Hawaii women’s basketball coach Laura Beeman wasn’t making any sweeping predictions about her team repeating as Big West Conference Tournament champions when she spoke to reporters during a conference call Monday morning.
But the fifth-year head coach, who led the Rainbow Warriors to last year’s tournament title and the school’s first NCAA Tournament berth since 1998, isn’t lacking confidence heading into a first-round matchup with Cal Poly at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday at Long Beach State’s Walter Pyramid.
“We’re very, very different than we were last year,” Beeman said.
Fifth-seeded Hawaii turned over nearly its entire roster during the offseason and posted an 11-17 overall record this winter, including a 7-9 mark against Big West opponents. The Rainbow Warriors won both meetings with the Mustangs during the regular season and bring a three-game winning streak into the Big West Tournament.
Junior guard Sarah Toeaina was named a first-team all-conference performer Monday after averaging a team-high 13.9 points and 5.0 rebounds in more than 33 minutes per contest. She gave Cal Poly all it could handle, posting 23.0 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.5 steals while making 23 trips to the free-throw line in the two meetings.
“Man, they’re tough,” Mustangs head coach Faith Mimnaugh said. “I think both times that we’ve faced them they’ve done a great job at getting to the free-throw line.”
Limiting the Rainbow Warriors’ opportunities in the paint will be a key focus for the Mustangs (11-17, 7-9 Big West) heading into Tuesday’s matchup. Hawaii made 62 combined trips to the free-throw in the two previous meetings, and both games were decided by fewer than 10 points.
Cal Poly senior forward Hannah Gilbert ended the regular season ranking seventh in school history in scoring and sixth in rebounding, and she’s likely hoping to capture some March magic to prolong her decorated career.
Gilbert was selected to the first-team all-Big West Conference squad Monday after averaging 14.0 points on 54 percent shooting and 6.7 rebounds this season despite a chronic Achilles tendon injury.
Mimnaugh said she was grateful that the other coaches in the conference recognized Gilbert’s talent and were willing to vote her onto the first team regardless of Cal Poly’s sixth-place finish in the Big West standings.
“She’s a handful,” Beeman said of Gilbert. “We have to come in and execute a great game plan.”
Twin sisters Dynn and Lynn Leaupepe also garnered all-conference recognition.
Lynn Leaupepe was a second-team all-conference honoree after recording 15.0 points, a team-high 7.8 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game. Dynn Leaupepe, who averaged 15.0 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.8 assists, received honorable mention.
Dynn Leaupepe delivered one of the best performances of her career during last year’s Big West Tournament opener against CSUN. She scored 30 points, had six rebounds and three steals to help the Mustangs advance to the second round, where they eventually lost to Long Beach State on a last-second shot.
“This is what we worked for,” Dynn Leaupepe said. “So we are definitely embracing this moment for us.”
Big West Tournament at a glance
No. 5 Hawaii (11-17, 7-9 Big West)
Head coach: Laura Beeman, fifth season
Player to watch: Sarah Toeaina 13.9 points, 5.0 rebounds per game
No. 6 Cal Poly (11-17, 7-9 Big West)
Head coach: Faith Mimnaugh, 20th season
Player to watch: Lynn Leaupepe, 15.0 points, 7.8 rebounds per game