Final 4: MIL’s Lunas, Spartans staking a claim

Lahainaluna's Reece Pascua rose to the basket for two points in a state tournament quarterfinal game against Leilehua. Photo by Cindy Ellen Russell/Star-Advertiser.
Lahainaluna’s Reece Pascua rose to the basket for two points in a state tournament quarterfinal game against Leilehua. Photo by Cindy Ellen Russell/Star-Advertiser.

There is no real finality for the Final 4.

But it is certainly a Fantastic 4. The Snapple/HHSAA Boys Basketball State Championships enters day 3, and there haven’t been any serious surprises. But there is some history.

>> Lahainaluna’s venture into the Division I semifinal round is the first for the program since 1957. As in, before statehood. ’57 was the year of the first state basketball championship, which means it was the Territorial Championships. Lahainaluna lost in the semifinals and Saint Louis beat Hilo 65-55 in the finals. The Lunas later won the Class A tournament in ’82, which was the final year of the small-schools state tourney.

>> Former Nanakuli coach and athletic director Hugh Taufa‘asau is one of the tournament observers this week. He guided Nanakuli to Class A crowns in ’72, ’75 and ’76.

>> Top-seeded Kahuku, a charter member of the Rural Oahu Interscholastic Association, won Class A titles under Norman Pule in ’71 and ’73, and under Harry Kahuanui in ’74. The Red Raiders have reached the D-I state (and it’s predecessor’s) championship game in ’05, ’09 and ’12. ‘Iolani, coached by Mark Mugiishi, beat Kahuku 62-51 in ’05. Jesse Nakanishi’s Kamehameha squad edged Kahuku 47-45 in ’09. Darren Matsuda’s Punahou Buffanblu defeated Kahuku 59-52 in ’12.

The Red Raiders finished third in ’67, ’68, ’11 and ’16. They placed fourth in ’06, ’10 and ’15.

>> D-II semifinalist Seabury Hall, which ousted Hawaii Prep on Wednesday, is making its fifth appearance in the semifinals. The Spartans placed fourth in ’12 and ’13, third in ’14 and were runners-up in ’16. They lost to University 46-31 in last year’s final.

>> Kalani has reached the D-II semifinal round, as well, following a win over Le Jardin on Wednesday. The Falcons and their golden coifs were in the state finals in ’14 and ’15. They lost to Hawaii Prep 42-33 in ’14 and Kaiser 49-45 in ’15. Kalani also reached the pre-DI semifinals in ’75, finishing fourth.

>> Eleven state titles for ‘Iolani is a nice number for Raider fans, especially since Punahou has 10, Kamehameha has seven and Saint Louis has six.

The Raiders won their first state title in ’83 under the late Glenn Young, beating Leilehua 62-47. The second crown was in ’94 under Mugiishi, a 53-52 thriller over Kamehameha. Mugiishi guided ‘Iolani to a 62-59 overtime win over Kalaheo in the ’98 finals. They finished second to Pete Smith’s Kalaheo squad in ’01, then embarked on a record five-title streak in ’02, all under Mugiishi.

They returned to the finals after a three-year hiatus and won the title in ’10, ’14 and ’16 under Dean Shimamoto. That’s 11 state championships in boys basketball. There are also four runner-up finishes, a third-place showing and three fourth-place closes.

>> Kalaheo has five state titles along with one D-II crown. Smith led the Mustangs to titles in ’85, ’95 and ’01, the only coach to capture crowd in three different decades. Son Alika Smith spurred the Mustangs to titles in ’13 and ’15.

Here’s a look at tonight’s Final 4 matchups in D-I and D-II.

Division I
Semifinal round
At McKinley Student Council Gymnasium
Kahuku (24-3, 14-0 OIA) vs. ‘Iolani (22-9, 11-4 ILH)

Tip-off: 5 p.m.
The skinny: The Raiders will be sneaky and leak out guards for transition layups, but for the most part, they’re content to go at medium tempo. The results speak for themselves: two state championships in the past three seasons.

Coach Dean Shimamoto came to the realization four years ago when Maryknoll simply outran his speedy team. So, the Raiders accentuated their strengths and employed more of a post-oriented system. Who wouldn’t with a skilled 6-foot-9 center, Hugh Hogland.

Meanwhile, top-seeded Kahuku has been through ups and downs — mostly ups — despite changes at the coaching position. This year’s group has continuity and an incredible intensity level under second-year head coach Brandyn Akana. ‘Iolani’s task has been Mission: Impossible for every Hawaii team: stop Jessiya Villa, Samuta Avea and Dan Fotu.

Without Villa during an OIA semifinal playoff game against Kailua, Kahuku had to rally for a 42-40 win. In preseason, without Fotu, Kahuku lost at St. Francis, now the top seed in the Division II state tourney.

The Raiders won’t stop the big three, but they have the defensive arsenal to slow them down. To what degree, we shall see.

X-factor: The Raiders have been here before, of course, coming off last year’s state crown. The roles are established and the use of 10 players in the rotation by Shimamoto has eased the burden for a team that played seven games in a 10-day span as of Monday. The Red Raiders had an opening-round bye, and that down time provided by the OIA’s relatively even-timed playoff schedule is a big plus in what otherwise could be a dead-even game.

Punahou (25-5, 11-3 ILH) vs. Lahainaluna (23-1, 14-0 MIL)
Tip-off: 7 p.m.
The skinny: The Lunas are having arguably their finest season ever. For sure, it’s their first trip to the semifinal round since 1957. They were down up 24-20 at the half before eliminating the OIA’s sixth-place team, Leilehua, 44-32 in the quarterfinal round on Wednesday.

