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Rainbow Wahine rise above the crowd for win over UCSB

Feb. 18—With more fans packed into SimpliFi Arena at Stan Sheriff Center for a Hawaii women's basketball game than any other time during Laura Beeman's 12 seasons as head coach, the Rainbow Wahine held off UC Santa Barbara 68-64 on Saturday night.

"Beeman's Big Bash " turned out to be quite the party.

With more fans packed into SimpliFi Arena at Stan Sheriff Center for a Hawaii women's basketball game than any other time during Laura Beeman's 12 seasons as head coach, the Rainbow Wahine held off UC Santa Barbara 68-64 on Saturday night.

A crowd of 4, 080, with more than 5, 000 tickets issued, saw Hawaii (15-9, 12-3 Big West ) hang onto first place in the conference and remain undefeated in BWC play at home.

Daejah Phillips matched her season high with 22 points and Lily Wahinekapu scored 17 of her 20 points in the second half to help UH avenge a loss to UCSB (16-9, 10-5 ) earlier this season.

UH has won nine home games in a row, with its latest victory quite different from all of the others.

"Obviously a very memorable night, " Beeman said. "For me personally, to have so many people come out, I know it was for these kids, but I also know a bit of it was for me, and that really, really means a lot to me. Twelve years I've been here. I miss my California family, but Hawaii fills the hole pretty good."

The attendance beat the previous mark of 3, 491 in the Beeman era, which happened in the 2015 season finale.

Beeman took a moment to address the crowd after the game and then reflected on a night she had tried to avoid thinking about in the days leading up to Saturday.

"Coaches have a tendency to be able to compartmentalize sometimes to an unhealthy level, " Beeman said. "I tried not to think about tonight all week and I tried not to think about it when I walked out and saw the kids in the tunnel, but when I walked out of my office there was a line and I stood on the balcony and thanked people and thought this was surreal."

MeiLani McBee made two free throws with 29 seconds remaining for the game's final margin.

UC Santa Barbara, which shot 41.4 % from the 3-point line (12-for-29 ), missed one with 17 seconds remaining.

The ball went out of bounds off of a UH player and the Gauchos inbounded with 15 seconds on the clock.

They couldn't get a shot off as the seconds ticked off before the final buzzer. It was only then that the significance of Saturday night was finally felt by Beeman.

The win certainly helped.

"I will tell you, there was a point in the fourth quarter where I said to myself, would you rather win tonight in front of this crowd or win when it counts in Henderson (Nevada in the Big West Tournament ), and I had to stop, " Beeman said. "I think tonight I will probably go home and I will probably have a pretty emotional moment of what this means to have people come out and want to support."

Thankfully it wasn't a choice Beeman had to make as Hawaii took care of business to remain a half-game ahead of UC Irvine in the standings with five games remaining in the regular season.

Phillips, who surpassed 1, 000 career points, had 17 in the first half as Hawaii trailed 32-27 at the break.

UH started the second half with an 11-0 run and led 48-47 entering the fourth quarter.

Imani Perez gave UH its largest lead at 64-53 before the Gauchos went on an 8-0 run.

UCSB had two 3-pointers to tie the game but missed both. Phillips made two free throws to put UH ahead 66-61, but the Rainbow Wahine missed their next four free throws to keep UCSB in the game.

Alexis Whitfield, who had 23 points and 19 rebounds in UCSB's win over Hawaii last month, finished with 21 points and 17 rebounds.

UC Santa Barbara is alone in third place in the BWC standings.

"They got downhill and got a lot of one-on-one looks early when we struggled, " Gauchos coach Bonnie Henrickson said. "I thought it was fun. It's no fun to play with nobody in the gym, so good for them, and we love everybody who loves women's basketball."

Hawaii has a single game at Long Beach State next Saturday before playing its final two home games of the season.

"It means something to us to come and win in front of a big home crowd for Hawaii, " Phillips said.