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 

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.” 

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. 

“Beeman’s Big Bash” smashing success as Hawai’i beats UCSB in front of record-setting crowd

“Beeman’s Big Bash” smashing success as Hawai’i beats UCSB in front of record-setting crowd

Hawai’i Rainbow Wahine celebrate during UH’s 68-64 win over UC Santa Barbara. Hawai’i set a new attendance record under HC Laura Beeman with 4,080 fans in attendance on Feb. 17, 2024. | Photo Credit: Michael Lasquero, HSRN

“Beeman’s Big Bash” smashing success as Hawai’i beats UCSB in front of record-setting crowd

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED FEB 17, 2024

HONOLULU – Laura Beeman said earlier in the week that she hadn’t allowed herself to think about the possibility of what a perfect week looked like leading up to a brand-new event that hoped to display the back-to-back Big West tournament champion Rainbow Wahine to the largest crowd in Beeman’s 12 seasons.  

How could she? Her team had a high-quality Cal Poly squad coming to the islands on Thursday and an arguably even-better team in UC Santa Barbara to close out the week to worry about before she could think about postgame Saturday. Nonetheless, she was honored that the school would put on an entire evening in her name and even more excited at the prospect of an “electric atmosphere” for the young women representing the University of Hawai’i. 

“Honestly, and I don’t know if you’re going to believe me or not, I haven’t thought about that trifecta [of beating Cal Poly, UCSB and setting the attendance record],” Beeman chuckled back on Tuesday. “If all of those things happen, ask me after that [UC Santa Barbara] game. I’m sure I’d be emotional about it.” 

Well, she was. 

The Hawai’i Rainbow Wahine (15-9, 12-3 Big West) completed the perfect trifecta Beeman alluded to on that Tuesday, outlasting the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos (16-9, 10-5 Big West) in front of a Beeman-era record of 4,080 fans that entered through the turnstiles Saturday night, 68-64. 

The goal had been set far in advance to try and break the attendance record for a single-game Rainbow Wahine contest under the longtime head coach of 3,491 fans in the building that came back on senior night for Hawai’i at the conclusion of the 2014-15 season, her third at the helm of UH. The overall program record was set back in February of 1998 when 6,192 fans joined together to cheer on the Rainbow Wahine. 

With the Beeman-era record of more than four thousand fans in the building for tip-off, Laura Beeman and the team knew they were in for a special night very early. 

“Coming out from the locker room … walking out and hearing the ovation that the players got, and the staff got, I think at that moment I was like ‘Oh, this might be for real because there’s a lot of people here tonight,’” The 12th-year Hawai’i head coach smiled in her postgame press conference.  

The packed Stan Sheriff Center crowd made an impact from the opening possession of the game as Hawai’i forced a shot-clock violation and followed it with Ashley Thoms finding Imani Perez for the game’s first points. UCSB responded with eight straight points as both Alexis Whitfield and Anya Choice got into the scorebook for the first time, watching some Hawai’i nerves on display as the Rainbow Wahine shots rimmed out. 

The entrance of Daejah Phillips quickly changed UH’s fortunes as the junior guard rattled off 11 consecutive points for the Rainbow Wahine to suddenly ignite the jam-packed crowd’s energy, pushing Hawai’i out in front by five with 2:43 left. Her final bucket of the 11-point flurry also pushed the junior over the 1,000 career-point mark as the Las Vegas native became the 24th player in program history to eclipse the milestone. 

“Daejah’s a winner,” Beeman simply stated about the star junior guard. “She doesn’t think about the moment, she is just in the moment and when you can play in the moment, you do extraordinary things. Daejah has a tendency to just be in the moment and do extraordinary things … In my entire career, she’s up at the top of kids that I’m proud of for their growth and just for how she loves her teammates, how she loves her staff and how she loves herself.” 

Despite the pressure of Phillips and the loud crowd, the battle-tested Gauchos turned up the defensive heat to hold hosting Hawai’i scoreless for the remainder of the first quarter to send the game into the second quarter tied at 13. 

Thoms put the Rainbow Wahine back in front by three with her first make of the night coming from behind the arc to start the second, but Whitfield had the answer a minute later to knot it up at 16. The Gauchos’ all-conference forward hit another triple three minutes later as UCSB went up by five ahead of the media timeout and forced a timeout from Hawai’i. 

The break helped the Wahine stop the bleeding, coming out of the stoppage with three of the next four buckets to make it a two-point game with three minutes left in the first half before the continued hot shooting from long range for the visiting Gauchos saw a pair of 3-pointers drop through to push the lead back to eight. 

Lily Wahinekapu, the team’s scoring leader this season, finally got on the board with a 3-pointer of her own with just over a minute before halftime that brought Hawai’i back within five and settled the nerves of everyone just a bit. 

“I think the crowd got her a little bit in the first half,” Beeman said of the ‘Iolani alum and starting point guard for the Rainbow Wahine. “For whatever reason, the lights weren’t as bright for her in the second half, and she was able to get to the basket. You know, hit a big three, [too].” 

