Maryknoll-Kapolei heads boys hoops quarterfinals

Maryknoll coach Kelly Grant celebrated as the Spartans defeated Punahou to win the ILH title this season. Photo by Steven Erler/Special to the Star-Advertiser.

Day 2 of the Snapple/HHSAA Boys Basketball State Championships is here, but there is still wonderment about the road ahead for the team in one particular sub-bracket.

The 2018 state tourney may be remembered for the chaos in the Oahu Interscholastic Association playoffs that preceded it. That leaves top seed Maryknoll with the toughest sub-bracket rather than the easiest. Or is that simplified viewpoint overstated?

“We feel no different knowing we have a tough bracket ahead of us,” Spartans coach Kelly Grant said. “Kapolei, in my opinion, is a top four team in the state. They have everything.”

Ten days ago, the top teams in the OIA — Kahuku, 10-0 in the East, and Kapolei, 10-0 in the West — appeared to be destined for a title clash in the league final. Instead, each team, Kapolei first, then Kahuku, lost to Kalaheo in dramatic fashion and almost identical scores. Fate, as it turned out, was with the Mustangs of Oneawa Hills.

For Kapolei, the path is uphill. The Hurricanes flew out on Monday and ousted MIL runner-up Kamehameha-Maui 49-34 in Pukalani. The ‘Canes now face top-seeded Maryknoll, a team they nearly beat in December. If Kapolei, which finished third in the OIA, gets past Maryknoll today, the Kahuku/Kamehameha-Hawaii winner awaits in the semifinal round on Thursday at Stan Sheriff Center.

Kahuku’s luck with close games hasn’t been the best. In December, the Red Raiders lost to Kahuku 50-48 on a controversial last-second shot. A week ago, they lost to Kalaheo in the OIA final on a 3-pointer by Cannen Chiu with 1.9 seconds left.

Coach Brandyn Akana believes his team would have been seeded second if that shot by Chiu had missed. That’s where Kalaheo is after winning the OIA title.

“People keep telling me we could’ve been seeded first, but I don’t buy it because of preseason,” Akana said, referring to Kahuku’s losses to Kamehameha (61-33) and ‘Iolani (45-40).

Kahuku’s 6-foot-10 senior, Tolu Smith, didn’t play in that tournament. If he had played, and if Kahuku had beaten Kamehameha and ‘Iolani, it still might not have mattered enough to the seeding committee. Historically, the ILH champion has often gained an edge on OIA winners, even a defending state champion like Kahuku.

For the record, Kahuku is 5-4 against Top 10 teams this season. Maryknoll is 13-5 against ranked opponents. Here’s the composite win-loss record of teams in the two sub-brackets against Top 10 foes (entering the tournament):

@ Moanalua bracket
Maryknoll 13-5
Kapolei 4-5
Kamehameha-Maui 0-3
Kahuku 5-4
Kailua 2-8
Kamehameha-Hawaii 2-3
Total 26-28 .481

@ McKinley bracket
Konawaena 0-2
Moanalua 4-8
Kalaheo 4-8
Punahou 14-4
McKinley 1-10
Lahainaluna 1-5
Total 24-37 .393

Of course, the bulk of Top 10 wins by teams in the McKinley bracket are from Punahou. Kalaheo is the hottest team in the state and Lahainaluna hasn’t faced a ranked team since December, but aside from Punahou, the rest of the McKinley bracket teams are a combined 10-33 (.233) versus the Top 10.

It would have been far different, in all probability, if Kapolei had beaten Kalaheo.

“The upsets made it a shuffle,” Akana noted. “Not everybody gets the reasoning behind it. Some people are happy. Some people are not happy.”

Punahou’s first two opponents have a total of two wins over Top 10 teams. The Buffanblu rolled over McKinley 59-39 on Monday, but Coach Darren Matsuda and his band of seniors are taking nobody lightly.

“Lahainaluna is always a tough matchup. They play great defense and have a lot of ball control,” Matsuda said.

Here’s a look at tonight’s quarterfinal matchups. (Teams, win-loss records overall including nonconference play, regular-season play)

Maryknoll Spartans (26-6, 9-1 ILH) vs. Kapolei Hurricanes (18-5, 10-0 OIA West)
Wednesday, 7 p.m.
Moanalua gym

Seed: No. 1. ILH champion.
Seed: Unseeded. OIA third-place team. Def. Kamehameha-Maui 49-34 on Monday.

