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.” 

Short-handed Hawai’i fights by CSU Fullerton despite Lewis’ season-high

Short-handed Hawai’i fights by CSU Fullerton despite Lewis’ season-high

Hawai’i guard Daejah Phillips pulls up for a jumper during the second half of the Rainbow Wahine’s 66-61 win over CSU Fullerton. | Photo Credit: Michael Lasquero, HSRN

Short-handed Hawai’i fights by CSU Fullerton despite Lewis’ season-high

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED FEB 1, 2024

HONOLULU — Just another night in the Stan. 

Down two starters that stand over 6-foot-4, it took some time for UH to figure out the size and strength of Ashlee Lewis and Cal State Fullerton on Thursday night.  

For Hawai’i, figuring out challenges of changing personnel within the ebbs and flows of the season is nothing new, so they just turned to the backcourt for help. 

The Hawai’i Rainbow Wahine (11-8, 8-2 Big West) used the hot-handed backcourt of Lily Wahinekapu and Daejah Phillips to eek out a home victory over the CSU Fullerton Titans (7-13, 3-7 Big West), 66-61. The backcourt duo combined for 36 of the Rainbow Wahine’s 66 total points, 30 of which came after the halftime break, as Laura Beeman’s squad remained tied atop the Big West with UC Irvine, posting their eighth win in ten conference games. 

Forward Jacque David, starting in place for usual standout Imani Perez for the first time this season and first time since suffering a season-ending injury during the 2022-23 season, got the scoring started for both sides with a left-wing three-pointer for her first long-range make in just five games of action this season. 

CSU Fullerton responded with an 11 straight points as the home squad struggled to find the touch on the jump shot, going up by eight just over halfway through the opening quarter. Following the first media break of the night, the Rainbow Wahine ripped off an 8-2 run of their own to cut the Titans’ lead to two before CSUF’s Hope Hassmann beat the first quarter buzzer with a left-wing three to go into the second up, 16-11.

Hawai’i tied the game with just under six minutes left in the first half as Meilani McBee drained her first three of the night, making it 18-all before Fujika Nimmo answered on the following possession to put the visitors back in front by a trifecta. After a couple of traded baskets, UH’s Jade Peacock got a decent look just before the halftime horn that went off the mark as the ‘Bows entered halftime trailing, 25-22. 

The Rainbow Wahine started the second half the same as the first as David knocked home her second three-pointer of the night to knot things momentarily at 25, stacking that on top of a forced shot-clock violation on the other end before CSUF rattled off six points in a row to reclaim the lead. Behind former Titan and newly-minted 1,000-point collegiate scorer Lily Wahinekapu, UH tied the game once again at 33 about midway through the quarter. 

Hawai’i finally re-took the lead with just over a minute left in the third as Daejah Phillips took over, driving by Ashlee Lewis for a right-handed layup before drilling a right-corner three to push the Rainbow Wahine ahead, 43-42. CSUF’s Eva Levingston knocked down a pair of free throws on the other end to push the away squad ahead but again, Phillips would answer with two points of her own – giving Hawai’i a one-point lead heading into the final quarter of play. 

Wahinekapu began the final 10 minutes with another bucket, extending the UH advantage to three before Levingston knotted it back up at 47. The forward for the Titans fouled out just a few possessions later as the “Daejah Show” continued with a foray to the cup, plus the foul, to make it 51-51 with just under six minutes remaining. Kelsie Imai pushed Hawai’i back out in front with a pair of makes from the charity stripe and Phillips rattled off back-to-back buckets to make it a six-point lead for the Rainbow Wahine with 3:18 left to play.  

The Titans wouldn’t concede the contest to Hawai’i quite yet, playing the foul game to extend the clock as Lewis put up a pair of baskets while UH missed four consecutive free throws to make the Stan Sheriff Center crowd on hand sweat a bit before Phillips, Imai and Wahinekapu closed things out from the line to keep the Rainbow Wahine perfect at home since conference play began, taking down CSU Fullerton, 66-61. 

CSU Fullerton’s Ashlee Lewis posted a season-best 25 points to go along with 13 rebounds, leading both teams in those categories. Hope Hassman chipped in 11 points on 4-of-8 shooting in the loss for the Titans. 

Hawai’i’s Phillips also posted a season-high in points with 22 in just 26 minutes, showing potential as a small-ball forward after Beeman experimented with Phillips and McBee staffing the four and five positions down Brooklyn Rewers and Imani Perez. MeiLani McBee closed the night with 11 points, going just 1-of-7 from distance but providing excellent post defense without fouling late to help lead the Rainbow Wahine to the win. 

The victory sets up an exciting Saturday night clash of the Big West’s best as Hawai’i welcomes UC Irvine into Mānoa for a first-place bout. Both teams are currently tied atop the conference standings with identical 8-2 records in Big West play, though the Anteaters did not play Thursday night after Cal Poly was forced to forfeit the contest and enter Saturday in the islands with just one game that needed to prep for this week. 

