In this edition of What Have We Learned, it’s a boys basketball chapter, the big dance episode flavored with a pinch of stunning reality. After two days, this is what we know.
>> The most valuable block party
Hugh Hogland had some struggles offensively, watching shots rattle in and out all night against Baldwin. But defensively, he threw a gem with five blocks to go with his four points. It’s not often that any player has more blocks than points, and each of those rejections sent upset-minded Baldwin further into the tank. By the third quarter, the Bears scarcely took a shot in or near the paint and ‘Iolani blew the game open with an 18-4 run.
If you’d told Baldwin coach Wayne Gushiken that his team would limit Hogland to four points, he would’ve liked that. But it was a 20-point game during the third quarter, which allowed ‘Iolani to rest its starting five. Robby Mann, who had a bloody nose after taking a hit from a Baldwin player, will be key in tonight’s matchup with Kaiser.
>> Helam’s haven
With the game at a moderate pace and no specific face-guarding, ninja-like defensive assignments, Helam Baldomero was light on his feet at the offensive end. He may be one of the best on-ball defenders in the state, but on Thursday night, he was in the zone with 14 points, including two 3-pointers that set the tone in each half. Baldwin probably had no idea that Baldomero would be so accurate and efficient. Shoot, if the Bears knew Hogland would score just four points, they would’ve loved their chances. Instead, ‘Iolani won handily 43-27, resting its starters for most or all of the final quarter.
>> No ordinary cats
Kaiser’s 77-61 win over Waiakea provided more evidence that the Cougars are significantly wiser for the wear since losing to Kalaheo in the OIA title game last week. Not only is Chance Kalaugher dominating the boards while avoiding foul trouble, his willingness to sacrifice his perimeter game — not entirely, but mostly — to become a force on the low post has opened up looks for teammates like Keoua Mahiko and Isaiah Akiona at the arc.
Defensively, he has locked down the paint not by soaring for spectacular blocks, but simply by putting his hands up as high as possible to block the vision of otherwise good post scorers. Kailua had trouble scoring down low in the opening round against the Cougars, and so did Waiakea.
On top of that, Kaiser’s effectiveness out of a 2-3 matchup zone has been a tool to keep its starters from picking up excess fouls. Yet, former reserve Michael Miske racked up six steals against Waiakea.
Kalaugher (28 points, eight rebounds) and Mahiko (23 points) had their usual big scoring games, but it’s the way Kaiser played the percentages in its own favor the past two nights that has been most impressive. Whether they zone ‘Iolani tonight or not — the Raiders had success against Baldwin’s zone — the Cougars have found balance without losing explosiveness, and if they don’t score big, they’re OK with that. Winning pretty was easy enough for them weeks ago. Now, winning ugly has become one of their finer skills.
Coach Branden Kawazoe’s team met ‘Iolani at the Punahou Invitational on Dec. 29. Kaiser won that game, 53-46. Hogland, going through one of his ankle injuries during that stretch, was not a factor that day.
>> Red Raider Nation
With Kalaheo’s lopsided loss to Kahuku in the quarterfinals on Thursday, ‘Iolani is the only remaining seeded team (league champion) among the final four.
Kahuku’s roller-coaster season on and off the court — mostly off — left the team with a fifth-place finish in the OIA playoffs. The size of the OIA means the league is allotted six, or half, of the HHSAA boys basketball state tourney berths.
Opportunity knocked, and the Red Raiders had their best game of the season, knocking out the OIA champion Mustangs. The 72-52 win came on the heels of a 72-40 blitzkrieg of a young Konawaena team on Wednesday.
Is Kahuku going to make history? The Red Raiders have finished second three times and third three times since the inaugural state tourney in 1957. The program won three “A” state championships in the early 1970s under Norman Pule (twice) and Harry Kahunanui (once).
Kahuku’s most recent appearance in the state final (Division I) was in 2012, when Punahou prevailed 59-52. That Buffanblu team was coached by Darren Matsuda, and he’ll be on the bench when the two programs meet in a semifinal tonight.
Interim coach Brandyn Akana got big performances out of Hirkley Latu (17 points, 11 boards, including five on offense, and two steals) and Bradlee Anae (13 and 12, two assists, one block, one steal). But what’s even more interesting is that the Akina brothers were key. Older brother Keanu Akina had a team-high 25 points on 8-for-11 shooting. He shot 2-for-4 from deep and was 7-for-9 from the foul line.
Younger brother Kawika Akina, a freshman, was a whopping 10-for-12 from the charity stripe and 1-for-3 from the arc. He finished with 13 points on just three field-goal attempts, and added two dimes and two steals.
