that she loves her teammates,” Hawai’i’s 12th-year head coach said of the Big West 6th Player of the Year. “She wants to win. The ankle was an issue obviously, but she was going to play through that as well … we aren’t where we are without anybody on this team. Daejah’s a huge piece of that but so is everybody else, one through 15.” 

Hawai’i graduates two key rotation players in guards Ashley Thoms and Olivia Davies, both of whom started multiple games this season for the Rainbow Wahine, but expect to return the bulk of the roster for another run at a Big West Championship and spot in the NCAA Tournament in 2025. 

“I think we know what we need to work on individually and collectively,” Wahinekapu said heading into the offseason. “We’re trying to do big things next season.” 

“In moments like this – [it’s important] to not let our heads roll down and stay in our sadness, we’ve got to grow from it, learn from it, make those adjustments in the postseason and come back harder,” McBee added on. “That’s what we’re going to do next year, we are going to come back harder.” 

Hawai’i-Cal: Information for the Rainbow Wahine inaugural WBIT matchup

Hawai’i-Cal: Information for the Rainbow Wahine inaugural WBIT matchup

Hawai’i-Cal: Information for the Rainbow Wahine inaugural WBIT matchup

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED MAR 19, 2024

HONOLULU – Bears, ‘Bows, the first WBIT. 

The Rainbow Wahine will partake in a postseason tournament for the third straight year after clinching one of the Big West regular season or tournament titles. This year, Hawai’i earned an automatic bid into the first-ever Women’s Basketball Invitation Tournament from an outright Big West regular season crown after going 17-3 in conference play. 

Hawai’i found out on Selection Sunday that they would be staying on the west coast for a matchup against the Pac-12’s Cal Golden Bears in the opening round of the WBIT on Thursday, March 21, tipping off in Haas Pavilion at 4:00 p.m. HT. The Rainbow Wahine have been on the road and staying on the mainland since March 5 when they left for the final two road games of the regular season, going directly to Henderson, Nevada for the Big West Championship. In all, it will have been over two weeks since UH has been in Honolulu when they take the floor on Thursday. 

Ahead of Thursday’s 1st round contest, here’s everything you need to know about the matchup, tournament and little tidbits before opening tip-off: 

History of Hawai’i – California on the hardwood 

The Rainbow Wahine and Golden Bears will be facing off for the 11th time ever and first time in nearly a decade on Thursday. The last time Cal and Hawai’i played in women’s basketball was when the 14th-ranked Golden Bears came to O’ahu for the Bank of Hawai’i Rainbow Wahine Classic and narrowly escaped with a 79-72 victory back on Nov. 21, 2014, the home opener for UH in Beeman’s third season leading the program. 

Overall, Cal leads Hawai’i in the all-time series, winning six of the ten meetings. UH has only played at the University of California one time before Thursday’s contest, all the way back on Jan. 4, 1978, when Hawai’i fell, 71-40. The first ever meeting between the teams came in January of 1977 and the programs have been infrequent foes since. 

The 2023-24 University of California Golden Bears Women’s Basketball TLDR 

The Bears (18-14, 7-11 Pac-12) were victims of a stacked Pac-12 this year, finishing with Washington State tied for eighth in the conference. The top six finishers in the Pac-12 made the NCAA March Madness tournament as JuJu Watkins and USC received the top seed in the Portland 3 region while Arizona will play in the First Four as an #11 seed against Auburn in that same Portland 3.  

UCLA and Stanford each received #2 seeds on opposite sides of the bracket and Oregon State grabbed a #3 seed in the Albany 1 region, the same quarter of the bracket as Dawn Staley’s South Carolina – the tournament’s top overall seed. 

The only team that finished above the Bears during the regular season from the Pac-12 that didn’t make the NCAA Tournament is Washington, who will also participate in the inaugural WBIT this week.  

The Huskies are one of seven common opponents between the Rainbow Wahine and Cal, joining Big West opponents CSU Bakersfield and Cal Poly, aforementioned Pac-12 powerhouses Stanford and UCLA, the Mountain West’s San Jose State and typical WCC powerhouse Santa Clara. 

Cal went 1-1 in the Pac-12 tournament with a convincing opening round win over Washington State before falling to Stanford in the quarterfinals, the third time losing to the Cardinal this season. 

Who should you know on Cal? 

#32 Ioanna Krimili – Guard, 5-10, Graduate Student 

The Bears’ leading scorer this year, the graduate guard from Greece finished in double-digits 17 times this season with seven games going over 20 points. While she finished the season a little bit rocky (Krimili averaged 7.3 PPG on 18/61 FG in seven games since 2/16), the USF transfer can shoot it with the best of them. She’s the USF program leader in career 3-pointers made with 276 and added another 58 for Cal this year. 

#7 Marta Suárez – Forward, 6-3, Junior 

Another transfer that has been a big-time addition to the Bears, Suárez took a massive jump in production with a bigger opportunity this season. After averaging 4.9 PPG and 3.0 RPG as a redshirt sophomore at Tennessee, the 6-foot-3 forward made the move to the opposite side of the United States and took on a much bigger role. 

Just two years after suffering a season-ending lower body injury, Suárez played and started all 32 games this season for Cal. She’s doubled her totals from a season ago with her jump in playing time, averaging the 2nd-most points per game (11.7) while leading the team on the glass with 6.6 rebounds per contest. 

Leilani McIntosh – Guard, 5-5, Graduate Student 

A pillar of stability for the Cal program, McIntosh has played in 131 of 134 games over the past five seasons (started all 131 games) and sets the table well on both ends for the Golden Bears. The graduate student was an All-Pac-12 honorable mention last season and has received all-defensive team recognition in her career at Cal. 

It’s not hard to see why either as her defensive prowess has continued into this year. McIntosh leads the team with 53 steals this year, 17 more than the next closest Cal player, while being a production machine on the offensive end. The guard is the Bears’ 3rd-leading scorer while dishing out a team-best 156 assists (4.9 per game) this year. 

Extra information about what exactly is the Women’s Basketball Invitation Tournament 

Many questions have been asked about what exactly the WBIT is, when it started and how you get to play it. 

Never fear, a pretty simple breakdown is here: 

The WBIT (Women’s Basketball Invitation Tournament) is a new NCAA-sanctioned postseason tournament that takes 32 of the top teams in the country not invited to the NCAA Tournament (March Madness) and places them in a bracket against each other. Announced in Fall 2023, the tournament brings the number of NCAA postseason chances for collegiate women’s teams to over 100 without pay-to-play models. 

Teams that win their respective regular season conference titles but lose in their conference tournaments earn automatic bids into the WBIT while the other spots are filled with “at-large” bids that are determined by a committee.  

It is NOT the same tournament as the WNIT, which is not an NCAA-sanctioned postseason tournament and is run by an outside company. Confusion for fans typically comes from the similarity to the men’s National Invitation Tournament (NIT) which IS run by the NCAA. 

The WBIT creation was helped by a 2021 Gender Equity Report recommendation to help provide a similar amount of postseason chances as men’s basketball, continuing the skyrocketing popularity of women’s basketball as the tournament’s opening rounds will air on ESPN+ before the semifinals and championship work their way up to ESPNU and ESPN2 respectively.  

Learn more at the tournament’s official FAQ, here: https://www.ncaa.com/championships/basketball-women/wbit/faqs