Photo by Jon Reyna/Staff

The UC Irvine Women’s Basketball team (21-11, 14-5) suffered a 59-48 loss against the Hawaii Rainbow Wahine (20-9, 14-3) on March 12 in the finals of the 2022 Hercules Tires Big West Championships, presented by the Hawaiian Islands. For the second straight straight season, the Anteaters fell one win short of making the NCAA tournament. 

Redshirt freshman guard Kayla Williams and sophomore guard Jayde Cadee led the Anteaters, scoring 11 points each in the defeat.

Williams started off the scoring for UCI with a three-pointer to put the Anteaters up 3-2. Both teams went back and forth until Cadee scored five straight points, putting the ‘Eaters ahead 8-4. 

The Anteaters kept the lead for the rest of the first quarter, but Hawaii was never too far behind. UCI only led by one point, 10-9, by the end of the first. 

UCI’s perimeter defense and offensive rebounds led them to a 13-11 lead after a three-pointer by freshman guard Nikki Tom. Williams then scored five straight points for the Anteaters, giving them a 18-13 lead. 

Irvine sophomore forward Sophia Locandro sealed her defender and added a crafty hook shot to cap a 7-0 Anteater run, putting them ahead, 20-13. Hawaii graduate forward Kallin Spiller scored the next four points for her team, cutting UCI’s lead down to three. 

Hawaii graduate forward Amy Atwell, Big West Women’s Conference player of the year, scored her first two points of the night after two free throws. Cadee then scored a deep three to give UCI a 25-19 lead just before the half. Locandro added a free throw with two seconds left, bumping up UCI’s lead to 26-21 heading into the break.

While Atwell was held to only two points in the first half, the Anteaters seemed to have the game under control with Williams and Cadee scoring eight points each in the first half.

The game’s momentum changed dramatically in the third quarter. Hawaii redshirt freshman guard Olivia Davies scored eight of her 14 total points in this period while Atwell contributed six points. For a moment, it seemed like the ‘Bows were still in a cold game with missed point-blank shots, but after Tom knocked down a three to put UCI up 29-24, the Wahine embarked on a massive run to turn the tide in their favor.

The Anteaters began to lose confidence in the defense that got them the early lead. Atwell made a three for the Wagine to tie the game at 29 apiece. An and-1 layup from Davies gave Hawaii the lead for the first time since the early second quarter. These moves caused UCI head coach Tamara Inoue to call for a timeout.

The timeout did not stop the Wahine’s momentum. A putback layup by sophomore guard Nae Nae Calhoun wrapped up a 14-0 run, increasing Hawaii’s lead, 38-29, and prompting another Inoue timeout.

After the timeout, UCI hustled to close the gap, making their next three shots to reduce the lead to five at the end of the second quarter. Hawaii maintained the lead, 41-36.

Hawaii opened the third quarter on an 8-0 run. Layups from Spiller and Atwell and three free throws gave Hawaii their biggest lead of the night, 49-36. 

UCI played a grit-and-grind game to attempt to get back in the match.Cadee started them off by hitting a much-needed three to stop the bleeding  Then UCI sophomore guard Chloe Webb and Locandro made free throws, cutting the lead down to six with less than six minutes to go. But both teams struggled to score for the next four minutes. 

Unfortunately for Irvine, the deficit was too large to overcome. The Anteaters got cold at the wrong moment, leading to their defeat, 48-59.

After the game, Inoue was emotional speaking about the loss and what it meant for her program — especially after losing in championship games in back-to-back seasons.

“Runner-up is not something I plan to [be]. I came here to win and I had that support from my administration…You just want to win for the people that really care about your program,” Inoue said.

Inoue also understood the competition her team faced with Atwell, who had won multiple Big West honors. She offered high praise for Hawaii’s top player.

“Amy deserves everything she’s done. She’s a pro. The WNBL is there, but I think she should go to the WNBA camps first,” Inoue said.

Atwell also had compliments for Inoue in her postgame interview.

“That means a lot coming from [Inoue],” Atwell said in response. “She is a great coach and [UCI] is going to be back in the championship game in the next few years.”

The Hawaii Rainbow Wahine will now represent the Big West conference in the NCAA tournament.

James Huston is a Sports Staff Writer for the Winter 2022 quarter. He can be reached at hustonj@uci.edu.

Angus Wong is a Sports Staff Writer for the Winter 2022 quarter. He can be reached at anguscw@uci.edu.