By Paul Honda
One quarter into the Waiakea-Moanalua game, it was clear enough.
These aren’t the 1990s Waiakea Warriors, walking the ball upcourt, operating methodically efficient sets. Since Grant Kauhi took the helm some years back, the Warriors have morphed into a run-and-gun squad. It was expected; Kauhi and his assistant, brother Jason Kauhi, were prominent gunners back in the ’90s while playing at Hilo for the late Larry Manliguis.
The Warriors raced up and down the floor early, then controlled the pace in the second half for a decisive 57-43 win last night over Moanalua in the opening round of the Hawaiian Airlines/HHSAA Girls Basketball State Championships.
Still, all the style and philosophy in the world mean nothing without talent and skill. For Kamie Imai, it’s a playground out there. Starting at point guard for three years, Imai is as quick and ready to shoot as ever. What’s different this season, though, is her court vision. She always had it, but has developed it quite well.
As a defender, the biggest problem with playing against Imai is that she has no weak spots. She can go left and right with explosiveness. Back off too much and she’ll pull up with a money 15-footer. Offer the 3-ball and she’ll hit it. But it’s her ability to deliver a catchable pass that has brought her game to a new level.
Imai on the fastbreak against Moanalua last night was simply unfair. She had a flawless game going for much of the way. Through 2 1/2 quarters, the senior had 17 points on 8-for-11 shooting with five assists, five steals and three rebounds. No turnovers. Nada.
A couple of turnovers late in the third quarter dispelled the notion that she might not be human. Her final line: 21 points (10-for-15), seven boards, seven dimes, seven steals and four blocks (and three turnovers) did little to explain her impact on the game and her team.
Her teammates run the lanes, fill them and finish at the basket. Tonight, against Punahou, they might not finish as often. Punahou’s rugged defense rarely gives up an easy basket. The Buffanblu haven’t even given up more than 40 points since the Interscholastic League of Honolulu season began.
Some bullet points on last night’s game.
• A.J. Verdida was missed. The Moanalua guard is normally part of a trifecta with Joanna Nicolas and Jasmine Funtanilla for scoring. They also missed Verdida’s leadership and speed against Waiakea’s uptempo style.
Verdida (ankle) was in a walking boot and returned from the hospital before halftime, unable to play. It wasn’t a sudden injury. She’s played in pain through much of the season. The timing was difficult, to say the least, for her and her teammates.
• Moanalua was resilient, one of the more endearing traits of the team all season long. Nicolas has played on a partially torn ACL since early in the Oahu Interscholastic Association season. But they kept attacking the smaller Warriors and grabbed a whopping 18 offensive boards. Na Menehune shot 37 percent (19-for-52) from the field and took only six free throws despite all the offensive rebounding.
• The teams combined for 47 turnovers (21 by Waiakea) as Moanalua fell prey to the uptempo pace of the Warriors. The pace helped some players and had a negative effect on others. Moanalua’s Kiley Lau shot just 2-for-12 and finished with four points, one of her lowest totals since emerging as a scoring threat. She also had five turnovers, but hustled for two steals.
• Freshman Sefulu Faavae was sneaky good with 10 points and seven steals. SEVEN STEALS. And she plays in the post. She was the recipient of several passes from Imai for easy deuces. A finisher. In girls basketball, a finisher is as valuable as a a closer is in baseball. You just never take them for granted because so many teams lack finishers.
• Nicolas was active despite the knee injury and finished with 14 points (3-for-7 from the arc), five boards, two blocks, three steals and eight turnovers. She was the primary ballhandler and clearly missed Verdida, but never had a down moment and kept hustling.
• Funtanilla (6-for-12) was steady and also had a couple of assists. She’ll be back next season along with Nicolas and Kiley Lau — a pretty solid trio of scorers. That goes a long way in the OIA.
It was a fun game to watch unless you were a Moanalua fan (among the best traveling fans in the OIA and ILH), and even then, Na Menehune were within striking distance most of the night. Waiakea is so committed to the almost hyper pace and thrives in it. Reserves Ciera Pacheco and Daven-Marie Namohala-Roloos got 16 and 20 minutes of playing time, respectively.
Could teams like Moanalua be effective with a quicker tempo? Probably, but as always, it depends on quality and depth of the bench. Even then, most coaches will lean more conservatively and stick with more structure and less with the open-floor freedom.