They could’ve won it all.
That was still how some members of the Hawaii women’s basketball team felt upon arrival back at the Manoa campus on Friday morning, fresh off a disappointing flight home due to the cancellation of the Big West and NCAA tournaments because of the coronavirus threat.
The Rainbow Wahine saw their season come to an unfulfilling end at 16-14 after beating Cal State Fullerton convincingly, 72-59, in the Big West second round Wednesday, earning a date with second-seeded UC Santa Barbara in Friday’s would-be semifinals. That was a team UH had beaten on the road and came within 0.2 seconds of edging at home.
After Thursday’s heartbreaking news, the Rainbow Wahine spent some time together, then many players went their separate ways to be with family. Most of the staff, including coach Laura Beeman, came back the morning after the UH men made a speedy flight home Thursday night.
“It has been a whirlwind. Before we left (Hawaii), we knew things were moving quickly,” Beeman said. “When we hit the mainland, how things just exponentially exploded was amazing just to watch this entire thing unfold. Literally it was minute by minute. Things were changing. The biggest thing for me, my kids are safe. They’re back home with their families. A few of them came back here. But they’re safe.
“Now, they’re just going to have to deal with this emotionally. And nothing’s going to change how they feel, other than time. It is truly like a broken heart. If you lose a game, you at least were able to compete. You know you gave it your best and at least you were given the opportunity. These guys weren’t given the opportunity. And so there’s nothing you can do but sit this one out, be sad, work through it, take care of your mental health, and the sun comes up.”
Players Julissa Tago and Amy Atwell were among those to come directly back to campus.
Tago scored 15 in her final game and finishes at 20th in program history in scoring at 1,025 points (the correct numbers, not the ones listed in the Twitter video below). She’s third all-time in 3-pointers at 140 and left with the single-season (66) and single-game (eight) 3s records.
But that was of little solace to her on Friday.
Guard Julissa Tago played her last #HawaiiWBB game in the Big West tournament second round, ending on a win and as the 21st-leading scorer in program history with 1,021 points.
“That’s the most important thing, that we got to finish it together.” pic.twitter.com/e6xNAfFLcw
— Hawaii Warrior World (@hawaiiwworld) March 14, 2020
woke up this morning hoping that i wouldn’t feel sad anymore….it hurts.
my advice to any student athlete is to never take this time of your life for granted. cherish those around you because the feeling of being on a team will almost never feel this way again.
— Julissa Tago (@jaytago66) March 13, 2020
Atwell was the best 3-point shooter in the Big West, sinking 63 on 45.3% shooting. She would’ve set the Wahine single-season record for makes were it not for her best friend Tago, but she also goes in as the third-best long-range marksman in a season, behind only Melanie Azama (51.6%, 1991-92) and Kylie Page (48.5%, 1997-98).
One could argue that Atwell had the best 3-point-shooting season in program history, given her combination of makes and efficiency.
She, too, was not yet over the disappointing, sudden ending.
#HawaiiWBB junior forward Amy Atwell finished the season shooting 45.3% on 3s, third-best in UH history, while sinking the second-most in a season (63) behind only Tago’s 66.
“(The seniors) didn’t know their last game was going to be their last game. My heart breaks for them.” pic.twitter.com/T58XEJe61y
— Hawaii Warrior World (@hawaiiwworld) March 14, 2020
Tago and fellow seniors Courtney Middap and Savannah Reier might not necessarily be done at UH just yet, although much would have to happen for them to come back with another year of eligibility from the NCAA. Tago in particular seeks a pro career post-college.
UConn coach Geno Auriemma, a legend in the women’s game, called for seniors to be reinstated.
“I mean, it’s a possibility,” Tago said. “Right now I’m focusing on my next step, like playing pro and stuff. But it does come up, it’s something to think about, for sure. I wouldn’t not consider it, because I think it’s a good opportunity for anybody. But we’ll see what happens. There’s not really an official statement yet, so it’s hard. Just trying to soak it in and get through these next couple of weeks, for sure.”
Beeman said, “I think it has to be looked at. I’m in favor of that, 100%. But there are a lot of financial implications that come with that. Roster spots and scholarship opportunities, and kids who want to go play overseas, and have they already talked to an agent. There’s just a lot of unintended consequences whenever you make statements, whenever you make knee-jerk decisions. I think that’s a great suggestion. I would like to see all the consequences, good and bad, that come out of that before a decision is made, obviously. I think things are very, very fluid right now.
“To have Sav and J and Courtney back, are you kidding me, that would be a very good situation out of something so terrible.”
One last note: For the first time since 1983-84, UH ended the season on a win. That year was the last before UH joined its first conference — the forerunner of the Big West, the Pacific Coast Athletic Alliance.