There are teams that are playing their tails off across the state, but the change in efficiency — and success — is most prevalent for Big Red.
Kahuku continued its sterling ascent on Wednesday night with a come-from-behind 63-53 overtime win over No. 3 Kalaheo at the Mustangs’ gym. Kahuku’s win leaves each team at 5-1 in the OIA East.
It was a balanced attack and a stingy defense, a victory replete with details aplenty that rolled in favor of coach Brandyn Akana and his Red Raiders.
Currently ranked No. 10, Kahuku is arguably playing as well as any team in the state. The roster already had a 6-foot-9 center in Oscar Cheng (11 points, 10 rebounds) and solid, versatile playmakers in Shon Reid (12 points), Lokana Enos (16 points) and super sophomore Amari Westmoreland-Vendiola (10 points). The return of Robbie Sauvao (14 points) gives Kahuku something that only a few teams have: a strong, physical and superior mismatch against most good teams.
Since transferring to California in August, Sauvao grew and is now 6-3, and gained considerable strength. His ability to bring the ball up when Reid is denied the ball gives Kahuku a powerful weapon. Sauvao’s slashing drives were tough to stop for Kalaheo, which is one of the best defensive units in the OIA.
Maryknoll has a strong 6-4 slasher in Niko Robben. Kamehameha has a 6-1 force Christmas Togiai. After that, the list is minimal. Sauvao transferred out of Kahuku and played football last fall at Western High School in Anaheim. Then came the question, stay or go home, as winter arrived.
“I kind of thought about it. I laid out all my options. I felt it was best to come home,” said Sauvao, who stayed with a sister in California. “I missed all the boys. I feel good. It’s a big win, on the road, too.”
Enos, who also started at linebacker on the gridiron, sees a koa trophy on the horizon ahead if Kahuku continues to progress.
“This really helps. Robbie is a four-year veteran. Having somebody like that back home helps,” Enos said.
Reid is in a comfort zone with plenty of ballhandling help. He shot 6-for-6 at the foul line and scored six of his 12 points in overtime against Kalaheo.
“Shon’s feeling less pressured now to handle the ball all the time. I think with that he’s been playing well the last five, six games,” Akana said.
Enos, though, is an x-factor that most teams can’t afford to lose track of. At 6-2, he’s strong in the paint, but his agility and shooting ability make him a stretch-4. Or maybe he’s a 3 who just batters the glass. Enos shot 2-for-2 from long range for Kahuku, as did Westmoreland-Vendiola. In all, Kahuku shot 6-for-9 from the arc while Kalaheo went cold and shot 4-for-18 on its home court.
Kahuku even thrived at the free-throw line, connecting on 9-for-9 in OT and 15-for-19 overall. Kalaheo struggled at 5-for-11. It was just one of those nights for the Mustangs, who have had an otherwise stellar season.
The game had a good flow with either team playing man to man. Then, with 3:46 left in regulation, Kahuku switched to a 1-3-1 zone. With the score tied at 50, Kalaheo decided to hold the ball and Kahuku sat back, resting their starters. Akana’s short rotation paid off as his Red Raiders rested until Kalaheo’s Bobby Thompson turned the ball over in the final seconds.
Sauvao missed the potential winning layup at the buzzer, but it didn’t matter from that point on. Kahuku simply paraded to the free-throw line while Kalaheo went 1-for-5 from the field in the extra period.
Cheng hit two foul shots in OT, and Reid hit four in a row.
“Oscar works hard and he puts time in the gym. Good things happen when you do that,” Akana said. “It was great to see Kahuku basketball hit free throws at the end. That hasn’t always been the case, but this year’s team, they’re a little more mature and we were able to hit them tonight.”
Kahuku has a home game against Kaimuki on Saturday. Kalaheo goes on the road to play Roosevelt, also on Saturday.