The UH women’s basketball team returned to campus on March 18, de-boarding their bus in front of SimpliFi Arena at the Stan Sheriff Center as Big West champions.
The Wāhine arrived back Honolulu after a two week road trip where they repeated as Big West tournament champions in Henderson, Nevada, and played in the NCAA tournament in Baton Rouge, Lousiana, losing to LSU 73-50 in the first round, and ending their 2022-23 season.
“To have this kind of reception here today is what I wanted them to be able to experience,” UH coach Laura Beeman said. “Thank goodness these folks showed up, it’s just what these guys deserve.
“They worked so hard to win the conference championship. Those games were amazing, and I thought we played incredibly well against LSU. [We] had too many turnovers and didn’t hit some open shots that if we would have, it would have been a different game.”
UH defeated Cal State Fullerton and Cal State Long Beach in the first two rounds of the Big West tournament before beating UC Santa Barbara 61-59 in the championship game.
Sophomore Daejah Phillips was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player after averaging 15.3 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.6 assists over the three games. The guard’s 3-point play with 3.4 seconds remaining in the championship game ended up being the game-winning points for Hawai‘i.
“I watch [the play] all the time,” Phillips said. “Every day since it happened, I’ve watched it at least five times. “We said [in] the third quarter of the Santa Barbara game that we were going to be up. We weren’t up but we knew we were going to win that game, how hard we were fighting and how much dedication everybody had to that game.”
Overall, UH finished its season with a record of 18-15, 13-7 in the Big West play. The Rainbow Wāhine overcame season-ending injuries to four key players and a 1-7 start to win their second consecutive conference tournament championship.
“This program is just scratching the surface," UHM forward Kallin Spiller said. "Back-to-back is an incredible accomplishment. I wouldn’t be surprised if they go back-to-back-to-back next year and continue this run. Our core is so young. I’ve seen all the work my teammates have put in and I know that’s going to increase based on the experience they got this year.”
Spiller is one of two “seniors” — she and guard McKenna Haire are officially listed as graduate students — whose college careers came to a close this season. Spiller does intend to follow the Wāhine from wherever she is as she plans to pursue a professional career overseas.
“Hawaiʻi women’s basketball continues to be on the rise, and of course, I’ll be following,” she said. “I’m gonna be the biggest fan forever and I’m already missing playing with these girls, so I’m going to have to tune in to watch them play together.”