By Paul Honda
The Rainbow Wahine hoopsters are growing up before Coach Laura Beeman’s eyes.
In a decisive 57-43 win over Cal State Fullerton on Saturday, the young squad showed a new level of cohesion, especially on defense. After allowing CSUF to cut a 23-point deficit to one point on Friday — a narrow 49-47 win for UH — it was a different tone just 24 hours later.
The Titans shot 0-for-10 from 3 as the Rainbow Wahine brought tighter on-ball defense. They also limited the Titans to eight offensive boards; on Friday, CSUF had 16 caroms on the offensive glass.
Hawaii improved to 3-3 overall and 2-2 in the Big West. CSUF fell to 1-9 (0-6 BWC).
“The girls made great adjustments. We knew with (Amiee) Book coming back, they had another weapon,” Beeman said, referring to Fullerton’s leading scorer, who did not play on Friday. “I couldn’t be more proud of the girls from a bad fourth quarter (Friday) to tonight.”
Book returned after not playing on Friday, but was limited to nine points, well below her season average (15.6).
Kasey Neubert was on fire early and finished with 14 points and eight rebounds. Jadynn Alexander scored a team-high 15 points while covering CSUF’s top scorers, Book and Carolyn Gill.
“Jadynn is consistently on their best players and did a great job of containment, getting boards and making hustle plays,” Beeman said. “She played 35 minutes and made big shots.”
Down by 18, CSUF got within 40-31 when Alexander splashed back-to-back corner 3s. She also hit a follow shot during the pivotal 10-2 run by the Rainbow Wahine. That opened the lead to 51-33 with less than 5 minutes to play.
The Titans got no closer than 12 after that. CSUF’s inability to make a major rally again came down to Hawaii’s defensive focus. Freshman Nnenna Orji was a force in the lane.
“Nnenna brings a great deal of athleticism and defense. She’s long and did a great job recovering,” Beeman said. “For a post her size, the did a great job of containment, getting on the boards and making hustle plays.”
Daejah Phillips, another freshman, had seven boards.
“Daejah, people scout her and take her drive away, but she has made, defensively, major changes since game one to now. Experience for all these guys is huge,” Beeman noted.
Freshman point guard Kelsie Imai, the former Waiakea standout, provided tough on-ball defense while scoring a career-high 10 points.
“Kelsie did a phenomenal job. She was supposed to give Nae Nae (Calhoun) a breather this season. She understands our playbook, she’s hard-nosed and we love it. When we recruited her, I was so excited about the physical aspect of her game.”
On Friday, it was redshirt freshman Olivia Davies who shined in her first start with 17 points. On Saturday, many more of the Wahine stepped up. Neubert is only a sophomore.
“When Kasey learns to play slower and sees the floor more clearly she’ll do a lot more offensively than she does now,” Beeman said.
Neubert wasn’t pleased with her performance on Friday.
“I missed bunnies so I did extra today in practice,” said Neubert, who splashed a 3 during a run of seven points to open the game.
At 6 feet, 1 inch, she battled CSUF’s bigger posts on the block.
“I consider myself a wing, but more of a forward because I can play bigger than I am. I may be a short post, but I can get what I need to get done. Shout out to our coaching staff. They did a really good job preparing us, and Jadynn, knocking down those 3s.”