Skinny:: When these teams met on Dec. 19, it was generally a lifetime ago. Kapolei had just gotten the return of its guards, Ja’Shon Carter and Isiah Higa, back from injuries. Maryknoll hadn’t evolved yet. Jaylen Cain was settling for 3s instead of exploding regularly to the basket.

Kapolei had beaten Kamehameha 57-51 one day earlier, an upset on paper, not so much in terms of talent. The Hurricanes led Maryknoll for a long stretch before the Spartans chipped away, attacked the rim and eked out a 46-45 win.

The Spartans transformed from then to now and are in the mold of previous state or ILH champions like ‘Iolani (2016). That Raiders team had talent, but it wasn’t until Robby Mann became a battering-ram slasher to the rim that the team was at its best. If Cain continues to use his skill set to punish soft interior defenders, Maryknoll is incredibly difficult to stop. Mann sparked ‘Iolani to the title in ’16. Cain could be that similar spark for Maryknoll.

Kapolei has the length and athleticism to outrun and outgun most teams. Zoar Nedd and Marquis Montgomery give Coach Gary Ellison a pair of 6-4 shot-blocking floor runners. But neither is a consistent scorer on the block, and the ‘Canes can be prone to scoring droughts against physical defenses.

They have lived and died by finesse basketball before, and if they depend on Higa and Carter to do most of the tough work driving into the paint to draw fouls from start to finish, the test will be whether they’ll still be fresh in the final minutes.

Kapolei’s agility and defensive pressure are unavoidable, even if the ‘Canes don’t use a fullcourt press often. Nedd is often at the head of a troublesome 3-2 zone that can trigger ultra-quick transition buckets.

“We need to be disciplined on offense. Kapolei has multiple ways of scoring,” Grant said.

X-factor:: In a matchup of similar personnel, extra possessions via turnovers/steals makes a key difference. So do offensive rebounds. Kapolei’s 6-4 senior, Kaimana Rodrigues, is capable of altering any game with his energy and determination on the offensive glass. The same can be said of Maryknoll’s 6-7 junior, Marcus Tobin.

Kamehameha-Hawaii Warriors (22-3, 13-0 BIIF) vs. Kahuku Red Raiders (25-4, 10-0 OIA East)
Wednesday, 5 p.m.
Moanalua gym

Seeding: No. 4. BIIF champion.
Seeding: Unseeded. OIA second-place team. Def. Kailua 54-36 on Monday.

Skinny:: The Red Raiders have been more heavily tested than the Warriors, but this matchup is intriguing because of the versatility of KS-Hawaii’s Nalu Kahapea.

The 6-5 senior can post up nicely, use either hand to finish, and steps out often to shoot and hit open 3s. If Smith guards Kahapea, the risk of getting into foul trouble is real. Conversely, Kahapea has not faced an athletic, nimble 6-10 opponent all season.

X-factor:: The health of jumping jack Marcus Damuni is almost back to 100 percent. Kahuku missed him when he got hurt (ankle) against Kalaheo, but he returned for the win over Kailua on Monday.

“We got him a taste of playing time and sat him,” Akana said. “I pulled him out a lot. He does so much because Tolu gets so much attention. He and Ethan (Erickson) have been stepping up. That’s been our whole thing, crashing the boards.”

If the smaller Warriors don’t box out, it could be a long, frustrating night. If they do their jobs, the lowest-seeded league champion could take advantage of Kahuku’s weakness: turnovers.

Kalaheo Mustangs (20-11, 7-3 OIA East) vs. Moanalua Na Menehune (17-12, 5-5 OIA East)
Wednesday, 7 p.m.
McKinley Student Council Gymnasium

Seed: No. 2. OIA champion
Seed: Unseeded. OIA fifth-place team. Def. Konawaena 62-52 on Monday.

Skinny:: The road of title dreams is littered with the shattered hopes of league champions that went ice-cold, losing to unseeded teams from their own leagues. This is a classic scenario where a talented, but largely underachieving team (Moanalua) got hot late in the season, buckled down and is playing its best basketball right now.

The same can be said of Kalaheo, which was rather middling for a stretch before putting it together — and getting injured players healthy again — for an amazing title run in the OIA playoffs.

Andrew Kearney‘s ankle issues haven’t gone away, but he limps through and provides defense and rebounding inside. The key is that the core of Mustangs, including senior guard Ryan Pardini, has gotten a major boost from teammates who were quite green early on. Sophomore Kanoa Smith has become a clutch shot maker. Luke Pardini, the freshman, has also played fearlessly. Previous Kalaheo teams have gotten huge help from young players like Kupaa Harrison and Jalen Smith.

