Trey Lieb and Amari Westmoreland-Vendiola were teammates last year.
When Westmoreland-Vendiola was invited to play with the Las Vegas Stars in a California tournament, he and his travel partner made a recommendation. Pualani Vendiola, his grandmother, suggested that the Stars bring in Lieb, the Mililani sharpshooter. The Stars enjoyed their success on that trip.
Lieb and Westmoreland-Vendiola first became teammates while playing for Alika Smith’s Hawaii Select squad last summer. On Tuesday night in the OIA Division I semifinals, they were foes. Lieb splashed five of his six 3-pointers in the first half and finished with 27 points as No. 6 Mililani raced to a 66-56 win over No. 7 Kahuku.
“He was extra pumped,” said Westmoreland-Vendiola, who finished with 20 points, eight rebounds and three blocks. “They had a good game plan coming in and they kept us off the boards well. We didn’t haver that much offensive putbacks as we usually do.”
Daniel Kaio was huge with 19 points and five rebounds, all on the offensive glass. Just about every time Kaio hustled for points, or Westmoreland-Vendiola came up with a resounding block or a bucket, the Trojans had an answer. J Marxen (11 points) and Jayden Kipapa (six points) often drove and dished to open teammates. Creighton Ofsonka scored 11 points, all in the paint, and Dylan Flanders did his best stretch-5 work by swishing a pair of corner 3s to finish with eight points.
If Kahuku has the bearing and machinery of an old-school two-points-and-a-cloud-of-dust unit, Mililani is the antidote and kryptonite. The Trojans pushed the tempo, moved the ball like a mini-version of the Golden State Warriors and found open teammates.
“My team’s ball movement was definitely the reason why I’ve gotten so many looks. Without my teammates, I wouldn’t be scoring that much,” the senior guard said. “I was extra pumped to play against Amari tonight. He’s a great player. Iron sharpens iron and he gave us a good challenge tonight.”
Mililani is 13-1 overall, with the only loss coming in a 63-61 barnburner with No. 1 Saint Louis during the James Alegre Invitational. The Trojans meet No. 4 Kailua for the title tonight.
“This is a big win for us, but I told my team we need to stay focused and the job is not finished yet. We are worried about OIA as of right now and will worry about states after OIAs are completed,” Lieb said.
Lieb spent his pandemic days working out at Mililani Uka park, a short walk from his home. During his 75-minute routine, he put up 500 shots. He would do one-handed shots at the rim to begin.
“I usually start with form shooting, left-hand dribbling the ball and the right hand shooting it. Then I usually move to mid-range standing in spots, then work off dribble mid-ranges,” he said. “Same with the 3-pointers. Spot shooting then off-dribble, such as coming off screens.”
The routine lightens during a busy high school season, but it was key to his success.
“My dad really pushes the right way of shooting to me. ’Til this day he still gets on me about making sure my form is right,” Lieb said of his father, Thomas. “My dad rebounds for me, but shooting is only a little bit of my workout. I usually go into ball handling and defensive slides.”
Lieb has a shout out for one of his biggest fans.
“Thanks to Aunty Lani,” he said. “She gave me the opportunity to travel with them.”
>> Marciel turns to the dark side, uses zone defense
There’s nothing wrong with options, especially when one can turn a dire situation into a crucial playoff win. Kailua coach Walter Marciel faced that predicament at halftime when his team trailed Roosevelt, 23-19.
Kamuela Kaaihue, Roosevelt’s 6-foot-3, 215-pound multi-sport athlete, had already dominated inside with 12 points. Kaaihue, recently offered a football scholarship by Hawaii, had scored 20 points against Nanakuli, then amassed 18 points and 20 rebounds against Leilehua.
Kailua’s man-to-man defense wasn’t doing horribly, but with the offense stagnant, Marciel made the call. Kaaihue was blanketed in the final 16 points, scoring only six more points. Roosevelt’s offense struggled and Kailua pulled out a gnarly 42-37 semifinal win.
“We haven’t played zone all year and that was the first time we played it. We strictly play man to man, and we slowed down the game. It became possession basketball,” Marciel said. “We put it in Jonny (Philbrick)’s hands to go penetrate and when help came, then we had some easy buckets and that’s how we got that lead.”
Philbrick finished with 16 after going scoreless in the opening quarter. It was a bit of a call back to his performance against Kahuku last week when he scored 21 of his 29 after halftime.
Both teams were visibly fatigued as the condensed playoff schedule played out. It was the fourth game in six days for both.
“What happened this year is that all of us coaches didn’t get a true preseason and we try to get three games in a row to condition our guys. This is the first time we’re playing back-to-back games, and we play another game (Wednesday). Conditioning is so important,” Marciel said.
Roosevelt pulled a bit of surprise by shelving its 1-2-2 matchup zone and playing solid man defense.
“I feel good. I feel great. Steve (Hathaway) and I are good friends. He’s an outstanding coach,” Marciel said.
The slower pace was fine with Roosevelt, which started Kayman Lewis and Kody Seguancia. Both had rested on Monday at the Leilehua game due to injuries. Kailua has a penchant for pressing and running, but Tuesday’s game was a crawl. That made defense and offensive rebounding more crucial. Ethan Kunz came through for Kailua with four offensive caroms, three steals and two blocks.
The matchup with Mililani could test the speed limit.
“We’re excited. We knew we’re one of the better teams in the OIA. Kailua did the same on the East, so I think the best two teams are playing in the championship,” Mililani coach Garrett Gabriel said. “I think we’re mirror images of each other. They’ve got a guard who’s one of the best in the state, so we have to find ways to slow him down. Every game is tougher, every game is more meaningful, so we’re looking forward to it.”