By Paul Honda
A week ago, Laura Beeman saw her Rainbow Wahine struggle in an 82-74 loss to Division II national powerhouse Hawaii Pacific.
Hawaii’s loss to the long-range gunners of HPU was an eye-opener in the first of two nonconference games on the COVID-19 ravaged schedule.
It wasn’t in the plan to lose, but Beeman had already chosen the right path for her team, which includes six freshmen. She let them travel home for Thanksgiving weekend.
“We knew coming back we would have only a few days for practice. We knew we were way out of shape,” Beeman said on Sunday after Hawaii’s 71-54 win over UH-Hilo. “Tonight is much, much better. We’re at about 85 percent. Still not in game shape, but it is what it is with this kind of season.”
Before nonconference play, SI.com quoted the ninth-year Hawaii coach as she wondered aloud whether the price and risk were worthwhile. As women’s and men’s teams across the nation navigated through a deadly pandemic. If the vibe sounds familiar, perhaps Beeman is channeling her inner Coach K.
Or maybe Coach K, better known as legendary Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, was channeling his inner Coach Beeman. It was much the same message that Krzyzewski had shared recently about the need of his players to be home for the holidays in a uniquely stressful time.
The show, so to speak, has gone on for schools everywhere. Unless your game is cancelled, keep playing.
Now, Beeman and staff are preparing for a holiday trip to California, where COVID-19 cases and fatalities are at peak rates. The Rainbow Wahine fly on Christmas Day to Los Angeles, then drive out of the city. They play Cal Poly this Sunday in the Big West Conference opener.
“We’ll be finding testing sites, then five hours in the plane, 45 minutes driving after we land. Then we have to get our legs ready. Poly is one of the most physical teams in the conference. Their guards are all-conference level players,” Beeman said. “We have to make sure we stay safe and stay in our routine.”
Hawaii got a big thumbs-up from freshman Daejah Phillips, who was consistently persistent. The 5-foot-10 wing from Centennial High School (Las Vegas) scored 22 points, including 18 in the pivotal second half as UH went on a 20-0 run.
Off the court, Phillips is a bit shy around media. Even via Zoom. Hawaii’s assistant media relations director Eric Mathews alerted the virtual, post-game crowd that Phillips doesn’t necessary say a lot. She shot 8-for-13 from the field, 6-for-8 from the foul line, and had eight rebounds, four assists and only two turnovers in 30 minutes. She was as effective and concise off the hardwood.
Phillips shared the depth of the team’s shock when freshman point guard Nae Nae Calhoun suffered a season-ending knee injury earlier in the week. She explained that she isn’t a leader as much as the entire Wahine squad leading itself. And yes, conditioning the past week has bumped up a notch, and the Wahine are running well now, especially their posts.
The Zoom press conference had ended for a good 10 seconds, but the mic was still on.
“I was so nervous,” Phillips whispered to her coaches and teammates.
It never showed. Not one bit.