By Paul Honda
The evolution of the 2020-21 Hawaii women’s basketball team is in full view.
After a stunning 70-60 win over first-place UC Davis on Friday, the Aggies returned the favor on Saturday with a vice-grip style 54-46 win over the Rainbow Wahine. UC Davis clinched the top seed in the upcoming Big West Conference Tournament.
Hawaii will be the No. 5 seed and will meet Cal State Bakersfield on Wednesday in Las Vegas. The Rainbow Wahine (8-7, 7-6) were a competitive squad through the tough demands of the regular season — 41 days without a home game until Friday – but emerged as a destroyer with that upset of UCD.
“I thought we played great this weekend. We had a letdown tonight, but overall, I’m happy,” Hawaii Coach Laura Beeman said. “I wouldn’t want to (play) the University of Hawaii in the tournament.”
The youth of Beeman’s team means, perhaps, that they may come out firing in Las Vegas without — as she mentioned on Friday — any reservations or doubts.
“I wouldn’t want to (play) the University of Hawaii in the tournament,” Beeman said.
The struggle on Saturday wasn’t on defense. Hawaii limited the Aggies to 35-percent shooting from the field (17 for 49). Offensively, UC Davis countered Hawaii’s motion offense. Center Sage Stobbart was a tone-setter with 12 points, nine rebounds and four blocks.
Hawaii got hearty performances from freshman Olivia Davies (13 points, nine rebounds), sophomore Kasey Neubert (12 points, seven boards) and junior Amy Atwell (11 points, nine boards). Freshman Daejah Phillips had six points and eight rebounds off the bench, but the firepower as a unit wasn’t quite there this time.
The Rainbow Wahine shot 26 percent from the field, including 4-for-20 from the arc. That was a big change from their 7-for-17 night on Friday. And yet, Hawaii led at the half, 29-27. Then came a 21-9 run by the visitors while the home team shot 3-for-23 from the field. Jadynn Alexander and Kelsie Imai combined for 22 points on Friday. They had two points on Saturday.
After all that road mileage — five mainland trips between Jan. 15 and Feb. 27 — any rest time before the flight to Sin City might be hugely valuable.
“The bottom line, I think it was more mental fatigue than physical. Overall, we’re finally getting into some game shape after the starts and stops,” Beeman said. “But this was about mental fatigue. We can learn that between now and the championship.”
The Rainbow Wahine have been resilient through what Beeman calls the most challenging of seasons.
“No one’s been through a pandemic. Quarantine after quarantine after quarantine, on the road, battling through injuries, this team has gone through more than any team I’ve coached,” she said. “They’ve done it with grace, and their attitude is amazing.”
Sticking to routine will be key in the next few days. Beeman’s message remains constant.
“Off the court, stay healthy, stay in our bubble and focus on the classroom. Celebrate each other’s successes and continue to play for your seniors,” she said. “We have to grow and be able to make adjustments.”
Hawaii got to see a veteran UC Davis squad (10-2, 9-1) make the necessary adjustments in the weekend series.
“That’s a very seasoned Davis team. They’ve been in these situations before. They know how to put games together,” Beeman noted. “Any opportunity you get with a young team is gold. It’s about growing them, giving them experience. We wanted a win tonight for our seniors. You want to send them out on this beautiful court, but it wasn’t in the cards tonight.
“We’ll be ready next week.”