3 days, 6 games later, Waiakea emerges a better team

The Waiakea Warriors won the title game of the Sacred Hearts Academy Invitational. Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018. Paul Honda/Star-Advetiser

Six games in three days, no problem for the Waiakea Warriors.

Though other neighbor island teams like Lahainaluna had done this on a regular basis, No. 7-ranked Waiakea adopted this scripted bit of madness for the first time this week.

By game six, in the title matchup with Sacred Hearts at the SHA Invitational, the Warriors played some of their best basketball in the second half. Waiakea pulled away from No. 10 Sacred Hearts for a 64-51 win.

“I’m not completely tired. I could play some more if I had to,” said junior Kelsie Imai, who led the Warriors with 18 points. “Sacred Hearts is a great team. We knew what they had. We just had to adjust, to shake off yesterday’s loss.”

Technically, Waiakea won the title despite losing to No. 1-ranked ‘Iolani in the semifinal round on Friday. The Raiders opted to forego the final rather than play against another ILH D-I member.

Regardless, it was a win-win result for the Warriors, who also got four rebounds and six assists from Imai against Sacred Hearts. Jazelle Dorser added 15 points and five boards, while Bethany Honma added nine points and Zaelynn Lui-Cabinatan chipped in seven. Imai and Lui-Cabinatan were selected to the all-tournament team.

At the Sacred Hearts tourney, Waiakea also had a win over Castle (67-48) along with the 66-55 loss to ‘Iolani, finishing 2-1. At the Kaiser tourney, the Warriors defeated Kaiser 57-40 and Mid-Pacific 77-61, and lost to No. 5 Kamehameha 64-51.

“We learned about this team,” Imai said. “We have to work on our defense a lot, our backside. Our offense, we have to execute a little bit more. At times when things weren’t going our way, we just panicked and did whatever we could to get it up.”

Still, the Warriors finished their busy trip 4-2, taking their two losses against Kamehameha and ‘Iolani on the same day (Friday).

“Kamehameha is a great team,” Waiakea coach Brandon Kauhi said. “They have a great post presence, some great athletes. We didn’t play well, but Kamehameha’s going to be in the running, definitely, in the ILH. ‘Iolani is so fundamental. They all can shoot. They all play defense. They came out smashing us right off the bat. We kind of weathered the storm, got everybody playing time. We were down 10 with about a minute left, so it wasn’t as bad. They’re well coached. We’ve got to get back to the drawing board.”

Imai and her teammates showed resilience.

“We got to play a lot of good competition. We don’t get to see that often,” Imai said. “We really got super close. Our chemistry got really better during these two tournaments.”

One of Waiakea’s strengths is the bond between head coach Brandon Kauhi and his staff with the players.

“A lot of us play with their offseason team, too, so we know what they want and expect from us, so that’s good,” Imai added.

The Warriors returns to the Big Island, where there are three clear title contenders — defending champion Konawaena, Hilo and Waiakea — vying for two state-tournament berths.

“That’s a challenge. We just have to work hard and we recently played Hilo and we lost,” Imai said, referring to the Vikings’ 88-75 preseason win two weeks ago. “We know what we did wrong and we can fix it. It’s a totally different (Waiakea) team now from when we played them.”

Over on the Big Island, Waiakea’s future opponents gave Lahainaluna and Kalani tough battles at the Konawaena Invitational.

“We played Kona in the offseason, the summer. Hilo likes to run and press,” Kauhi said. “If you have to take a positive from losing, you see all your flaws, things you’ve got to work on. To be up one with one minute left, I’ll take that any day of the week. After that, we had our best practices. We were motivated to work on fixing the problems. Hopefully, we’ll be peaking in January when we play Hilo and Kona. Hilo’s going to be tough, especially being our rival.”

For now, the Warriors are already supremely conditioned. They were running the floor and pressing when the second half began against Sacred Hearts.

“The summer leagues and summer tournament they play in, they play two, three games,” Kauhi said. “We can match up with athleticism, but we’ve got to work on our shooting.”

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