Young Spartans rout Lunas; ‘Iolani rides Wu’s hot shooting

Maryknoll rolled to an 18-point win to open the McKinley tournament. Photo by Paul Honda/Star-Advertiser.

The hottest ticket in town was at Aloha Stadium today, where Bruno Mars played to a sellout audience on day one of his three-day, tour-closing act.

The hottest performance, though, may have been at McKinley Student Council Gymnasium. Maryknoll’s band of underclassmen swarmed all over the Maui Interscholastic League’s dynastic program, Lahainaluna, for a 71-53 victory in the opening contest at the Matsumoto Law Group McKinley Black and Gold Classic.

That was followed by a scintillating effort from Taylor Wu, who poured in 25 points on 10-for-14 shooting during ‘Iolani’s 72-46 runaway win over Kahuku. Mid-Pacific closed out the night with a come-from-behind 56-40 victory over host McKinley.

Maryknoll 71, Lahainaluna 53
Both teams are in major reload mode after losing mass quantities of senior talent to graduation. The four-time defending ILH champion, Maryknoll, has no seniors, but played flawlessly from the get-go. Aloha Akaka (18 points) and sister Mahalo Akaka combined for 35 points as Coach Chico Furtado unleashed his personnel with an uptempo attack and lots of transition 3-point shots.

The Lady Spartans have pressed for short stretches in recent years, but relied more on the dominance of center Isabella Cravens and tough, halfcouft man defense. Now we get to see 32 minutes of defensive fury from end line to end line. Lily Koki and Jalen Tanuvasa added 10 points each, but it was their defensive prowess, along with the entire cast of reserves, that wore Lahainaluna down.

“We’re using this tournament to get our legs and see what kind of depth we can build around, and whether we can play like this all the time,” Furtado said. “We got to rest our starters after we took that lead. Our conditioning is getting there. I think we were a little tired. The game was a little chaotic, typical first-week basketball. They’re athletic. They’re young. I don’t want athleticism and talent to get harnessed. We’re going to have to live with the mistakes sometimes.”

Abigail Akamine led Lahainaluna with 22 points, but by the third quarter, the Lady Lunas showed complete fatigue. It took them around 20-30 seconds to walk downcourt for 1-and-1 free throws. In a game chock full of fouls and bonus free throws for more than half of the 32 minutes, this tendency to walk was noticeable. This is similar to years past, when the Lunas weren’t quite in top shape during week one, but conditioned hard and were in peak shape by the state tournament. It’s just that I’ve never seen them this slow and tired as a team in all these years.

Maybe they’re playing in a second tournament — like Maryknoll, which got on the bus and headed to Moanalua for a second game of the night — but I haven’t seen any other schedules that listed the Lunas. They did that every year for as long as I can recall, playing in two tournaments, two games each day, and never really looked as achy and exhausted as they did today. Coach Todd Rickard has been at this for more than half his life, and he knows his personnel quite well. If they have to get in shape during (preseason) game play, so be it.

For Maryknoll, the mystery of such young hoopsters getting major minutes as a group is a mystery no more.

“Every game in the McKinley and Moanalua tournaments, we’re going to play like this and see how we can handle that. They’ll step on the floor with anybody and they won’t shy away,” Furtado said. “Todd plays the way he plays and he’s got athletic players. Looks like they’re missing that 3-point shot right now, but by the time the state tournament comes, you know, one of those guards — one of those guards (Akamine), she took us to the bucket several times.”

’Iolani 72, Kahuku 46

Game one of ‘Iolani basketball without PG Tori Maeda was impressive. One neutral observer said to be before halftime, “Imagine what they would be like if she was still healthy.”

I can imagine. In fact, I’d been looking forward to seeing this Raiders team do its thing, playing with pace, running the break, looking for drive-and-kick 3s in transition, playing great full-court defense…

Then the news came out that Maeda, a senior, had injured a knee late in the summer. Probably out for the season. Say. It. Ain’t. So.

At some point, probably in a low-scoring defensive battle against one of their ILH rivals, ‘Iolani will miss Maeda heavily. It’s difficult to replace experience and skill, on-ball defense at the point, and arguably supreme ballhandling along with clutch free-throw shooting.

“Tori’s a huge loss for us. I really wanted to watch her play her senior season. She’s kind of a player-coach now, and we want her to share her wisdom. We really have to play as a team. We’re not big. We’re not the most athletic. We lost Tori. So we really have to play as a team to overcome a lot of shortcomings,” coach Dean Young said. “We did well tonight. We shared the ball. Pretty good team defense, could be a little better. It’s a work in progress.”

For now, Wu really stepped up.

The senior was all over the court offensively and defensively, and the Raiders’ full-court pressure was so effective against a sometimes frazzled Kahuku squad. Kyra Tanabe seemed to be in the right spot every time, turning steals into layups and finishing with 15 points.

