Survey the landscape.
You will find a terrain without seeds. But this valley of battles is far from barren. Four regiments remain, racing to the peak of a mountain. The league champions who waved the largest banners on Thursday were toppled, one by one.
A stampede from Oneawa Hills and a march to the foul line
Kalaheo proved in more than one way that it not only was deserving of a No. 1 ranking during much of the regular season, but that its win at Punahou two months ago was nowhere close to the dominance it had in store.
The Mustangs’ 64-48 win was punctuated by 1) Kaleb Gilmore’s unmatched elusiveness with the ball, 2) supreme confidence and solid execution by Kalaheo’s reserves when Gilmore sat for 13 out of the game’s 32 minutes due to foul issues, and 3) one team’s ability to adjust to a tightly-called game by officials. And the other team’s struggle.
Gilmore dropped in 25 points, but it didn’t feel like his usual two-dozen or so because 16 of those points came at the foul line, including 8-for-8 in the final quarter. More like the final 4:14, when he returned to the hardwood with four personal fouls.
In all, Kalaheo shot an amazing 31-for-39 from the free-throw line (80 percent). Punahou was 9-for-17 (53 percent). Kupaa Harrison, Kalaheo’s 6-5 point forward, was 8-for-11 at the line and transcended the norm by fluidly running his team’s offense while Gilmore was sidelined. He was 2-for-4 from the field and scored 12 points. Their efficiency in attacking the basket was pronounced on a night when officials called everything by the book. It was astounding to some fans in Moanalua’s gym and some of those watching on the airwaves.
But this much is true: for the past two seasons, the national federation (NFHS) has acutely emphasized that fouls should be whistled when a dribbler’s “speed, rhythm and progress” are hampered in any way by a defender. The OIA took to this mandate literally in the preseason of that 2013-14 season. The ILH did not. Fast-forward to last night’s quarterfinal game, and with two ILH officials on the floor, we’ve seen a serious progression to that mandate.
Kalaheo was called for three early fouls, but for the most part, Smith’s team adjusted. Punahou struggled. The final foul count: 20 for the Mustangs and 26 for the Buffanblu. And of the three ‘Stangs who finished with four fouls each, Gilmore was one of them, and he played in the ILH for three years before transferring to Kalaheo.
The golden rule remains: players must adjust to officials, never vice-versa.
Even with such a decisive win, it is still amazing that Kalaheo had this much success in the midst of adversity. It just isn’t that common, seeing a potential state championship team lose its top scorer and ballhandler, and a trailing top-seeded Punahou squad unable to overcome a double-digit deficit. For a few moments there in the first half, the Mustangs did seem vulnerable. That 12-0 lead almost dissipated as Punahou cut the lead to 22-18. Kalaheo locked down from there, however, even as Gilmore picked up his fourth foul in the early stages of the second half and went back to the bench.
While size and inside dominance are the theme for a few of the other survivors in the tourney, Kalaheo’s four-out offense was driven with precision. The more they attacked gaps after patiently running their sets, the more success they had.
Somehow, allowing Punahou guards Dayson Watanabe and Jordan Tanuvasa to drive one-on-one turned out to be the best tactical move by coach Alika Smith. With Kupaa Harrison all over Punahou’s J.B. Kam, the Buffanblu offense never got fully untracked. Kam posted up for a bucket to start the second half, but Punahou was largely dependent on penetration rather than an inside-out attack.
Kam shot 5-for-14 on an unusually cold night, and the Buffanblu never got closer than nine points the rest of the way.
Where was this Mustangs team last week? Let’s just say they weren’t at full energy mode going into the OIA semifinal round, when they lost to a super-charged Farrington squad. Whether it was team bonding on a long weekend or just the normal wear-and-tear — and fatigue — of a long season, the Mustangs were short on sleep going into last week, and it showed against the Governors.
Right now, they look very much like the best team in the state.
A purr-fect night for the Sabers
The Campbell Sabers ached with heartbreak two weeks ago after blowing a second-half lead and losing in overtime, 60-55, to the visiting Farrington Governors in the OIA quarterfinals. As of Thursday night, redemption was theirs in a 51-45 state quarterfinal victory, ousting the OIA champions and the tourney’s second seed.
