It was the best of all worlds. It was the worst of all worlds.
With the OIA and ILH boys basketball playoffs smushed up into a compact time frame because of the state-tournament date change, it can be a smorgasbord of hoops for fans. But something has to give, of course. When the OIA playoffs tipped off on Saturday, it was a mere two days after the regular season ended.
Just like that, the season was done for a gritty Nanakuli squad after a 51-45 loss at Roosevelt. Zelston Militante had 15 of his 22 points in the second half for the Golden Hawks. He could become one of the top senior scorers in the state next year.
“Shifty, he’s very shifty. He’s got handles. He gets to the hoop,” Roosevelt coach Steve Hathaway said. “We heard some things, try and keep him in front of you, but that’s easier said than done. He’s very shifty.”
The game also featured a 20-point effort by Roosevelt junior Kamuela Kaaihue. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound center was also Roosevelt’s linebacker/quarterback in the fall. The Rough Riders had one of the finest defensive units in the OIA regardless of classification, but finished out of the playoffs. That might be part of the fueling process for Kaaihue, who had a monster night on Monday.
With 18 points and 20 rebounds by Kaaihue, Roosevelt upset Leilehua at the Mules’ gym, 48-46, to secure a Division I state-tournament berth for the first time since… well, a long time. Even more startling, Roosevelt did it without injured starters Kody Seguancia and Kayman Lewis.
The emergence of Mateo Browning, a point guard who recently completed his junior-varsity season, is a big key. Junior forward Jaydan Gaopoa-Montgomery also stepped up in the trenches.
“Mateo Browning.played well tonight and everyone stepped up when Kody went down,” Hathaway said after the Nanakuli game. “Mateo took care of the ball. He was ready. I think the Kailua game prepared him. I think the Kailua game helped (Browning). We tried to pound the ball. We had a big size advantage so we pounded it to Kamu and Jaydan.”
Kaaihue is shooting his free throws under-handed now. He was 4-for-6 at the foul line against Nanakuli.
“He missed, then he made four in a row,” Hathaway said.
Long after the days of their half-moon backboards, Roosevelt has been entrenched in battles for state-tournament berths, but more recently in Division II. The Rough Riders played for the D-II state title two years ago against Kohala.
Tonight, it’s Kailua waiting. The Surfriders remain unbeaten in OIA play, but barely escaped with a 33-31 win over rival Kalaheo on Monday. Jonny Philbrick, who had 29 points in the regular-season ending win over Kahuku, also suffered a leg injury that night (Thursday).
Kahuku bounced back with a 72-42 romp over Kapolei and Mililani stifled Campbell, 48-33. Mililani didn’t get the constant up-and-down flow it likes, but coach Garrett Gabriel’s team was in lockdown mode. Campbell tried to stay close, getting within 16-14 in the first half. Mililani’s man-to-man defense was simply superb on an ILH level, which isn’t surprising considering Gabriel’s history as a football and basketball standout at Pac-Five and Maryknoll.
The Sabers, led by coach Wyatt Tau, did provide a wrinkle that tested Mililani’s patience: a 3-2 zone that negated some of the explosiveness of Trey Lieb, J Marxen and Jayden Kipapa. Mililani’s delay game in the final minutes, with Kipapa looking slightly Randy Canencia-esque, is straight out of the classic ILH basketball fundamentals handbook.
Campbell, now healthy and restored, is playing its best basketball. Jadaiah Taugasolo is a force in the paint. Sean Sardon added 10 points, but the rest of the lineup combined for just eight points. Mililani’s defense was that good, with and without fullcourt pressure.
Unlike the OIA girls playoffs, where three of the four semifinal teams were from the West, the boys bracket has three East teams in the semifinals tonight.
Roosevelt has already proven it can win under pressure with starters missing. Kailua? Philbrick had 10 points in the narrow win over Kalaheo and Reece Matsukawa tallied 11. What the Surfriders did well, again, was defend. Kalaheo’s high-scoring senior, Ehu Schenk-Lee, finished with a season-low eight points.
Coach Hathaway’s team ran a bit more two seasons ago in its D-II run, fueled in part by Drake Watanabe (now back with Punahou). Can the Rough Riders replicate Kalaheo’s blueprint and slow the game to a crawl? With a shorter depth chart and good guard play, Roosevelt might lean in that direction.
Meanwhile, the nightcap between Mililani and Kahuku promises to be an entertaining war. The Trojans may not have the size and athleticism in the paint to completely stop Kahuku’s Amari Westmoreland-Vendiola and Leonard Ah You. Kahuku may not have enough lateral coverage on the perimeter to stop Mililani’s slashers, and longtime coach Brandyn Akana is loathe to deploy zone defense. Or would he?
