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Rainbow Wahine reset with new goal of getting a postseason win

Mar. 17—For the Hawaii women's basketball team, the anguish of not making a third consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance ends in 5 ... 4 ... 3 ... 2 ...

HENDERSON, NEV.—For the Hawaii women's basketball team, the anguish of not making a third consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance ends in 5 ... 4 ... 3 ... 2 ...

"I don't know if the disappointment goes away, " said coach Laura Beeman, whose top-seeded Rainbow Wahine lost in Friday's semifinal round of the Big West Tournament, ending their quest for a three-peat. "It still sits. But I think you compartmentalize it long enough to do what you need to do. And I think that's probably what this group will do. Hey, we're disappointed, but let's try to do something special again. Sports puts you in positions that are going to mirror life every time you step foot on the court. As an athlete, you don't know if it's going to be your last game due to injury, if you're going to win a game, if you're going to lose a game. It's how you respond to those challenges that keeps you moving. And that is where this team is right now. We obviously got dented pretty good (on Friday ). We didn't expect it. Now we've got to keep moving on."

While winning the league tournament in Henderson, Nev., comes with an accompanying berth in the NCAA Tournament, as regular-season champions, the Wahine were guaranteed a spot in Women's Basketball Invitational Tournament as a backup. As planned, they remained in Henderson to learn their next destination.

"If we didn't win the tournament, we knew we still had a postseason, " Beeman said, noting the NCAA and WBIT brackets would be announced today. "We knew we were going to be staying in Henderson regardless."

Ahead of the Big West Tournament, in which the Wahine had two byes leading to the semifinals, Beeman emphasized the initial goal of getting into the postseason.

"We didn't want it to be the WBIT, nobody does, " Beeman said. "But that's where we're going. And so our goal is to do something this program has yet to do (with Beeman as coach ), and that's to win a postseason game. I think the girls' understanding that when we step on the court, maybe Thursday night, wherever we go, I think they're going to be as ready as they possibly can be to make that happen. It's been an amazing team and an amazing year."

On Friday against UC Davis, Wahine center Imani Perez had leg weariness from a previous injury and Daejah Phillips, the league's top sixth player, suffered an ankle injury in the third quarter and did not play again. Lily Wahinekapu shot 1-for-14 and missed two free throws with the Wahine trailing 49-48 with 10.6 seconds to play. Olivia Davies was 0-for-7.

"I feel bad for her, " Beeman said of Wahinekapu. "I know she's taking this really hard, and she can't. She gave us an opportunity with how hard she played all game long to be in that position. But when you have two of your best shooters go 1-for-21, and two of your other best players literally not show up or be on the court, it's tough to be in a ballgame. I've got to look at that a lot and say this team all year long has found a way to win and we almost did it (on Friday ). I was really proud of that effort and the fact they put themselves in position to win against all odds one more time."

During the early-signing period last November, the Wahine received commitments from two players from New Zealand (6-foot-2 Rebecca Moors and 6-5 Ritorya Tamilo ) and one from Australia (6-1 Danijela Kujovic ).

"We're definitely adding some amazing pieces, " Beeman said. "They really fit some good pukas in our roster. Whether or not we'll have more change is yet to be seen. You never know. We're always looking, we're always recruiting. I don't want be a what's-up-for-next-year team quite yet. I want to win a game on Thursday ... and then we'll take a look at next year. There's plenty of time for that right now. We want to keep our focus on this year's group and what we're trying to do."