And then there were eight.
If you are a fan of a specific boys basketball high school team that qualified for the Hawaiian Airlines/HHSAA Division I Boys Basketball State Championships, take a deep breath. There will be only one happy team at the end of this week. As of Wednesday night, four teams were sent packing, so to speak.
Lahainaluna made quick work of defending state champion Kalaheo, 57-27, in the McKinley bracket. For those of us who saw Kalaheo from start to (almost) finish this season, that may have been the most stunning of the quarterfinal results. Kalaheo had shown resilience this season, even after losing so much talent and experience to graduation. Somehow, and not too surprisingly, coach Alika Smith had developed this very young team into a a competitive unit — a contender for the OIA Red title.
But the sparkling performances of early season became harder to come by over time for a relatively thin squad of sophomores and juniors. Lahainaluna, with its burly, tall posts and disciplined halfcourt sets, were the antidote to the Mustangs. Kryptonite. And it certainly did not help that Kalaheo’s superb Kupaa Harrison was playing on a badly sprained ankle. He did all he could (three blocks), but had very little mobility. The timing couldn’t have been worse.
But Kalaheo fans have this to look forward to: the core of this team will be back next year. No other team will have as much varsity experience. And I’m guessing they’ll be very hungry.
Campbell beat Leilehua in the other opening-round game at McKinley, 46-35. After edging past the Mules in two previous matchups by a total of 4 points, the Sabers limited them to 22-percent shooting from the field. Leilehua missed a boatload of layups, and that was that.
At Radford’s James Alegre Gymnasium, Mililani outlasted Waiakea 70-62. It was a rematch; the teams played in the Kaiser Invitational on Dec. 27 in a game the Trojans won 59-56. Waiakea went on to place second in the BIIF, and with an ozeki-like season — beating most teams while losing to Top 10 squads closely (Maryknoll among them) — the Warriors had a shot to advance at states.
Mililani, the OIA’s fifth-place team, is the kind of team that will run and run if you can’t keep up. That brings this to mind: on the Big Island, run-and-gun basketball is part of BIIF hoops history. But that’s been more true of Hilo going back to the days of the Manliguis brothers and their veteran coaching staffs. It’s been more true of some of the old St. Joseph teams, the rollicking Kohala Cowboys.
But not necessarily with Waiakea, which runs to an extent, but not like coach Ed Gonzales’ Trojans. Elijah Butler (16 points, 16 rebounds, five dimes, three steals) and Noel Bueno (18 points, four steals) led Mililani, which shot 49 percent from the field (28-for-57). The Warriors got balanced scoring, but turned the ball over 21 times.
Maryknoll pulled away late to beat Moanalua 59-54. I’ll say this about Na Menehune: these guys never surrender. Even in the face of close, tough losses in the past week (Farrington, Kalaheo), they bounce back each time. They led Maryknoll, a team that was ranked No. 1 recently, 27-24 at the half.
But Josh Burnett (26 points) and Kaleb Gilmore (25) did enough damage offensively to vault the Spartans in the second half while Moanalua went through fits and starts. Maryknoll’s explosive transition game, particularly on steals (five by Burnett, four by Gilmore), is unparalleled. So Burnett — who also had nine rebounds and is probably the best combination of offensive and defensive prowess in the islands — and Gilmore overcame a combined 12 turnovers to steer the Land of Sparta to another big win.
Moanalua? Elo Badua’s early ankle injury was a factor. He returned, but wasn’t quite the same factor. Aaron Stuart (19 points), one of my favorite post players, and Antoine Hines (18) carried much of the load.
One major key for Maryknoll is teamwork, which may sound strange when two guys are doing almost all the scoring. But a team that doesn’t understand its individual roles becomes a union disorganized and rebellious. The Spartans’ role players were doing their thing and contributing to a win by not going outside their parameters. Tyson Kaloa (three points, five boards, one assist) and 6-7 Micah McGivern (three boards, one block) did their jobs in front of the rim. Point guard Sean Ogata (only two turnovers in 31 minutes) was also valuable.
This is the blueprint coach Kelly Grant has drawn up for his personnel isn’t conventional by ILH standards, but it works. Which leads to this: as a player, would you rather average 19 points per game at an OIA school or even an ILH D-II program? Or would you rather be a role player for a state-title finalist (which is what Maryknoll was in 2013)?