The elimination games on Tuesday night will be equally intense. Kalaheo makes the long trek to Leilehua, and Campbell hops over to Kapolei. There are only five state-tournament berths allotted to the OIA this season in D-I, which means tonight’s consolation winners will duke it out on Wednesday for the last berth.
>> Frankenstein, indeed
When Darren Matsuda’s Punahou squad fell to ‘Iolani, 50-45, on Saturday, his team’s chance of securing one of the ILH’s two automatic state-tournament berths dissolved.
On the other hand, with ‘Iolani securing second place and avoiding a three-way tie to close the regular season, the ILH avoided a “nightmare.”
Because of the ILH playoff format and it’s dominoes-up structure, the possibility of additional games before this week’s playoff tournament would have been borderline maniacal. A team like Damien or Mid-Pacific would have the opportunity to compete for the ILH title, but would have to win on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Meanwhile, first-place Saint Louis gets a bye right through the tourney until Saturday.
It is the best of both worlds, rewarding regular-season success while offering the lower-tiered finishers a shot at it all.
“I’m the one who designed that thing,” Matsuda said. “If it had been a tiebreaker game after drawing cards, it would’ve been a nightmare.”
Not because of the format, of course, but because of timing. The state tournament dates were moved earlier by a week, putting a big squeeze on leagues statewide.
The ILH tourney begins with a play-in game today (Tuesday) between Damien and Mid-Pacific.
Wednesday, Feb. 16
Mid-Pacific/Damien winner @ Maryknoll
Kamehameha @ Punahou
Thursday, Feb. 17
Mid-Pacific/Damien/Maryknoll winner vs. Kamehameha-Punahou winner
> Winner earns state-tournament berth
Friday, Feb. 18
Third-place winner @ ‘Iolani
Saturday, Feb. 19
Friday’s winner @ Saint Louis.
>> Kaimuki, Waipahu emerge
The D-II state tournament, even the OIA finals, won’t be the same without the Kalani Falcons. At one point in the OIA East slate, coach Noa Hussey’s senior-heavy team was 6-2. Then came a three-game slide with losses to Kaimuki, Kalaheo and Roosevelt. That cost the Falcons a chance to enjoy a bye and host its playoff games. After a first-round win over Waianae, the Falcons went to Waipahu on Valentine’s Day and came home with a broken heart after a 37-34 loss.
Kalani’s Floyd Mayweather style of basketball has been quite successful over the years, but is highly dependent on a solid nucleus. With two starters unavailable against Waipahu, there wasn’t much left in the gas tank in crunch time.
Meanwhile, Kaimuki has rotated reserves early and often into its uptempo style of play from the start of the season. Coach Greydon Espinda rolled the dice and endured rookie mistakes left and right. The payoff came late in the season as the Bulldogs won games even with mental errors and senior skywalker Malu Cleveland fouling out of games.
Espinda walked his walk, putting his trust in sophomores Jeremiah White, Harmon Sio and Daysen Lupica. With seniors Rashawn Fritz-Betiru and Cleveland setting the tone, and hyper-athletic Kenny Eaton thriving in extended defensive pressure packages, Kaimuki is playing its best basketball.
They’ll have a five-game win streak entering the OIA D-II title game on Wednesday against Waipahu. Coach Randy Sagon and staff have made a concerted effort to keep the Marauders busy in the offseason with club leagues. They don’t have a go-to scorer, but they do have ball movement and trust.
Those are enough into get to the state tournament.
So, if you missed high school basketball for the past two years, this week might get your cup filled.
Monday, Feb. 14
>> Girls state tourney play-in games.
Tuesday, Feb. 15
>> OIA boys D-I semifinals. Consolation semifinals (elimination).
>> ILH boys third-place tournament play-in (elimination).
Wednesday, Feb. 16
>> Girls state tourney D-II opening round.
>> OIA boys D-I and D-II finals, D-I fifth-place game for state berth.
>> ILH boys third-place tournament semifinals (elimination).
Thursday, Feb. 17
>> Girls state tourney D-I and D-II quarterfinals.
>> ILH boys third-place final.
Friday, Feb. 18
>> Girls state tourney D-I, D-II semifinals
>> ILH third-place finisher at ‘Iolani.
Saturday, Feb. 19
>> Girls state tourney D-I, D-II finals.
>> ILH boys championship at Saint Louis.