What a day and night it’s been here at good ol’ Neal Blaisdell Arena — and elsewhere — in the world of Hawaii girls high school basketball.
Here, the D-I quartefinals doubleheader was a mixed bag. King Kekaulike was out of gas in its 62-34 loss to No. 3 seed Punahou. King K played with energy and verve in its comeback win over Moanalua — Na Alii rallied from a 17-point deficit — on Friday. Tonight, it was all Punahou from the start. The Buffanblu couldn’t miss, and that opening-round bye left them with fresh legs and a tenacious fullcourt press.
Coach Kevin Velasco emptied his bench early. It’s not that his starters needed the rest — their next game isn’t until Friday. But the game was well under control early with a 31-10 lead at the end of one quarter. Elle Umeda was on fire, playing with a cold, scoring 10 points in the first 8 minutes. They played and looked like a champion, moving the ball quickly and unselfishly for easy shots.
In the next quarterfinal, Roosevelt and Hilo provided an instant classic. Hilo prevailed 62-61, avoiding defeat when Roosevelt missed a layup in the final seconds. It’s one of those early-round games that fans enjoy, yet hate to see sometimes because one very good team has to lose. Tonight, it was OIA Red champion Roosevelt, who is absolutely one of my favorite teams to watch. The Rough Riders ran the floor, applied tough defensive pressure and was matched step for step by the smaller Vikings.
If someone had told me that Hilo standout Aliyah Pana would score four points, I’d say Hilo would lose. But they Vikings have come a long, long way since that erratic week at the ‘Iolani Classic two months ago. They’ve got underclassmen who stepped up BIG against Roosevelt. Junior Chailey Cabalis with 18 points and sophomore Sharlei Graham-Bernisto with 13. They combined for 15 points in the rock-em-sock-em third quarter, all on 3-point bombs.
Pana’s younger sister, sophomore Alexis, added 10 points. There are a lot of teams with talented sophs and juniors, which means we might be in for an upcycle in girls hoops soon.
Anyway, it was a phenomenal game, as expected, between two very fast and furious teams.
The D-II final between Honokaa and two-time defending state champ Kamehameha-Hawaii was close for a quarter, but the Dragons were simply too strong, too deep, too cohesive for the Warriors. Honokaa won 54-35 and never really offered KS-Hawaii a chance to stay in the game.
It was a tough departure for KSH senior Casey Poe, who had 19 points in her finale. Hunter Liftee had 24 points and 12 rebounds for Honokaa, which will lose Liftee and three other seniors to graduation. The rest will return next season, which means Coach Daphne Honma may be at the start of a new D-II dynasty.
It was also cool to see two of her former players, Keisha Kanekoa and Shawna Lau Kong, come give Honma a hug and celebrate with the kids. Kanekoa and Lau Kong are coaches now, too, which isn’t too surprising. Honma always coached with intelligence and passion, and her players often reflected that.
Back to D-I…
Over at the Lahaina Civic, top-seeded Lahainaluna escaped with a 61-57 win over ILH runner-up Maryknoll. It was a tough deal for non-league champs, playing Friday night games and flying off-island 12 hours later. Exciting, yes, but challenging. I don’t know much besides this: that game was 59-57 in the final minute.
On the Big Island, Mililani upset second-seeded Konawaena 54-51. It was announced in Blaisdell Arena as a win by Konawaena at first, then corrected about a minute later. All I hear is that it was 52-51 when Konawaena had the ball and couldn’t score.
That’s three outstanding finishes in four D-I quarterfinal games. Not bad at all.
SATURDAY NIGHT NUMBERS
Girls basketball attendance figures from the HHSAA:
Neal Blaisdell Arena (two D-I quarterfinals, D-II final): 1,100
Lahaina Civic (D-I quarterfinal, Maryknoll vs. Lahainaluna): 1,400
Kealakehe (Kona District) (D-I quarterfinal, Mililani vs. Konawaena): 230
First, bear in mind that if the quarterfinals had been played in the previous format — on Oahu, on a Wednesday night at a high school gym — that attendance would’ve been sparse, just as it pretty much was for Friday’s opening-round games at McKinley and Moanalua.
Second, it’s good that in this debut season of quadrants in the state girls hoops tourney that the neighbor-island sites actually did outdraw the Oahu site (Blaisdell Arena). The NBC number (1,100) is a bit surprising on the positive side, but three games were played, so it’s not shocking.
Lahaina was always expected to draw well. Fans in West Maui support the Lady Lunas all the time.
But Kona? Sure, the game was played roughly 17 miles away from campus at Kealakehe. But drawing just over a couple hundred fans for a state-tournament game is absolutely surprising.
I know a lot of Kona people on FB said that the attendance for the Konawaena girls game (vs. Mililani) would be hurt by the boys’ game between HPA and Konawaena. But 230? That is ridiculous and disturbing. And DISAPPOINTING.
Why would the HHSAA ever want to hold another regional in Kona again? On top of that, why didn’t the BIIF/Konawaena move the boys game to an earlier start time?
Pretty simple: the HPA-Konawaena boys game is revenue for the BIIF, so keeping the 7:30 p.m. start time maximizes attendance, at least in theory. The Konawaena-Mililani girls game, all revenue goes to the HHSAA. I never got a call back from Konawaena’s AD, but this would make sense. Or cents.
Should the HHSAA have changed the tip-off time of the girls game? Maybe. This is new stuff for everybody to work on and the HHSAA has already said that there will be adjustments along the way for this pilot program.
But I really think the Konawaena girls basketball program deserves more support than this from its own school and community. Four state championships in the past seven years.
All in all, it’s way too early to draw conclusions. The HHSAA will take the data, the revenue totals, the expenses… tweak things going forward. The regional idea is a profitable one compared to what existed before.
But there will be more ideas, more options that come to mind. If Friday-Saturday is always a bigger draw than the previous Tue-Wed-Thur-Fri layout, then maybe renting Blaisdell for a Saturday really is worth every penny.
I just don’t know if HHSAA executive director Chris Chun can look at Lahaina’s attendance number, then look at the Kona number, and find a way to justify send teams to Kona again. True, that 230 number isn’t any worse than what we’d get on a Wednesday quarterfinal night at Radford or McKinley or any other Oahu gym.
What happens after this might go along these lines: since Kona didn’t support the Wildcats in 2014 when the opportunity was there, it makes more sense to move any future Kona regional bracket straight to Lahaina. (I think Hilo should still get its opportunity to host if and when that happens. Probably the most “basketball town” of all the communities in Hawaii.)
Moving a Kona bracket to Lahaina would do this: double the game size and give players and coaches a much better atmosphere, allowing them play someplace where fans are really interested and charged up for girls hoops.
If there was a problem in overlap between a state girls game and a league boys game for Konawaena this time, and there was not much effort invested in avoiding that conflict, well, won’t it happen again?
I’m not saying that’s what I’d do. I like to think that the Big Island deserves a chance to host a regional every year, whether it’s in Hilo or Kona. But I sure would not be surprised if the plug is pulled on any future Kona sites.
This was the Kona community’s big chance.
A big whiff.