For this Pupule, it comes down to roots. Back in the 1980s when recruiting was common in town — I knew a handful of guys at Boys Club and McCully Youth League who got scooped up by ILH powerhouses Maryknoll and University — yes, it was the coolest thing. But there’s also something unique about a middling program that rises to upset the Goliaths of the ILH. Grant knows this well, having guided Kaimuki over Punahou for the state crown in ’07.
He also knows the other side of the coin, being a Maryknoll graduate and former state champ as a player under Tony Sellitto.
So which would you prefer? To stay home and represent your community and family and friends? Or join the mighty and challenge for a state title every year?
It’s a tough call. There’s no wrong choice. Unless you choose against your heart.
Lahainaluna (14-7) vs. ‘Iolani (20-7), McKinley Student Council Gymnasium, 7 p.m.
Stylistically, the Lunas are as close to a mirror image of the top-seeded Raiders as any other team in the field. They met in preseason and the Raiders won by a double-digit margin. I can’t imagine ‘Iolani faltering in the quarters, but this is one heck of a matchup issue. The Lunas are almost as big and just as physical as the Raiders.
If the notion of ‘Iolani playing physical, inside-out basketball seems strange, it shouldn’t. They pounded the ball into the post during the Anderson twins era (early in the Mark Mugiishi-led dynasty years), and that tradition has returned with one of the twins as an assistant coach. This will be an intriguing, if low-scoring battle tonight.
Some of ‘Iolani’s strengths will be neutralized. Zach Buscher is an elite defender on the perimeter, but Lahainaluna doesn’t look to its guards for major production. The Raiders are strong at the rim, but they haven’t faced a local team with the big-man passing chemistry that the Lunas’ bigs (6-4 Cyrus Kama, 6-5 Jose Madera) have.
The trump card is Ikaika Phillip, ‘Iolani’s versatile offensive force. The Lunas have strength at guard and in the post, but finding a defender who can handle Phillip’s 3-point range and low-post fundamentals will be a major priority for coach John Dudley. Though the Lunas entered the tourney with little historical success in the state tourney and even less fanfare — they are one of two unranked teams in the quarterfinals (Mililani is the other) — Dudley’s masterful touch on this squad will be in play. They play within their means, and though I wonder what would happen against team that applies fullcourt pressure, I think Dudley and ‘Iolani coach Dean Shimamoto keep the tempo under control.
I’m expecting a game in the mid-30s.
Campbell (18-10) vs. Konawaena (21-4), McKinley Student Council Gymnasium, 5 p.m.
The last time the Wildcats were on Oahu, it was December and they rallied past Kalaheo to win the Pete Smith Classic. That was a week of tension for Wildcat fans, who saw their team beat Mililani (71-61), St. Francis (48-45) and then host Kalaheo (54-53). The Wildcats kept winning and were unbeaten until losing on the road to Kohala in overtime, and then at home to the big Ka Makani of HPA.
Campbell brings a similar physical maturity. Though the Sabers aren’t as tall as HPA, they have some superior athletes in Gilbert Dayanan and Isaac Hurd, among others. Coach Wyatt Tau has molded a team that won the OIA Red JV title two years ago. They love to use their speed in transition, but are fairly disciplined in halfcourt sets.
That will be essential against Konawaena, a defense-first team with astute senior leadership from point guard Brandon Awa and slasher Jonah Bredeson. What the Wildcats have is common to a lot of state-tourney qualifiers: any of their role players can step up in a clutch situation, as Chase Takaki did with the game-winning 3 against Kalaheo. Coach Donny Awa has been to the Big Dance many times before. This might be the best shot Konawaena’s boys have had to reach the final ever.
Konawaena finished third in ’08 and fourth last year. Campbell reached the semifinal round just once, in ’05, and finished fourth.
Like the ‘Iolani-Lahainaluna matchup, this pairing has two teams that are much more similar than dissimilar.
Mililani (15-10) vs. Farrington (24-4), James Alegre Gymnasium, 5 p.m.
The Governors love to run. The Trojans love to run. Let’s run, everybody!
