Five years ago, Darren Matsuda heard the fire alarm.
So did his entire Punahou team. The Buffanblu were in a California tournament, struggling with the Tesoro Titans.
“They had 6-foot-6 3-point shooters,” Matsuda recalled. “But that fire alarm went off in the first half and woke up our team.”
The Buffanblu rallied to beat Tesoro that night. Fast-forward a half-decade and Tesoro is a different team. This Tesoro led Punahou mid-game. The Titans led Punahou late. The Titans really played well enough to win, running old-school UCLA cuts off the high screen for buckets. Coach John Wooden would’ve been proud.
“They have good bigs now. They’re a very long, good defensive team. I felt like we were playing old ‘Iolani with two Hugh Hoglands,” Matsuda said, referring to the recently graduated 6-9 center now at Portland.
It was a steady, determined effort by Punahou, the No. 1 team in the Star-Advertiser Boys Basketball Top 10. It was a clutch 3-point shot by Cole Mausolf (nine points) that gave the Buffanblu a 43-41 lead in the final minute, and after Zayne Chong (17 points) hit a free throw with 12 seconds left, Tesoro missed two 3-point tries before the host team could advance to the championship game of the Punahou Invitational.
The 44-41 victory is another example of what Punahou has become: a veteran team that can win by scoring 80-plus points or 40-plus. Fast, slow, power, finesse, the Buffanblu seemingly can win any kind of game.
“We were trying to press them, but their guards are pretty quick and the twins (Tyler and Triston Broughton, 10 points each) are savvy. It’s hard to zone trap against a tall team,” Matsuda said. “They’re faster and taller than they look on tape.”
So that eliminated Punahou’s favorite way to speed up a game.
Another big factor was the low-post defense of 6-2 Kaulana Makaula. As a freshman, he was a wiry, tough defender on the perimeter. Now, he’s stronger, bigger and capable of defending any position.
“Kaulana is way smarter guarding posts now. His composure was good, too. That game was pretty chippy,” Matsuda said
It has been quite a busy week for Matsuda, who is directing the tournament and had to deal with the pull-out of Coronado just four days before the opening round began. The original schedule, which was made well before the season began to help traveling teams set their itineraries, had Tesoro against St. Francis on the first day.
“We didn’t know how good St. Francis was going to be,” Matsuda said. “That would’ve been a tough first-round matchup for both teams. St. Francis is an excellent team.”
How excellent? The Saints pushed Punahou hard eight days ago before the Buffanblu pulled out a 74-66 win. St. Francis is in ILH Division II, but that moniker is in name only. They’re ranked No. 5 statewide for a reason, and now the Saints are in the final following a 55-48 win over No. 2 Maryknoll today.
They did it with playmaker extraordinaire Kameron Ng sitting nearly the entire second quarter with foul issues.
“Kameron’s an outstanding scorer. He uses his change of pace, gets to the basket. You can’t really stop Kameron. You’ve got to try and limit him,” Matsuda said.
The Buffanblu did that on Dec. 21, crowding the paint as Ng settled for difficult shots in traffic in the third quarter. The junior guard has learned quickly, however, and used double- and triple-teams to find open teammates for key 3-point shots tonight against Maryknoll.
“You try to make him work hard for everything,” Matsuda said. “That’s when he’s dangerous, when he’s getting everyone involved.”
Of course, that happens when the Saints are hitting open 3-pointers. Punahou has a number of stoppers who can take turns guarding Ng, including the the 6-foot-5 Mausolf. Along with Zayne Chong, Mausolf has become one of the most consistent long-range shooters in the state. His clutch shot tonight was a live demo of what 6-5 defenders do in high school ball now. In Hawaii.
“We were trying to get downhill,” Matsuda said. “It was tough to get by those guys, but Kaulana did a nice job of reversing the ball and finding Cole.”
Now the best team in ILH D-I, on paper, will take on the ILH’s best team in D-II. For St. Francis, it will be the last time a D-I team from any league will occupy a slot on the schedule.