Moanalua’s win-loss mark against Top 10 teams, 4-8, is identical to Kalaheo’s. However, Kalaheo has last week’s wins over Kahuku and Kapolei, and Moanalua hasn’t come close to beating Top 5 teams. Except for this.

On Jan. 3, Moanalua outscored Kalaheo 81-68 in a regular-season game. Kalaheo surely doesn’t want to hear this, not after turning into a juggernaut in the six weeks since.

There’s also this: despite beating Kahuku last week, Kalaheo was voted No. 5 in the Star-Advertiser Top 10 by coaches and media — behind No. 4 Kahuku.

The Mustangs don’t lack for motivation, but if they ever needed a little more ferocity in their underdog world, they’ve got plenty to pull from.

X-factor:: Coach Byron Mello’s Menehune finished sixth in the OIA East, squeezing into the playoffs only after the final day of regular-season play. If they defend the paint as well as their coach once did as a player, Moanalua may have a longer run in this big dance than the numbers would indicate.

Lahainaluna Lunas (18-6, 12-0 MIL) vs. Punahou Buffanblu (27-4, 8-2 ILH)
Wednesday, 5 p.m.
McKinley Student Council Gymnasium

Seed: No. 3. MIL champion.
Seed: Unseeded. ILH runner-up. Def. McKinley 59-39 on Monday.

Skinny:: Coach Matsuda is concerned about Lahainaluna’s size and strength in the paint, which is understandable. The Lunas have a host of 6-6 and 6-4 post defenders, and the emergence of 6-4 Koa Evalu Robinson as a scoring force is a big concern for Punahou. The Buffanblu prefer always to play halfcourt man-to-man defense, but if they have difficulty defending against the burly Robinson, something will have to give.

Punahou was ranked No. 1 in the state for most of the season before falling to Maryknoll and ‘Iolani in a span of nine days. As usual, however, teams that lose in the ILH get better or get left behind, and the Buffanblu got better. Senior guards Zayne Chong and Cole Arceneaux are playing at warp speed, but have the composure and savvy to find open teammates at all times. Cole Mausolf, a 6-5 defensive weapon, has altered games with his shot blocking, rebounding and perimeter coverage. Tamatoa Falatea leads the charge off the bench with a willing, physical approach to defense and the occasional 3-point dagger.

Matsuda has relied on Kaulana Makaula to shore up the boards when center Duke Clemens doesn’t start. But against a team of bigs like the Lunas, Clemens will likely start and the Buffanblu will be tested on the glass.

Lahainaluna counts on 6-6 Carter Stockham and 6-4 Aukai Kama, along with Robinson, to dominate the boards. Coach Jason Justus has also relied on guards Iverson Turno and Reece Pascua to run a tight ship offensively.

X-factor:: Punahou takes pride in its ability to wear teams down. Their fullcourt press can make or break games, and if the Lunas aren’t careful, Punahou can rack up steals quickly. If the MIL champs use one of their bigs to help against the press, life should be easier, but the Buffanblu will continue to bring tight pressure in halfcourt.

Division I

Match #DateMatchupTime/ScoresSite
1Feb. 12Konawaena vs. MoanaluaMoan, 62-52Konawaena
2Feb. 12Kahuku vs. KailuaKah, 54-38Kahuku
3Feb. 12Punahou vs. McKinleyPun, 59-39Punahou
4Feb. 12KS-Maui vs. KapoleiKapo, 49-34KS-Maui
5Feb. 14(1) Maryknoll vs. KapoleiMryk, 57-42Moanalua
6Feb. 14(4) KS-Hawaii vs. KahukuKah, 62-37Moanalua
7Feb. 14(2) Kalaheo vs. MoanaluaMoan, 52-50McKinley
8Feb. 14(3) Lahainaluna vs. PunahouPun, 50-40McKinley
9*Feb. 15Kapolei vs. KS-HawaiiKapo, 57-54Stan Sheriff Center
10*Feb. 15Kalaheo vs. LahainalunaLah, 61-50Stan Sheriff Center
11Feb. 15Maryknoll vs. KahukuKah, 49-43Stan Sheriff Center
12Feb. 15Moanalua vs. PunahouPun, 75-69Stan Sheriff Center
13*Feb. 16Kapolei vs. LahainalunaLah, 57-55Stan Sheriff Center
14*Feb. 16Maryknoll vs. MoanaluaMryk, 67-52Stan Sheriff Center
15Feb. 16Kahuku vs. PunahouPun, 64-37Stan Sheriff Center
* — consolation


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