It was an astounding first 6 minutes for the Kahuku Red Raiders.
From the opening tip until there was a little more than 2 minutes left in the opening quarter, Kahuku not only looked like an undisputed No. 1 boys basketball team in Hawaii, but played like they’ve been underdogs all season. All their lives.
It was Kalaheo, ranked ninth after a few losses in preseason and OIA East play (to Kaiser) that had more to do with key injuries than anything else, that had everything to gain. And yet, the Mustangs didn’t match the fire brimming in those Red Raiders.
“Our guys played with intensity,” Kahuku coach Brandyn Akana said. “That’s always great.”
From Day 1, the Red Raiders have been piecing together the elements of a potential state champion. There was the early preseason loss at Division II St. Francis, which later emerged as a consistent Top 10 team. Then came a third-place finish at the ‘Iolani Prep Classic with wins over Mount Vernon (N.Y.), De La Salle (Calif.) and Southwind (Tenn.). It wasn’t just the highest finish for an island team in 10 years; it was the fury and ferocity Kahuku brought to every game, from the starters to every reserve.
By the time Kalaheo found any kind of consistency, Kahuku had a 40-22 lead midway through the third quarter. For the Mustangs, finishing strong was a must, and they showed some semblance of who they usually are. For the most part, their second loss in OIA East play should serve, as junior forward Andrew Kearney says, as “a wake-up call.”
For Kahuku, it’s about meshing and getting into form. Taimona Wright was highly efficient and scored 10 points. Samuta Avea was an active rebounder, fastbreak sparkplug and scoring threat with 12 of his 14 points in the first half. He led all rebounders with nine caroms. Most of all, he looks more like the pre-ankle injury Avea than ever. There’s a renewed spring in his step; he almost threw down a miss by Dan Fotu (20 points) as it caromed off the rim.
“I thought I had that,” the 6-foot-6 senior said.
Getting a lot of work done with the athletic department’s trainer has been a blessing, he added.
“Coach always lets us know when the trainer is in. We have a great rehab program,” Avea said.
Jessiya Villa finished with 22 points and six dimes.
“Kalaheo gave us a run for our money,” the senior point guard said. “They kept us guessing tonight.”
The defensive handiwork of guards Codie Sauvao and Kesi Ah-Hoy was on display again. The versatile defenders limited Kalaheo’s leading scorers, Captain Whitlock and Noah Woodby, to 14 total points in the first half. Numbers alone don’t measure the value of the Red Raiders’ stoppers on the perimeter.
“Pressing fullcourt is a big part of our game, but our bread and butter is halfcourt lockdown defense,” Akana said.
“Props to Codie with his great defense and Kesi with great rebounding,” Villa said. “Marcus (Damuni) was great off the bench. I think this was one of our best games.”
The win kept Kahuku unbeaten (5-0) in the OIA East (14-3 overall). The Red Raiders will visit Moanalua on Tuesday. Kalaheo is now 3-2 in league play and will host Roosevelt on Tuesday.