UH men’s and women’s basketball teams prepare for the ‘Big Dance’

It’s one of those moments you know is coming, but it doesn’t make it any less significant.

The Hawaii Rainbow Warrior basketball team learned Sunday who they will play in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Watching television across the street from the Honda Center in Anaheim where the ‘Bows won the BWC tourney title Saturday, they, along with friends and family, found out they will be headed to Spokane, Washington for a game that will air at 8 a.m. Friday Hawaii time on TBS.

Seeded number 13 in the South Region, the team will be facing 4th-seed California.

After waiting 14 years, the ‘Bows are Pacific Northwest-bound for the Big Dance.

Head Coach Eran Ganot said “It’s just a great feeling. I could talk about this ’til I’m blue in the face, but I know how many people put a lot in this program. We know how special of a place Hawaii is, so we represent something that’s a lot bigger than just this program. It starts there and we’re very appreciative for a lot of people to have a special moment.

“I know there are a lot of smiles on people’s faces, and at the same time, there’s a lot of focus to continue to see if we can move forward.”

Quincy Smith said “It was great, this is what every college basketball player dreams, and to experience this in my senior year, I couldn’t ask for anything better.”

Aaron Valdes said they were supposed to play the Golden Bears earlier in the year, but they cancelled that tournament, “so that’s the first thing that comes to mind. But everybody’s predicting that they’ll win ’cause they’re a higher seed, but there’s upsets all the time, so you know, we’re the underdog, we’ll just come out and play, have fun, and try to win.”

rainbow wahine trophy smiling

And on Monday, the Rainbow Wahine found out that they will be traveling to Los Angeles to play the UCLA Lady Bruins in the first round of the NCAA women’s tournament in Los Angeles. The game will air at 12:30 p.m. Saturday on ESPN2.

The team and head coach Laura Beeman returned home with conference championship trophy in hand Sunday, and it was all shakas and smiles.

Back here at home, when the Rainbow Wahine returned with conference championship trophy in hand Sunday, it was shakas and smiles for head coach Laura Beeman and her team.

“I don’t know if it has sunk in yet,” Beeman said. “I was sitting on the plane this morning and I had over a hundred text messages. Some of the things people are saying — Nani Cockett said, for example, that she was proud to be a Rainbow again — that made me tear up.

“And for Vince Goo to say ‘job well done,’ those are the people that laid the path for us, and that we wanted to make proud and continue to play for.”

Both former Wahine star player Nani Cockett and former coach Vince Goo told KHON2 just how much this means to them and to the state of Hawaii.

“I hope that the coaches and the players realize how much pride they brought back to a once-proud women’s basketball program,” said Goo. “There’s been 18 teams before this year that did not accomplish what they did yesterday, so that’s a great feeling.”

“Of course, I was watching,” Cockett said. “I cleared my whole work schedule that day. I feel so excited that the men and the women had a chance to redeem their championship runs. When I was watching, I was at the edge of my seat the whole time, and once (the Wahine) got that big lead, I was like, OK, I can relax a little bit more.

“I’m super, super excited for them,” she said.

Former Rainbow player Alika Smith said he’s been following both teams and knows just how big it is that both of them are going to the tournament.

“It’s good for the state,” he said. “The past is behind them and I wish them success moving forward.”

Athletics Director David Matlin said “it’s a privilege to be a part of it and for the whole state of Hawaii. One thing we all know is how this program impacts the state. This is truly a wise team and that’s what’s special about it. I know everyone at home was going nuts and that’s special, that’s the intangible thing that is priceless.”

UH championship T-shirts

Well, there is some price, as it didn’t take long to get those words “Big West Champs” on a T-shirt.

The official store for the athletics department, the H-Zone in Ward Village, had those T-shirts in stock first thing Sunday morning.

Reports were that it’s been busy, both in terms of foot traffic and online orders both here and on the mainland. All proceeds from sales benefit UH student athletes and the athletics department.

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