Wahinekapu quickly took over to open the third quarter, rattling off five straight points to knot things at 32 before she found Olivia Davies on the right wing to put the Wahine out in front once again and force a timeout from UCSB’s head coach Bonnie Henrickson just 77 seconds into the second half. 

Hawai’i continued the break-neck pace out of the locker rooms as Thoms got in on the long-range fun herself with a triple from the left corner out of the timeout, pushing UH ahead by six, 38-32. UCSB’s Choice and Whitfield got a pair of layups to go to bring the Gauchos back within a possession with 6:48 left in the third and took the lead two minutes later as Choice got to the cup again to make it 41-40 in favor of the visitors. 

Whitfield drilled a three and got a tough turnaround to go to extend the Gauchos’ lead to five, 46-41, before an onslaught from the three-guard Hawai’i lineup of Phillips, Wahinekapu and McBee helped the Rainbow Wahine take a one-point advantage into the fourth, 48-47. 

Wahinekapu and Hawai’i continued rolling to open the final frame as the guard scored five points in a row after Jacque David got the Rainbow Wahine to the 50-point mark to open the quarter and take an eight-point lead. UCSB guard Mary McMorris got a layup to drop in for the Gauchos’ first points of the fourth, coming more than two minutes into the action. 

Again, Wahinekapu answered with five points in a row for UH, scoring 10 consecutive points for the Rainbow Wahine in total as the team maintained the eight-point advantage. After Phillips hit a pair of free throws, Thoms and Perez connected on a play identical to the start of the game to give Hawai’i an 11-point lead with 5:35 left to play and send the Stan Sheriff Center faithful into a frenzy.  

Once more, the Gauchos’ 3-point marksmanship was on display as Choice and Jessica Grant hit back-to-back triples to pull UCSB back within five with four minutes remaining. Zoe Borter’s short jumper with 3:03 to play made it a three-point affair before UH’s Phillips calmly knocked down a couple free throws with 53 seconds left to make it five again. 

Four straight missed free throws for Hawai’i put slight panic in the crowd after another three went down for Grant to pull the Gauchos within two with 29 seconds left, but MeiLani McBee sent the packed house of Rainbow Wahine fans home happy after icing the game with a pair of makes from the charity stripe – clinching the aforementioned “perfect trifecta” for Laura Beeman’s team. 

So, what was it like for the head woman who had refused to imagine it a moment before the final buzzer? 

“Obviously, a very memorable night for me personally. To have so many people come out… I know it was for these kids; I also know a bit of it was for me and that really, really means a lot to me. Twelve years I’ve been here; I miss my California family, but Hawai’i fills the hole pretty good. To have this many people here tonight… I promise you my mom was in tears on the couch watching this and just the tribute to this team and the program and the hard work,” an emotional, happy Laura Beeman said. 

“I just cannot, I don’t have enough of the right words – *chuckle* I probably need [Spectrum Sports play-by-play talent Kanoa Leahey] for this – to just thank people and my appreciation just runs incredibly deep,” the longtime head coach continued. 

UC Santa Barbara shot an astounding 41.4% from behind the 3-point arc across 29 attempts, perhaps the only sour taste left in the mouth of the Rainbow Wahine on an otherwise perfect night. 

“As far as the game goes, we gave up 36 points from [3-point range]. That’s not something we do, we’re much better from behind the arc,” Beeman said of UH’s defense of the arc. “We need to figure some things out defensively, we’ve kind of stalled and we need to get back to much better defense.” 

The Gauchos were led by another monster Whitfield double-double as the forward posted 21 points and 17 rebounds in a losing effort. Anya Choice and Jessica Grant each poured in 15 points for the visitors, combining for eight of the 12 3-pointers on the night for UCSB. 

Daejah Phillips and Lily Wahinekapu combined for 42 points as the backcourt duo became the first pair of Rainbow Wahine players to score 20 or more points in a game since Amy Atwell and Kallin Spiller did it versus Portland State back on November 21, 2021. Phillips had a game-high 22 points as the junior moved into 23rd all-time on the Rainbow Wahine scoring ladder, passing Val Agee (‘89-’93) on a spectacular night.  

“I thought Daejah Phillips had an amazing first half. She carried us, got her 1,000th point, which is pretty spectacular to do that in one of the biggest-attended games ever,” Laura Beeman beamed about the junior. 

UH got an additional 10 points and eight rebounds from Imani Perez as the 6-foot-4 sophomore once again showed off her continued efficiency with a 5-of-9 night shooting from the floor. 

With the win, the Rainbow Wahine continue to sit atop the entire Big West conference with a 12-3 record since league play began. Hawai’i stays half-a-game ahead of UC Irvine in the win column while holding the season tiebreaker against the Anteaters after the series sweep. 

UH will return to action next Saturday, hitting the road for a matchup against Long Beach State in a rare one-game week for the Rainbow Wahine. Laura Beeman’s squad returns to the Stan Sheriff Center on February 29 to host UC Davis, one of three teams to beat the Wahine this season out of the Big West. 

“I hope fans come back,” Beeman confessed. “I hope they see what we’re trying to build here and the excitement that was in this place… It was electric [tonight].”