Hawai’i keeps cool, downs Cal Poly late to keep atop Big West standings

Hawai’i keeps cool, downs Cal Poly late to keep atop Big West standings

UH forward Imani Perez drives to the hoop in a home contest for the Rainbow Wahine. Hawai’i beat Cal Poly on February 15, 59-47.

Hawai’i keeps cool, downs Cal Poly late to keep atop Big West standings

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED FEB 15, 2024

HONOLULU — Poise pays off. 

The Hawai’i Rainbow Wahine returned home Thursday night after a rough road loss to UC Davis last weekend and came together late to drop the Cal Poly Mustangs, 59-47. UH guard MeiLani McBee led all scorers with 21 points on the night, 12 coming in the fourth quarter to put the game away for the Rainbow Wahine. 

“I thought it was a great, gritty game by the girls particularly in [the fourth quarter]. Cal Poly plays incredibly hard, they’re very, very physical,” Hawai’i head coach Laura Beeman shared postgame. “I thought we played a little frustrated for the first three-and-a-half quarters and I don’t know why other than we wanted it to come easy and [Cal Poly] wasn’t going to let that happen.” 

Cal Poly jumped things off with a bucket on the Mustangs’ first possession, but Hawai’i quickly and calmly responded with seven of the next nine points to take a three-point advantage into the game’s first media timeout. The Rainbow Wahine continued chugging along offensively as they doubled the Cal Poly output by the quarter’s three-minute mark, 12-6, but the Mustangs would keep the game within a possession going into the second quarter after guard Annika Shah drained a three with just under 30 seconds to play in the first period. 

Visiting Cal Poly continued the momentum with five of the second quarter’s first seven points to knot things at 19, holding the Rainbow Wahine without a point for over four minutes after Lily Wahinekapu’s short jumper to open the frame. UH guard Daejah Phillips got herself going shortly after the second-quarter media timeout by scoring the next five Rainbow Wahine points to push Hawai’i back out in front before connecting with Jacque David on a post-seal feed for a layup to give UH a seven-point lead with just over two minutes remaining the opening half. Once again, Cal Poly’s Shah showed out with late-clock heroics to drill a step back triple to bring the Mustangs within two scores before Wahinekapu got a turnaround jumper to drop at the buzzer to head into the locker room up six, 28-22.  

Hawai’i maintained that six-point halftime lead through the first four minutes out of halftime, trading basket for basket and point for point with Cal Poly before Amanda Olinger’s three from the top of the key made it a three-point game with 5:41 left in the third quarter. The Rainbow Wahine responded after the period’s media timeout with four straight points to push their lead out to seven, but a Sidney Richards’ layup and Sierra Lichtie’s two makes from the charity stripe to close the quarter brought the Mustangs within three entering the fourth, 38-35. 

The visitors continued rolling through the quarter break, taking Cal Poly’s first lead since the opening moments of the contest as Richards drained a pair of free throws to make it 39-38 in favor of the Mustangs. Hawai’i snatched the lead right back as Wahinekapu got the hoop-and-harm to regain a two-point advantage on the next possession. Cal Poly’s Olinger put back her own miss with 5:42 left to play to knot things at 41 momentarily before Hawai’i’s McBee drained her second triple of the night to give a 44-41 lead to the Rainbow Wahine going into the night’s final media timeout.  

Ashley Thoms, who had been battered and bruised all night, hustled around a Mustangs’ screen to force an offensive foul before Kelsie Imai found a cutting McBee backdoor for an and-one to extend the Rainbow Wahine lead back out to six. Cal Poly’s Shah knocked down a three on the following possession to bring the Mustangs within a possession with 4:01 left to play, but that was the closest the visitors would get for the remainder of the night as Sydney Bourland was assessed a technical foul and McBee scored six points in 15 seconds of game action to suddenly give the Rainbow Wahine breathing room. 

“Losing your poise costs you seven points,” Hawai’i’s Beeman said postgame in reference to the Rainbow Wahine’s ability to stay calm down the stretch in a physical game. “You know, we sunk the free throws. We’ve been in a position in the past where we maybe would’ve lost our poise and putting them to the free throw line… [There is] a difference between playing with emotions and playing emotional and I think we played with great emotion tonight, but we did not get emotional.” 

With newfound comfort in the lead, Hawai’i closed out the final minute and a half with six more points while knocking down all four foul shots attempts for the Rainbow Wahine’s sixth Big West win holding an opponent below the half-century mark, 59-47. 

Cal Poly was led by guard Annika Shah’s 14 points on three 3-point makes and 5-of-13 shooting overall in the loss. The Mustangs were held to a rocky 33% shooting from the floor across 51 shots, going 6-of-19 from distance as Cal Poly fell for just the fourth time in Big West play. 

UH McBee’s 21 points led all scorers as the junior guard poured in 12 points in the final quarter to help push the Rainbow Wahine over the top. Sophomore forward Imani Perez added 10 rebounds and four blocks to go along with her five points across just three shots in the win. 

Hawai’i returns to the hardwood Saturday night for “Beeman’s Big Bash” and a rematch of last year’s Big West Tournament championship game when UC Santa Barbara comes to town. General admission tickets for the game are $7, while seniors can save a couple bucks on the price of a ticket at just $5. Keiki are FREE as the Rainbow Wahine attempt to set the attendance record inside SimpliFi Arena at Stan Sheriff Center for a Laura Beeman-coached game for Hawai’i.