That might seem a bit underwhelming, but the fact is that the young Leilehua Mules were playing their best basketball in recent weeks. Another fact: Lahainaluna didn’t have a lot of in-state, Top 10 competition in preseason — the Lunas beat St. Francis on Dec. 17 — but between the month-long summer journeys to California and off-island preseason play, Coach Jason Justus’ team should be equipped and experienced enough for tonight’s showdown with ILH champion Punahou.

The Lunas, as usual, were efficient and systematic, shooting 61 percent from the field (17-for-28). They also limited Leilehua’s key playmaker, Liam Fitzgerald, to 1-for-3 field-goal shooting and one assist.

No Luna took more than seven shots with the exception of guard Reece Pascua (5-for-10, 11 points, only one turnover). Tavaki Faleta had 10 points and Jefferson Locke added nine. It’s an interesting coincidence that as Baldwin’s program has hit bottom (2-15 win-loss mark), it is Lahainaluna that is so precise and effective in running a structured, deliberate yet quick system.

Punahou will provide an intriguing counterpoint. The Buffanblu prefer to run, and sometimes they will press fullcourt. Otherwise, it’s mostly half or fullcourt man-to-man coverage. Offensively, Chris Kobayashi can hit from deep or mid-range, and he has become stronger every year on drives to the rack.

He is often face-guarded, though, and Punahou finds other ways to get points, whether it’s Zayne Chong attacking the rim or Duke Clemens working the low post. Punahou is as deep and skilled as any team from 1 to 10 in the tournament.

X-factor: Lahainaluna may use the same game plan to keep Kobayashi’s open looks to a minimum. They will likely feel somewhat comfortable running their motion offenses; Punahou rarely, if ever, plays zone on defense.

Division II
Semifinal round
At Kalani’s Earl C. Holmer Gymnasium
St. Francis (24-4, 10-0 ILH D-II) vs. Honokaa (23-10, 9-3 BIIF)

5 p.m.
The skinny: The top-seeded Saints are skilled, balanced and have enough size to compete at the high D-I level. That may come someday. For now, they’re in the semis after trouncing Farrington 80-43. Kameron Ng scored 23 points, and the Saints limited the Governors to 25-percent shooting from the field.

The good news for St. Francis is that most of their key players logged 15 or fewer minutes in the lopsided win. Ng played 21 minutes and versatile Manoa Kualii-Moe played 19 minutes.

Center Supilani Mailei (eight points, nine boards against Farrington) will be tested by Honokaa’s smaller, but tough and very active posts.

Fourth-seeded Honokaa has been to Oahu every preseason for years, usually scheduling multiple games each day — eight in six days last December. The Dragons got 15 points from Kelvin Falk and 11 from Micah Lorenzo in a 70-55 win over KIF champion Kauai on Wednesday.

The Dragons limited the Red Raiders to 35-percent shooting from the field and forced 23 turnovers. Honokaa, always a force in the BIIF regardless of classification, has not won a state title.

X-factor: Honokaa played an integrated schedule (D-I and D-II) in the BIIF, and between that and the preseason trips over the years, Coach Jayme Carvalho’s team is quite comfortable with off-island tournament situations. The Dragons placed third in the pre-Division I and II era twice: once in ’89 and another time in ’01. They finished fourth in D-II last year.

The Saints won the D-II state title in ’13 under then-coach Solomon Batoon. This, however, is a different coaching staff under Ron Durant. If this is the last step before moving up to D-I, the Saints would like nothing more than to take one more step toward claiming that koa championship trophy.

Kalani (15-10, 8-6 OIA) vs. Seabury Hall (20-4, 13-1 MIL)
Tip-off: 7 p.m.
The skinny: The Falcons can’t help but benefit from having homecourt advantage in the first two rounds of the D-II tournament. In a 51-38 win over ILH runner-up Le Jardin, the patient Falcons committed just seven turnovers, which offset 34-percent field-goal shooting. They also forced the Bulldogs into 20 turnovers.

Coach Nathan Davis went for the gold, bleaching his hair before the tournament to keep his promise to the team. They won the OIA title and he colored his hair. There’s nothing like a team full of bleached blondes, and for this group, unity and brotherhood have been staples every year under Davis.

The Spartans arrived on Oahu as one of the mystery teams of the tournament, but it’s no secret now that they play outstanding defense. HPA shot just 27 percent from the field (7-for-26) against the MIL D-II champions. Seabury Hall also outrebounded Ka Makani 25-15 and shot 53 percent from the floor. Peter Konohia had a team-high 11 points and grabbed six rebounds.

They led HPA 30-7 at the half and coasted. Only one player, Chandler Dobson, played more than 22 minutes.

X-factor: Kalani is the smallest team left in the tournament, but is tough-nosed and willing to spread the court four-corners style to gain a jab-and-run advantage. On most possessions, the Falcons have the equivalent of five guards on the floor, which is a matchup difficulty for most opposing teams. After shooting just 16-for-36 in the OIA finals against Farrington, Kalani was 13-for-18 at the foul line against Le Jardin.

Playing an integrated schedule during the regular season was a definite plus for Kalani. Seabury Hall played D-II teams only in the MIL, but with nearly the entire league down significantly in D-I and D-II, an integrated slate would not have helped the Spartans much.

How well Seabury Hall finishes this tournament may say a lot about the pros and cons of playing a D-II only schedule.


  1. Education First February 17, 2017 7:57 am

    Lahaina did great. Got cold in the 4th and it costed them. Kahuku beat a gritty Iolani team. Iolani took the air out of the ball and it worked. It made the game competitive.

    I see Kahuku winning by 7 tonight.

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