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Update March 12, 2023: The Rainbow Wahine basketball team received a No. 14 seed and is headed to Baton Rouge, Louisiana to play No. 3 seed LSU in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The game is on Friday, March 17 at 11:30 a.m. HST. LSU enters the tournament with a 28-2 overall record and 15-1 in the Southeastern Conference (SEC). The Tigers are coming off of a 69-67 loss to Tennessee in the semifinals of the SEC tournament.

Original story:

The No. 3 seed University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Rainbow Wahine basketball team is headed back to the NCAA Tournament after coming back from 12 points down in the fourth quarter to defeat No. 5 seed UC Santa Barbara in the Big West Conference championship game, 61-59.

two basketball players playing

The victory on March 11 in Henderson, Nevada marked the second consecutive season that the ‘Bows secured the Big West’s automatic berth into the Big Dance.

Leading the way were sophomore guard and All-Big West first team selection Lily Wahinekapu, and All-Big West honorable mention selection and sophomore guard Daejah Phillips each with 19 points. Phillips went 4-for-6 from beyond the 3-point line, and had the game-winning field goal with three seconds left in the game.

The ‘Bows and Gauchos were deadlocked at seven points each midway through the first quarter. However, UC Santa Barbara went on a 15-8 run to close the quarter and led 22-15. The ‘Bows closed the gap to five with just over seven minutes left in the second quarter, however UH could only put up four points for the remainder of the quarter to the Gauchos’ 14. UC Santa Barbara led 38-23 at halftime.

The Gauchos maintained a commanding 15-point lead with just over six minutes left in the third quarter, however, the ‘Bows went on a seven-point run of their own on shots by Kallin Spiller, Imani Perez and Meilani McBee to close the gap to eight. UC Santa Barbara added two free throws at the end of the third quarter to lead 46-36 with 10 minutes remaining in the contest.

Both teams traded three-pointers to open the final quarter, before another Gauchos’ bucket pushed their lead to 12. A layup and a pair of three-pointers in less than 90 seconds by UH quickly closed the gap to four at 51-47 with 6:32 remaining. UC Santa Barbara led by seven with just over three minutes remaining, however, huge three-pointers by Perez and Wahinekapu closed the Gauchos lead to just one. Then, with 1:21 remaining, Wahinekapu’s layup gave the Rainbow Wahine their first lead of the game since more than halfway through the first quarter at 58-57. The Gauchos added two clutch free throws with six seconds left, before Phillips delivered the game-winning field goal with three seconds left and drew the and-one foul. The free throw pushed UH’s lead to 61-59. A last second three-pointer by the Gauchos came up empty, giving the Rainbow Wahine the championship.

Path to the championship

The Rainbow Wahine reached the Big West championship game after defeating No. 2 seed Long Beach State in the semifinals, 67-62, and No. 6 seed Cal State Fullerton in the quarterfinals in double overtime, 82-75.

In the other semifinal, the Gauchos defeated No. 9 seed CSU Bakersfield, 74-66. The Roadrunners delivered the tournament shocker, taking down No. 1 seed and regular season champions UC Irvine in the quarterfinals, 61-59 (OT).

Up next

The Rainbow Wahine will find out where they will be headed for the first round of the NCAA Tournament at 2 p.m. HST on March 12. The First Four games will be played on March 15 and 16. First and second round games will be March 17–20. Regionals take place March 24–27, and the Final Four in Dallas will be March 31 and April 2.

Battling through injuries

UH finished third out of 10 teams in the conference during the regular season and won the conference tournament despite losing four players to season-ending ailments. Junior Olivia Davies, sophomore Jacque David and freshman Jovi Lefotu were all out due to knee injuries. Meanwhile, freshman Avery Watkins is out due to an ankle injury.

Return to the dance floor

The Rainbow Wahine also won the Big West tournament in 2022 after winning the conference regular-season championship in the same year, a first in program history. UH got a scare in the quarterfinals as CSU Bakersfield pushed the ‘Bows to the brink of elimination, but the Rainbow Wahine held on for a 49-48 win. In the semifinals, UH cruised past UC Riverside for a 69-55 victory, with Amy Atwell dropping 22 points on the Highlanders. And in the championship, UH defeated No. 2 seed UC Irvine 59-48 punching its ticket to March Madness. UH received the No. 15 seed in the national tournament and traveled to No. 2 Baylor, losing 89-49, but showcased themselves on the national stage as a contending mid-major program.

—By Marc Arakaki

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