The unseeded Trojans have one advantage: they got their first game in, the nerves are gone and they should be loosey-goosey tonight. Farrington hasn’t played since the OIA Red final and might start a bit stiff and disjointed. Probably not, but we’ve seen that before with teams that get first-round byes. It could happen to ‘Iolani, Konawaena, Baldwin, not because of lack of preparation or motivation. It’s simply part of the game at tournament time.
The Govs can slow the pace down and run that post offense forever. They can also run the floor and get dunks in traffic from Jacob McEnroe. The key is that they all know their roles, embrace their responsibilities and never lose their cool. That’s one benefit of a senior-heavy lineup. Multiple options at different positions is a blessing for coach Alan Silva. When he needs quick points and plays, he can turn to Van Hugo. When he wants more patience and pass-first thinking, he inserts Mark Dudalao.
The fact that Farrington has two solid guards in Hugo and Dudalao in addition to starting guards Isaiah Smith and Isaiah Visoria is almost unsettling for opposing coaches. Depth is often the quietest of weapons.
Still, the Trojans will have a slugger’s chance in this one. The program reached the semifinals in ’02 and ’04, finishing fourth each time.
Farrington won the state title in ’59 and ’60 under Robert Ikehara, beating Kamehameha 48-47 and Saint Louis (44-32), respectively. Then came four runs to the semifinals over the next 24 seasons, all ending in losses except in ’70, when the Govs lost to Punahou (Bud Scott) 56-44 in the title game.
After a fourth-place finish in ’83, the Govs program was relatively quiet until ’07, when they reached the D-II semifinals. Then came D-II state titles in ’08 and ’11 under Silva.
Maryknoll (24-5) vs. Baldwin (21-3), James Alegre Gymnasium, 7 p.m.
For what it’s worth, coaches and media voted Maryknoll No. 3 and Baldwin No. 4 in this week’s Star-Advertiser Top 10. Best matchup in the quarterfinals? Probably. Third-seeded Baldwin did nicely during the Punahou Invitational, knocking off a depleted Farrington squad and taking host Punahou to the limit before losing close. But the Bears stumbled some during MIL play, understandably so now that we’ve gotten a close look at Lahainaluna. (King Kekaulike and Maui were no pushovers.)
The Bears have size (a couple of raw 6-4 prospects), but their best players are more mid-sized. Teva Eldredge (6-2) was often spectacular during the Punahou tourney. He’s a football player built to handle the physical rigors of a state tourney, similar in some ways to Baldwin studs of the past, like Trenson Himalaya.
Ryan Garces is a key part of the Baldwin offense, a 5-11 shooter who is essential to the offense’s fluidity. He was the missing piece on the day the Bears lost to Punahou (winter ball). Junior point guard Kody Takushi is a third-year starter who has improved his 3-point shot (almost automatic), but was occasionally, surprisingly sloppy with the ball during that preseason tourney. If he plays up to standard, the Bears can win this game.
Coach Wayne Gushiken’s methodical, backdoor-cutting halfcourt offense is the right weapon to use against Maryknoll’s frenetic style. But the Bears do like to run when possible. Exactly when and how often they’ll play the Spartans’ game is a big question.
For Maryknoll, the new era of basketball supremacy has ignited fans, alumni and faculty. The first run a generation ago started with a state-final loss to Kamehameha in 1976 (46-39), followed by “Division A” (or Class A) state titles in ’78, ’79 and ’80.
They returned to the D-I scene with title-game losses in ’81 (Punahou 41-40) and ’82 (Kailua 47-42). Then the breakthrough in ’84, a 55-44 win over Maui. Over the next four years, Sellitto led the Spartans to the semifinals each time, and they lost in the final to Saint Louis in ’86 and to University in ’88.
Then the program went quiet for more than two decades with Sellitto moving on to HPC (now HPU), where the Sea Warriors became a prominent team nationally. Last year’s 60-54 overtime loss to Kalaheo only whetted the Spartans’ appetite for state crown.
As of today, we’re down to eight. In the next 10 hours, we’ll be down to four. It could come down to that one extra possession because a reserve forward dove headfirst for a loose ball during a lull in the mid-second quarter. It could turn on a reaction to an official’s call in the fourth quarter. It’s that time of year when everything matters, big and small.