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 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.” 

Beeman collects 200th UH win as Rainbow Wahine beat Cal State Bakersfield

Beeman collects 200th UH win as Rainbow Wahine beat Cal State Bakersfield

UH Rainbow Wahine HC Laura Beeman looks on during “Beeman’s Big Bash” on Feb. 17. The 12th-year head coach picked up her 200th win at UH in Hawai’i’s regular-season finale at CSU Bakersfield on March 9. | Photo Credit: Michael Lasquero, HSRN

Beeman collects 200th UH win as Rainbow Wahine beat Cal State Bakersfield

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED MAR 9, 2024

BAKERSFIELD, CA – Two bills for Laura Beeman. 

The 12th-year head coach secured her 200th win as the head coach of the Hawai’i Rainbow Wahine basketball program Saturday afternoon, becoming the second head coach in program history to hit the milestone (Vincent Goo, 334 wins) as UH clinched their third Big West regular season crown under Beeman and fifth overall. While the Rainbow Wahine clinched a share of the regular season title on Thursday with a win over CSUN, Saturday’s victory delivered lone possession of the top of the conference as the regular season ends. 

“The locker room was amazing, these kids are truly amazing,” the longtime head coach said after the game. “To win a conference championship outright, the way these kids did it, I could not be more proud and this staff could not be more proud. These guys get it done and we’re really excited to end our regular season this way.” 

Hawai’i drilled a season-high 17 3-pointers, one short of the UH WBB program record for a single game, as the Rainbow Wahine walloped CSU Bakersfield on the road in the regular-season finale, 85-48. The 85 points for UH mark a season-high and the second time this year they have eclipsed the 80-point threshold. 

Though they rested senior guard Olivia Davies, the Rainbow Wahine enjoyed the return of sophomore Imani Perez after the 6-foot-4 forward missed the previous three games after suffering a lower-leg injury late against Long Beach State on February 24. It was the first time all season that Hawai’i had all three of the Jacque David, Brooklyn Rewers and Perez active for the same game.  

“It was just amazing to see the chemistry and see that they’re all feeling good and getting back, comfortable playing on the court and playing together,” Hawai’i assistant coach Khalilah Mitchell, who Beeman says oversees a majority of rotations and substitutions, said of the frontcourt trio finally getting to play in the same game together. “[It’s been good for us] just seeing what lineups work with each other to see what we have to do as we go through the tournament, to see who is going to be the best lineups for who our opponents are.” 

Hawai’i blitzed Bakersfield early, making the team’s first nine shots – the first being Perez knocking down a free-throw line jumper – on the way to a 25-14 lead after 10 minutes of action. Daejah Phillips and the Rainbow Wahine defense keyed the run as the junior guard scored nine points in the opening frame and UH held the Roadrunners to just 23.5% shooting from the field. 

The Roadrunners saw UH continue to grow the lead, pushing it all the way to 19 after MeiLani McBee cashed in on her first triple of the afternoon before CSUB’s offense finally awoke. An 11-2 run to close the first half for Cal State Bakersfield helped bring the margin back to 10 at the break, 37-27.  

Perez opened the 2nd half with a 3-pointer of her own, foreshadowing the upcoming onslaught of triples the Rainbow Wahine would rain down in the third quarter. UH’s Ashley Thoms rang in from deep right before Phillips did the same on the next possession to give a 14-point lead to Hawai’i just over three minutes out of the break. 

Then, it was suddenly Lily Wahinekapu’s world. 

The junior standout scored 11 of the next 13 points for Hawai’i as the Rainbow Wahine lead pushed over the 20-point mark with just under two minutes left in the 3rd quarter. Wahinekapu knocked down three 3-pointers in the frame to make it a 22-point lead before McBee showed off the shooters’ touch on back-to-back 3-pointers to end the period up by 28. 

Hawai’i refused to take the foot off the gas pedal once the final frame began as freshman forward Vivienne Berrett pushed the Rainbow Wahine lead to 30 with her first bucket of the day and fellow freshie Jade Peacock drilled another three for the first two 4th quarter possessions for UH. 

“This is what we wanted to do,” Beeman said postgame about her team’s impressive performance. “We talked about it as a staff that we wanted to have a dominating last game going into [the Big West Tournament]. We did not want there to be any doubt that we are the number one team in this conference from start to finish.” 

Wahinekapu put home two more jumpers to push her point total to 22, a season-high for the junior, as Hawai’i watched the lead grow to nearly 40 over the final minutes before a few CSU Bakersfield baskets right before the end allowed the Roadrunners to escape without becoming the lowest point total allowed for UH this season with 48 points. 

David would close the fun on the day for the Rainbow Wahine with one last long-range make from the left corner for UH’s 17th 3-pointer of the game, setting a new season-high and falling just one make short of the program record 18 3-pointers in a single game as Hawai’i won their 17th conference game of the year and 20th overall, 85-48. 

“I think that the seeding committee definitely takes a look at how you’re playing at the end [of the regular season],” Beeman said when asked about the significance of reaching the 20-win threshold. “We wanted to get to that 20th win for the seeding, for the championship, for the state of Hawai’i, for these kids… that’s what we’re pushing for, for sure.”  

Phillips added 12 points in the win for the Rainbow Wahine, who saw 10 different players score throughout the game and eight different players make a 3-pointer. The “team” aspect of UH was on display all day, tallying 20 assists on 31 made field goals. 

Hawai’i enters the Big West Tournament with a double-bye, riding a seven-game winning streak as they await in the tournament semifinals. UH will play the first of the two semifinal games on March 15 with tip-off scheduled for 9 a.m. HT, looking to return to the Big West Tournament championship game for the third straight season and defend their back-to-back conference tournament crowns. 

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].”