And then there were two.
Two in the Division I finals of the Snapple/HHSAA Boys Basketball State Championships. Two in the D-II title game. To this point, merry tales for the finalists. Bittersweet lingerings for the defeated.
First, the defeated.
Lahainaluna (23-2, 10-0 MIL)
WOW. I’d seen what Coach Jason Justus implemented when he brought his team to Oahu for preseason the past two, three years. Structured. Smart. Challenging. Lahaina is a place that has immense athletic talent. The football team is proof of that over decades. Girls basketball is an MIL dynasty and won states a few seasons back. Softball, outstanding. Boys basketball? Up and down.
What Justus and his staff installed and honed with his program is on par with the work of any statewide. The basketball IQ that was erratic in years past is at a high level now. It was enough for the Lunas to take a 28-24 lead over ILH champion Punahou, seeded second (and ranked second in the Top 10). Everyone on the floor for the Lunas was clutch. Clutch. Punahou couldn’t seem to get an easy layup for 16 minutes, and when they finally tried a post-up, Kaulana Makaula was fouled and shot free throws.
The second half was all about attacking the rim, and Zayne Chong caught fire. He drove, he launched 3s, and scored 14 points after the break in Punahou’s 54-47 comeback win. The Buffanblu shot 14-for-16 from the foul line in the second half. The Lunas stayed in man defense from start to finish. They did a credible job on Chris Kobayashi after he scored eight quick points in the first quarter, limiting him to six shot attempts and six points after the first.
It was a stellar performance by seniors Carver Locke (16 points, eight rebounds) and Jeremy Santos (15 points, 3-for-4 from deep). The first half was brilliant for the Lunas, but they seemed a bit gun-shy after that, partly due to Punahou’s defense. I wanted to see Santos shoot more — he had 11 field-goal attempts and Locke had 10 — especially during the third quarter when he took just one shot. Punahou made its adjustments well.
The Lunas also lose Tavaki Faleta to graduation, but the rest of the team are underclassmen. With the MIL in the basketball doldrums, the Lunas are at the beginning of a dynasty.
‘Iolani (22-10, 11-4 ILH)
Nine games in 13 days. Sure, they play a lot of games in the NBA, and those pros travel across the country. But in high school, nine games in 13 days takes a toll, especially late in the season.
No one from ‘Iolani will use it as an excuse, but the Raiders managed to play good and sometimes great basketball despite the pileup of minutes. Coach Dean Shimamoto did what he could, utilizing his bench, platooning his reserves and starters. It almost worked.
Somehow, down 14 points in a heavyweight slugfest, the Raiders rallied and tied the game three times in the final minutes of regulation against top-seeded Kahuku. There’s not much more they could’ve done. Kahuku’s 51-48 overtime win said more about ‘Iolani’s grit than any other factor. Hugh Hogland had 14 points, 11 rebounds and seven blocks. Justin Genovia scored 14 points. Helam Baldomero had eight points and was a key to ‘Iolani’s perimeter defense, limiting Kahuku’s Jessiya Villa to 4-for-15 shooting.
Nothing will soothe the anguish of a proud championship team, but the Raiders had a great run. They won two state titles during Hogland’s four seasons, and it took a team as powerful as Kahuku to stop them in the semifinals.
Honokaa (23-11, 9-3 BIIF)
Honokaa’s fun, long ride hasn’t ended yet, but its title hopes have. A 78-50 loss to top-seeded St. Francis — a team that beat (a Dan Fotu-less) Kahuku squad 56-51 in preseason — doesn’t change the journey Coach Jayme Carvalho and his Dragons enjoyed. There are very few neighbor islands teams that travel annually in preseason and postseason like the Dragons, and most of those teams are on the girls side.
The Dragons led the Saints 17-14 after one quarter, then St. Francis took command. Kelvin Falk led Honokaa with 18 points. The Dragons will lose six seniors to graduation, but some key contributors, including Falk, are just juniors.
Seabury Hall (20-5, 13-1 MIL)
The Spartans’ magical run was halted in the semifinals by Kalani in a matchup of contrasting styles. Peter Konohia (13 points, nine boards), Cameron Hanisch (11 points) and Christian Jenkins (11 and six) led the Spartans.
The roster is senior-heavy. Only three of of the 14 Spartans are underclassmen. They get one last taste of the big dance in an intriguing matchup with Honokaa here at Stan Sheriff Center this afternoon in the D-II third-place game. It’s one of the matchups I’m looking forward to.
