Rainbow Wahine relish rare opportunity to play at home

Jason Kaneshiro, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser
·4 min read

Mar. 5—Hawaii enters the final week of the Big West women's basketball schedule in a relatively unfamiliar spot—playing at home.

The Rainbow Wahine open a two-game series with conference leader UC Davis today in their first appearance in SimpliFi Arena since sweeping Cal State Fullerton on Jan. 22 and 23.

Over the 41 days since—the longest gap between home games in program history—the Wahine have played seven road games spread over three trips to California, going 4-3 over that stretch, and enter the week at 7-6 overall and in fourth place in the Big West standings at 6-5.

"We've played two home conference games all year, " UH senior forward Amy Atwell noted. "It's been a crazy year, and we're grateful to play games, but it's super exciting to be able to come back and play on our home court again."

The Wahine and Aggies (9-1, 8-0 BWC ) meet at 7 tonight and 6 p.m. Saturday in UH's senior night game. Then it's back on the road as the Wahine head to Las Vegas for next week's Big West tournament.

"Senior week is always fun, senior night is always great, " UH coach Laura Beeman said. "Being able to play at home for the first time in 41 days is a nice feeling when you can sleep in your own bed and just have the comforts of Hawaii."

UH seniors Jadynn Alexander and Barbara Rangel will be honored after Saturday's home finale.

"We want to make sure we pay respect to them, " Beeman said. "We're going to be recognizing and honoring everything they've done for this program. Their contributions are immense."

The Wahine have become quite adept at life on the road over the last month-plus.

UH's Big West-opening home series against UC Riverside in January was canceled and a homestand against UC San Diego in early February was flipped into a road trip to Cal Poly, making up for an earlier cancellation. The Wahine were slotted to face Cal State Northridge at home Feb. 19 and 20, but the Matadors opted out prior to the season.

The Wahine return to Manoa this week coming off a sweep at third-place Long Beach State, pulling out a 77-75 win in the opener a week ago and closing with a 76-73 victory in overtime last Saturday for their first wins in Long Beach since 2016.

"When you travel you have to be very careful with COVID and everything, but we do everything in our power to make it fun and enjoyable, " Beeman said. "(We ) give them downtime, do some fun things within the confines of our policies and procedures. But this group has had an amazing energy to them, and I think they're a really tight, tight group."

Atwell plans to wait a year to participate in the senior festivities, electing to return under the NCAA ruling allowing players to maintain their current standing.

After a quiet series at UC Santa Barbara, where she totaled seven points in two games, Atwell broke loose at Long Beach State. She set a career high with 25 points in the opener and added 23 in the second game, draining four 3-pointers in both wins.

Atwell leads the Wahine with 12.5 points per game, followed by Alexander (10.4 ) and freshman guard Daejah Phillips (10.2 ). Sophomore forward Kasey Neubert leads the conference in field-goal percentage at 55.4 % and leads the team with 8.2 rebounds per game.

UC Davis opened its season on Nov. 25 then was sidelined until Jan. 22 due to COVID-19 restrictions in Northern California. The Aggies have rolled through their Big West schedule since, winning their conference games by an average margin of 13.25 points. Led by senior forward Cierra Hall's 13.8 points per game, UC Davis tops the conference in average points scored (68.1 ) as well as fewest points allowed (57.4 ).

UH is fourth in both categories at 63.9 points scored per game and 64.9 allowed.

"It's another opportunity for us to get better, " Atwell said. "Davis is obviously a really good team, undefeated in conference and they've been an outstanding team the whole time I've been here in my career. It's just really exciting to see where we're at."

BIG WEST WOMEN'S BASKETBALL At SimpliFi Arena—UC Davis (9-1, 8-0 BWC ) vs. Hawaii (7-6, 6-5 )—When : Today, 7 p.m.; Saturday, 6 p.m.—TV : Spectrum Sports—Today, 1500-AM ; Saturday, 1420-AM