Last season’s superb freshman, Lily Lefotu Wahinekapu, scored a modest 10 points. Her leadership, though, was immeasurable. Getting ‘Iolani’s fastbreak going. Executing half-court offense. She probably could’ve been more aggressive with the ball, but nobody on the ‘Iolani bench would complain. In her own way, Wahinekapu channelled some Maeda floor-general action.

“She definitely is capable, obviously, of taking more of a scoring role for us. It’s nice to see her moving the ball. She played some point guard for her club team this summer. You can kind of see that paying off with her vision, being unselfish,” Young said. “And her sister (Jovi Lefotu) is on the team now.”

They moved the ball like Golden State Lite, and that freed up teammates for layups and, inevitably, Wu’s long-range accuracy.

Wu was more opportunistic than anything, shooting 5-for-8 from the arc. Three of those bombs were from NBA range, yet she was in the flow of the offense, balanced, squared up, and open.

“I thought my team played good for our first game. We played as a team. I’m happy everybody got to score the ball, move it around good. I can’t wait to see what we have this season,” the senior said. “Hopefully, PT lets Tori get back before states. We miss her on the court and she’s a really big asset to our team, so hopefully she can come back.”

She probably won’t need to score 25 points every night for the Raiders to play great basketball, but every team can benefit from knowing that 25 is possible from one or two of their best scorers. Hold that in your back pocket as long as you like, or unload it every time you can. It’s a wild card that isn’t so common in prep hoops.

“Tori’s also one of our top ballhandlers, so we kind of had to step up with the guards. I knew I have to play more guard this season because I’m usually a wing,” Wu said.

Wu also spent a month during the summer on the mainland playing in tournaments and camps.

“I was kind of homesick. I missed my mom and family. It was just me and my dad up there,” said Wu, who has orally committed to Cal Baptist. “They came to watch my games, and I have my official visit soon. I’m happy.”

Young called Wu’s perimeter shooting “unbelievable.”

“Just hard work. She’s been working on the mainland, going to camp after camp. It’s nice to see hard work pay off for these girls,” Young said.

Kahuku’s Lady Raiders had a chance to take a major step forward after last year’s young squad had a solid season. But, at least for tonight, the only player who really showed significant improvement was returning all-state Fab 15 center Sisilia Kaufusi. She managed to score 10 points even after sitting for two quarters after committing a fourth foul before halftime. In her limited minutes, she showed a tight, improved handle. She showed she’s in top physical shape, lean and strong. Kaufusi also showed that she can be a tad bit too aggressive on the defensive end, especially helping out teammates. It’s one game. She didn’t average 20-10 last year on a lark. The best is yet to come.

Kahuku did swish a few 3s in the second half, and that will build confidence. It will be a must, really, when defenses double- and triple-team Kaufusi.

Sophomore point guard Leah Naeata was scoreless in the first half, but finished with eight points, splashing a couple of treys. She showed plenty of promise as a freshman, and against ‘Iolani’s man defense, I thought she would have a chance to use her explosiveness and strength to get to the bucket consistently. Instead, Kahuku rarely was able to set up in halfcouft because of the torrent of turnovers against ‘Iolani’s full court press. Then again, it’s the first game of preseason for most of the teams in the Classic, and the regular season is at least four weeks away for most teams. Time is on Kahuku’s side.

Mid-Pacific 56, McKinley 40
The nightcap was intriguing for about 12 minutes. McKinley zoomed to a 15-8 lead, getting a 3 from Nicole Venzon and a big spark on both ends from PG Cheenie Melgazo. But Venzon went down after getting elbowed in the throat during the second quarter and the game still 15-10 in the Lady Tigers’ favor. By the time she returned, it was 17-all and MPI’s full court traps simply overwhelmed McKinley.

The Owls’ 21-3 run turned a close game into a 29-18 lead by intermission. Brilie Kovaloff was 0-for-3 in the first quarter, but scored seven of her 11 points in the second. Kovaloff was a sparkplug on the press, as well.

“I think it was first-game jitters. We needed to get out of that, ‘Oh, my gosh, it’s our first game.’ Once we did that, we started hitting some shots and it went from there,” Kovaloff said. “Coach asked us to pick up the intensity and start pressing. It helped.”

Madisyn Sagawa was clutch, keeping the Owls in the game with perimeter shooting. She hit two of her three trifectas during the rally, scoring nine of her team-high 12 points in the second quarter.

Payton Antonio also dropped in three 3-pointers. She finished with 11 points.

Cerina Noh led McKinley with 12 points. Venzon returned to the game and shot 3-for-5 from the arc for nine points before suffering cramps to both legs with less than 3 minutes left.

MPI will meet Kahuku on Saturday and Kalani on Monday as the tourney’s inter-league format entertains fans.

“I was actually really happy seeing that we can play these teams in the tournament, especially Kalani because of all the changes that happened over the years,” Kovaloff said. “It’s a good matchup to see where we are as a team, and we can work from there.”

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