At Stan Sheriff Center
Kahuku (25-3, 14-0 OIA) vs. Punahou (26-5, 11-3 ILH)
Tip-off: 7 p.m.
The skinny: The Red Raiders didn’t get revved up offensively until the second quarter against ‘Iolani, and after building the lead to 25-11, it was a struggle to get clean looks, especially with Dan Fotu on the bench with foul trouble. Most of his fouls were absolutely unnecessary, and though the Red Raiders have a roster that is tough to match as a whole, it’s impossible to really replace a 6-foot-7 shot blocker.
That will be a key in tonight’s title game. Can Fotu keep his hands to himself? I’m not sure, but maybe Coach Brandyn has considered using a basic 2-3 zone to protect Fotu and 6-6 Samuta Avea. Then again, they’ve got plenty of firepower in reserve. It wouldn’t be Kahuku basketball going at a slower pace, basically countering everything they work on at practice.
The other factor is clock management. Though there was no need for Kahuku to pull the ball out early in the fourth quarter, Fotu was again on the bench and ‘Iolani was already in the midst of a big rally. Kahuku kept firing up some tough, contested shots, and those misses gave ‘Iolani the opportunity to rally and tie the game, forcing overtime. Is it possible Kahuku doesn’t even have a delay game?
Unlikely. Akana and his staff have this squad prepared for every scenario. He also doesn’t really want to rein his stallions in. Even if it means shooting themselves out of a game. It could happen, but Akana is riding on what brought the Red Raiders this far.
Punahou seemed a bit listless and out of sync against Lahainaluna, and though much of that was due to the Lunas’ scrappy man defense, the Buffanblu were a different team after halftime.
They can’t afford to have medium or low energy against Kahuku, a team that purposely and consistently explodes out of the gate. Punahou has gone away from getting low-post offense from Duke Clemens and much more to a four- and five-out attack. That means they could explode from deep when defenses pack the paint, or they could go cold and give up big runs.
X-factor: Regardless of the score, Kahuku will keep attacking and launching, which is good news for teams that fall behind big early. This will be the biggest test for defensive stoppers Kesi Ah-Hoy and Codie Sauvao.
St. Francis (25-4, 10-0 ILH D-II) vs. Kalani (16-10, 8-6)
Tip-off: 5 p.m.
The skinny: How will the Saints cover a team that likes to put five guards on the floor (by necessity, mostly) with elite defender Manoa Kualii-Moe sidelined. The lanky, long-armed 6-foot junior suffered an elbow injury in the win over Honokaa.
The Saints are deep enough and big enough to compete with any team, D-I or D-II, but against a jab-and-ran offense like Kalani’s, having agile defenders with length is a luxury. Kalani has been to the big stage before, losing to Hawaii Prep (2014) and Kaiser (’15) in title games.
St. Francis has a scoring guard in Kameron Ng with a tireless motor, and senior Noah Kurosawa is a deadly accurate sharpshooter. There is interior production from 6-3 junior Boris Vukovic and senior football standout Supilani Mailei.
The lineup also includes super athlete Wembley Mailei, a 6-2 junior. The Saints have more height than just about any team in the state with very few exceptions.
Kalani is one of the smallest teams in the tournament, but uses basketball IQ and guard skills to control games. It is, as I’ve mentioned before, like Floyd Mayweather jabbing and running, outpointing his opponents by using his most lethal weapon: his brain.
The Falcons are seeded third, and in beating second-seeded Seabury Hall, they showed once again that might matters more than height. Coach Nathan Davis’ all-blonde team isn’t dependent on a single scorer, though Jaemi Harris is a 6-foot athlete with hops and Kapaa Nishimura is a 6-3 sharpshooter. Davis has gotten this group to buy in and play ultimate team ball, sacrificing stats for wins, and it has worked since day one of the preseason slate, when the Falcons lost at Maryknoll 40-38.
From Ryan Jacobi to Max Pepe to Micah Kawano to Toby Mitchell to Evan Weng to Trey Sumida to Christian Salas and the rest of the roster, there hasn’t been a mountain too high.
X-factor: Kualii-Moe is the one tall, long defender who could have disrupted Kalani’s offense. Whether St. Francis coach Ron Durant opts to go zone or stay in man will be an interesting choice.