Akana may be one of the most overqualified coaches in Hawaii prep sports after spending years at the college level. Whatever he’s done this season, it’s clear he’s gotten the normally perimeter-locked Akina brothers to attack the rim. As a team, Kahuku shot 23-for-31 from the charity stripe and 50 percent (23-for-46) from the field with a manageable 14 turnovers.
Those are winning numbers. If they keep those up against the run-and-gun Buffanblu, it’ll be another trip to the final. And no, it doesn’t look like Akana is being required to play all Red Raiders an equal amount of minutes as specified when the coaching change from Alan Akina to Akana was made in late preseason.
The Red Raiders and Buffanblu have not yet met this season.
>> Stunned Mustangs
After leading in the first quarter, Kalaheo was outscored 32-11 over the next two periods. Kekai Smith continued his scoring rampage of recent weeks and finished with 26 points, but in all the Mustangs couldn’t get their long-range game going. They were 5-for-27 from the arc and outrebounded 40-27 by the bigger Red Raiders.
Alex Layi, their blue-collar post, finished with 12 points (5-for-7 from the field), two rebounds and two blocks. Was their lack of girth a factor? Kahuku was whistled for 12 fouls and Kalaheo had 24.
Games I saw at the other bracket (McKinley) allowed for more contact than permitted during the preseason and regular season. I don’t think this is a mandate among officials, but it’s visibly obvious from what I’ve witnessed. That gives the big boys more freedom.
>> Punahou grind time
The Buffanblu came so close to winning the ILH, and though they’re happy to be in the big dance, it’s only fitting that their commitment to playing all 15 players is a major factor as we enter Day 3.
Punahou pulled out a 51-47 overtime win over Leilehua in the opening round, then outlasted MIL champion Lahainaluna 57-47 in the quarterfinals. Fatigue wouldn’t be a factor for the run-and-gun Buffanblu except for this: They played five ILH games in the span of seven days, and if you add up all the hugely impactful battles they’ve had — along with the rest of ILH D-I — over the course of the regular season, tiebreaker series and playoffs, it was a serious grind.
That might explain why Punahou shot cold against a tough, disciplined and long Lahainaluna team. Aside from center ‘Akahi Troske (7-for-10 from the field, 18 points, 20 rebounds, three blocks), the Buffanblu shot 10-for-36. Coach Darren Matsuda continues to play his full roster and none of the Buffanblu played more than 22 minutes last night.
Will there be any blue fuel left in the tank tonight against Kahuku?
>> D-II Gauntlet
The HHSAA is bound by its by-laws to award league champions seeded berths, but in the eight-team format of the boys D-II tourney, it’s very difficult to find any advantage.
No first-round bye, naturally. And with Honokaa, a tough team that won half its games during an Oahu preseason trip — a schedule comprised mostly of D-I opponents — paired against Roosevelt, it made for an intriguing matchup.
Honokaa, the BIIF runner-up, had already beaten Roosevelt at the Rough Riders’ gym in preseason by a double-digit margin. So, with Roosevelt seeded second, it was indirectly a way of saying that Honokaa was seeded seventh.
Honokaa probably would’ve been seeded fifth, but that would’ve put the Dragons in a pairing with BIIF champion St. Joseph. Not allowed. The by-laws state that opening-round matchups between teams from the same league have to be avoided when possible.
OK, so maybe Honokaa would’ve been seeded sixth. That would’ve been a game against Kapaa. Fair enough.
But for whatever reason(s), Honokaa was paired with Roosevelt, and the Dragons won 40-37 against a young, tough Rough Rider squad.
The top seed, St. Francis, knocked out last year’s D-II state runner-up, Kalani, 50-33. On paper, that might have been an unusual pairing, but Kalani did lose a number of key starters from last year’s team. In this instance, the seeding committee was proven right.
The third seed, Kapaa, didn’t have such fortune, losing to ILH runner-up University 51-35. If we rewind the tape to preseason, when the Jr. ‘Bows held their own against a number of D-I teams, it’s safe to say that they might be the second- or third-best team in this tournament. They have height and skill and solid guard play and scoring in the paint.
Seabury Hall, which ousted St. Joseph 38-33, might have something to say about that. But right now, it looks like the strength of ILH D-II is showing. Both OIA teams are out. Both ILH teams are dominant.
The semifinals — Honokaa-University and St. Francis-Seabury Hall — could be sensational. Tip-off at Kaimuki is 5 p.m. for the first game.