Hours after the Hawaii women's basketball team clinched a spot in the NCAA tournament, the top-seeded Rainbow Warriors made it a clean sweep for their school in the Big West championship, defeating third-seeded Long Beach State, 64-60, Saturday at Honda Center.
In the semifinals against UC Santa Barbara, Hawaii (27-5) won on the strength of its starters, three of whom combined for 64 points. That wasn't the case against Long Beach State (20-14). Junior guard Aaron Valdes had a team-high 14 points, and eight players scored at least four. Backup big man Stefan Jovanovic had one of his better games of the season, with nine points and six rebounds.
Hawaii got off to a rocky start, with two of its top players — Big West player of the year Jankovic and senior guard Roderick Bobbitt — in foul trouble. But Long Beach State was ice cold. Guards Nick Faust and Justin Bibbins combined for 16 points in the first half, and the rest of the team was just two of 16.
In place of Bobbitt, sophomore Niko Filipovich — who averages a little more than five minutes a game — played solid defense for an eight-minute stretch and made a layup at the conclusion of the half to put the Rainbow Warriors up, 31-25.
Hawaii's lead peaked at 44-32 with 13:44 remaining, but Long Beach State started knocking down jumpers that it wasn't converting in the first half. Bibbins got his team back in the game with a pair of three-pointers that made it 47-44, and the score teetered back and forth from there.
Faust tied it on a three-pointer with a less than four minutes remaining, but he fouled out on the next possession. Long Beach had a chance to win it on a three-point attempt by Bibbins, but it bounced off the rim.
The 49ers, hoping to qualify for the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2012, got 17 points and eight rebounds from Faust, and 12 points with eight assists from Bibbins.
This is the first conference title for the Rainbow Warriors since joining the Big West in 2012. Their 27 wins match the most in school history. They're 0-4 in previous March Madness appearances, and last qualified in 2002.