“I think knowing that we missed an opportunity to defend home court last year [versus UC Irvine] … knowing what they had to prepare for this week? It’s going to be personal,” McBee said ahead of Saturday’s matchup. 

Hawaii starts conference play, ends 2023 with 10-point win at Cal State Fullerton

Hawaii starts conference play, ends 2023 with 10-point win at Cal State Fullerton

Hawaii starts conference play, ends 2023 with 10-point win at Cal State Fullerton

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED DEC 30, 2023

Daejah who, vu, don’t be blue.

For the third consecutive season, Hawai’i women’s basketball has won their conference-opener. For the ninth straight time, Hawai’i women’s basketball has defeated Cal State Fullerton on the hardwood.

Jokes aside, the Hawai’i Rainbow Wahine (4-6, 1-0 Big West) closed out the 2023 calendar year in style, picking up a road conference win by taking down Cal State Fullerton (5-7, 1-1 Big West) on the mainland Saturday afternoon, 59-49. The victory also was the first road win of the year for the Rainbow Wahine, who had previously fallen at #2 UCLA, #9 Stanford and a Santa Clara squad that sits at 12-3 heading into 2024 in three previous road contests. 

More impressive, UH did so without the services of one their leading scorers in guard Daejah Phillips, who did not suit up for the conference-opener for the Rainbow Wahine. Phillips could be seen on the end of the bench, engaged in the game and cheering on teammates despite missing her first game of the year. 

It looked like Hawai’i would struggle without the shot-making prowess of the junior early on as CSU Fullerton held the ‘Bows scoreless for the game’s first four minutes before UH’s Kelsie Imai got a layup to go to get the visitors on the board to provide a spark. 

The spark quickly turned into flames as MeiLani McBee and Ashley Thoms drained back-to-back triples to push Hawai’i in front, 8-4, with 4:11 remaining in the opening frame. The Rainbow Wahine flexed the defensive tenacity that has become a calling card in the past two Big West-winning seasons by allowing just one basket in the final six minutes of the first quarter and extending the lead to 13-6 after 10 minutes of action — forcing seven Titans’ turnovers in the process. 

The complimentary basketball on both sides of the court for Hawai’i trickled into the second quarter as Lily Wahinekapu’s steal and score opened action in the period and set the tone for the Rainbow Wahine to grow the advantage to a game-high 14 points ahead of halftime after another steal and score by Wahinekapu with seven seconds left in the first half. 

Hawai’i’s Imai led the charge through 20 minutes for the Rainbow Wahine, filling up the box sheet with eight points, four steals and three assists off the bench to help fill the void felt by the loss of usual “Energizer-Bunny” in Phillips. Thoms came off the pine for UH as well and added a game-best nine points on a perfect 3-of-3 shooting from distance in the first half. 

Cal State Fullerton used a pair of Fujika Nimmo makes from range to open the second half quickly, going on a 7-0 run in just two minutes of game action to cut the Hawai’i lead in half and force a timeout. The momentum shift continued through the break in the action with another Nimmo triple to cut it to four before UH’s Brooklyn Rewers got a look inside to go for the ‘Bows first points since the break. 

The Titans brought it within two before Thoms drilled her career-best fourth three-pointer of the contest to give the Rainbow Wahine breathing room with a five-point lead with 5:11 left in the quarter. After Nimmo cut it to a one-possession game again, it would be McBee with the “Midas Touch” from distance putting Hawai’i up by six with 3:28 left in the third quarter, 41-35. The teams traded late-shot clock makes to close out the quarter, but it was the visiting Rainbow Wahine leading by five with 10 minutes left in regulation. 

When it turned to winning time, the battle-tested ‘Bows (both from past seasons and the challenging non-conference schedule) turned up the defensive heat again, holding CSU Fullerton without a point for the first six minutes and 52 seconds of the fourth while extending the lead into double-digits for the first time since the opening moments of the second half. CSU-Fullerton’s Ashlee Lewis ended the scoring drought for the Titans, but it was too little, too late for the hosts, who dropped to 1-1 in conference play. 

Hawai’i, who has seen rebounding struggles throughout the first nine games, won the battle on the glass versus CSU Fullerton, 42-33, while flexing an impressive bench unit that produced 25 of 59 points for UH.

CSU-Fullerton was led by Nimmo’s game-high 17 points on 5-of-10 shooting from long range, though the guard was just 6-for-17 overall from the floor. The Titans committed 15 turnovers on the afternoon, though just five came after halftime. 

Hawai’i’s Ashley Thoms had a season-high 12 points on the career-best four three-pointers off the bench in the win. Junior guard Kelsie Imai finished with nine points, five rebounds, four assists and four steals and was a +13 in her 23 minutes off the bench, helping the Rainbow Wahine finish 2023 on the right foot and head into 2024 flying high (and back to the islands) with a win.