The Hawai’i Women’s Basketball team (18-14,13-7) defeated the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos (21-11,12-8), 61-59, in the finals of the 2023 Hercules Tires Big West Championships at the Dollar Loan Center in Henderson, Nev. on Saturday, March 11.
Senior guard Alexis Tucker started off the scoring for UCSB with a mid-range jumper. Hawai’i freshman forward Imani Perez then connected on a layup from sophomore guard Lily Wahinekapu to tie up the score at 2-2. Both teams traded baskets until a three-pointer from Tucker capped off an 8-0 run for the Gauchos to give them a 15-7 lead.
A three-pointer from Hawai’i sophomore guard Meilani McBee cut the UCSB lead to 20-15. However, that was as close as the lead would get in the first quarter, as the period ended with UCSB leading 22-15.
UCSB refused to let up as the second quarter began, going on a 7-0 run to increase their lead to 31-19. A three-pointer by Tucker gave UCSB their largest lead of the game at 34-21, and a couple buckets before the half gave the Gauchos a 15-point advantage. Tucker led UCSB with 15 first half points, while Wahinekapu and sophomore guard Daejah Phillips added six points each for Hawai’i.
Hawai’i closed the gap to as low as eight in the third quarter with a three from McBee, 38-44. However, two free throws from Tucker gave the Gauchos a 10-point cushion heading into the fourth quarter.
To open the fourth quarter, Hawai’i turned up their aggressiveness defensively, forcing tough contested jumpers from the Gauchos, as well as multiple unforced turnovers. Back-to-back three-pointers from McBee and Wahinekapu cut the UCSB lead to four and capped an 8-0 Hawai’i run. The Rainbow Wahine shooting percentage from distance proved to be a huge factor in their comeback victory as they shot 7-11 from beyond the arc in the second half. Three back-to-back-to-back triples from Wahinekapu and Perez cut the lead to one point with two minutes left.
Hawai’i gained their first lead of the match with a timely layup from Wahinekapu at just over a minute left, 58-57. Both teams went scoreless for the next minute until Tucker connected on two free throws for UCSB following a Hawai’i foul. With six seconds left, Hawai’i advanced the ball to half court, down by one.
A huge and-one bucket from Phillips gave Hawaii a two-point lead with three seconds left. A last second desperation three from UCSB went just over the rim, solidifying the score at 61-59 and giving Hawaii their second Big West Championship in as many seasons.
The Rainbow Wahine were led by Wahinekapu and Phillips, scoring 19 points each. Though it was a losing effort, Tucker added 21 overall points for the Gauchos.
The Rainbow Wahine will play LSU in the first round of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Tournament at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rouge, La. on Friday, March 17.
James Huston is a Sports Co-Editor. He can be reached at email@example.com.