Hoopbook: Kahuku girls surge, ILH boys gauntlet

Kahuku's Leiah Naeata (23) drove to the basket against Kaiser's Macy Hill (10) in the first half an OIA D-I semifinal game. Photo by Jay Metzger/Special to the Star-Advertiser.

Running the point, crashing the offensive boards, dishing out dimes.

Life is good for Leiah Naeata and the Lady Raiders of Kahuku. With a concerted effort to win the battle in the paint, she and her teammates went after the offensive glass in the third quarter, hustling for 10 extra chances. Naeata had five offensive caroms in the third and finished the game with 17 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists.

That led to a 17-2 blitz by Kahuku that turned a two-point game at the half into a 55-37 win over Kaiser in the OIA semifinals on Tuesday.

While No. 9 Kahuku seized control in the third quarter, No. 4 Kalani was on the ropes against No. 10 Mililani. Kalani trailed for most of the way until Kamalu Kamakawiwo‘ole hit the go-ahead hook shot, and Alayna Akiona sank a bucket to give them a four-point lead that held. Kalani’s 38-34 win was a revelation, a gritty, defensive-minded victory despite just four points by their leading scorer, Kamakawiwo‘ole.

The Lady Falcons had seen zones all season long — OIA regular season, that is. They’re built to beat zones thanks to the deep-range skills of Akiona, Kalena Halunajan, Heidi Kishaba, Shelby McDaniel and Kamakawiwo‘ole. Mililani’s length and energy, however, are matched by only a handful of teams statewide, making the Trojan matchup zone quite a sight to behold.

Once Kalani got its lead, the Trojans went to man defense, and that’s when the Falcons turned the tables. They used the lineup that is basically five guards out, a version of four corners without stalling. No team in the OIA can fully counter that successfully, except perhaps Kahuku.

Relief in the storm
The Interscholastic League of Honolulu boys basketball gauntlet has never been easy. Having a third state berth this season thanks to the addition of St. Francis to the Division I circle helps, though.

The regular season is heading into the stretch run. Most of the league has five games left, some have just four. With seven D-I teams, the first-place finisher will have a bye in the first round.

1 – Bye
2 vs. 7
3 vs. 6
4 vs. 5

Based on losses in ILH play, and a head-to-head tiebreaker, this is how the seedings would look if the ILH season ended today.

1. Maryknoll
2. Punahou
3. ‘Iolani
4. St. Francis
5. Mid-Pacific
6. Kamehameha/Saint Louis
Note: KS and STL have not played each other yet. For the purposes of this faux pairing list, KS will be 6 based on a higher-quality win (Maryknoll) than STL (St. Francis).

1 Maryknoll – Bye
2 Punahou vs. 7 Saint Louis
3 ‘Iolani vs. 6 Kamehameha
4 St. Francis vs. 5 Mid-Pacific

This is where the reality of the ILH’s insanely balanced lineup hits home.
PUN-STL — Saint Louis nearly won at Punahou six days ago, losing 65-60 in overtime.
IOL-KS — At home, the Raiders won a close game against the Warriors, 64-58, less than two weeks ago.
STF-MPI — Also less than two weeks ago, the Saints escaped with a 71-64 OT win at Mid-Pacific.

There is no way to escape. There is no trap game because every game is a potential avalanche. Yes, a higher seed brings homecourt advantage, but anything is possible. A year ago, Saint Louis had one win in the regular season, then upset Maryknoll in the playoffs.

Then there’s also this. Thanks to the third berth, getting that third-place slot in the regular season is crucial. No matter who finishes 1-2-3 in the playoffs, the regular-season third-place team is in the mix for a state-tournament berth. Either an outright claim or a tiebreaker game.

It won’t be easy for teams that don’t have the depth of Punahou, Maryknoll and ‘Iolani, but the opportunity is there. The other reality? These seven teams are among the 12 best in the state — not including D-II Damien — in the eyes of Top 10 voters. Four of them will not qualify for the big dance.

Enjoy the gauntlet while it lasts. When the 2019-20 season arrives, there won’t be a St. Francis, but Damien will move up to D-I and a whole new chapter will open.


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