This is what we know about Sabers, or the saber-toothed tiger: 1) they are extinct, and if they weren’t, we’d see way too many YouTube videos of these gnarly, vicious creatures preying on everything from bison to camels. (Never mind, I know bison are not common around the globe these days. Just play along.); 2) they aren’t even tigers. Sabers, or “Smilodons”, are not related to tigers. Modern DNA classifies the Smilodon as a separate species. They are considered feline, “diverging from the ancestors of modern cats”, but they ain’t tigers; 3) they’re very smart.
It took nearly a full season for these smart Sabers to understand the root of what coach Wyatt Tau had preached from the start. It took that heartbreaking loss to Farrington for them to realize the difference between showing up and and playing up. As was the case with other title contenders, defeat forced Campbell to grow, to evolve. They may have embraced the soul of what Farrington did — playing with heart, brains and sacrifice. Or maybe they just kept the turnover count lower.
When Campbell lost to the Govs, they were decimated by Farrington’s fullcourt press. The Govs had just unveiled a 2-1-2 look and Ranan Mamiya was the chief thief. Last night, Farrington had just eight steals and Campbell had “only” 17 turnovers. Mamiya did finish with 16 points and four swipes, but up and down the stat sheet, only one player had more than three giveaways.
With their backcourt of a jet and a taco — Jomar “Jett” Gapusan and Michael “Taco” Merchant — combining for 27 points and just four turnovers, the Sabers advanced to the Final Four. The continued strength of Lamart Dudley and David Marrero (18 points, 20 boards combined) is something Tau has been waiting for all winter. Dudley was 6-for-6 at the line and Marrero, a 6-7 senior transfer, blocked three shots. Add Jayce Bantolina’s eight dimes, and it was enough to overcome the Govs and their Cinderella uprising.
Farrington overachieved this season. The record will say that the Govs fell in the state quarterfinals, true enough. But coach Allan Silva extracted all he could from a 6-foot and under lineup. Like Punahou, Farrington’s main shooter, Jake Smith, had an off night (6-for-19 from the field). But again, like Punahou, without their lead shooter, Farrington wouldn’t have gotten this far. They still snagged 12 offensive boards, shot 37 percent — they shot 27 percent against Kahuku last week and still won — and committed just 12 turnovers.
Campbell was just the better team, at least last night.
To raid, to plunder, to lock down
Again, ‘Iolani held an opponent to less than 40 points, and again, the Raiders emerged triumphant. Their 44-34 win over Lahainaluna was a matchup of tall titans: ‘Iolani’s Hugh Hogland (6-8) and Kamu Borden (6-4) against Lahainaluna’s Cyrus Kama (6-4) and Ryan Madeira (6-5).
Hogland blocked three shots, finished with nine points and eight boards. Borden had two points and five rebounds, but his value defensively is key. ‘Iolani’s tight man defense is fortified by the strength of Borden, a nimble, lean 240-pound offensive lineman (he signed with UH). The Lunas shot 35 percent from the field and no one shot better than 50 percent. Kama scored eight points (4-for-10) and Madeira had four (1-for-3). Shooting guard Josh Chapital had 10 points, but shot 3-for-11.
More and more, it’s apparent that Raiders PG Erik Yamada doesn’t just lead the offense and play solid defense. He was clutch at the foul line again, going 8-for-8. Last year’s title run had much to do with Yamada, and with some of their top guards now in college, Yamada has been an anchor in the backcourt. He had 13 points on just five field-goal attempts, playing 30 minutes.
This was a team that ran the floor and trapped everywhere a little more than a year ago. Coach Dean Shimamoto revised the script, changed the blueprint and now, ‘Iolani is one win away from a return trip to the title game.
No question that the ILH’s runner-up benefited by being in this bracket. ILH champ Punahou wound up in the “Group of Death” (Jerry Campany) bracket with Kalaheo and Kahuku — all Top 3 teams in last week’s Star-Advertiser rankings. But the Raiders have manned up, pun intended (Robby Mann was solid again with nine points and five boards) on both nights in close, come-from-behind wins.
They are clutch. They are One Team.
Stars aligning from Laie to Auckland
This is not just two wins in the state tourney for the Kahuku Red Raiders. This is turning out to be perfectly designed, even in the vaunted doomsday bracket with Kalaheo and Punahou.
No, the Red Raiders will take what they’ve been given. And after ousting Moanalua and Konawaena, they get their shot at revenge tonight. It was early January when Kahuku lost a double-digit lead at Kalaheo and fell in overtime. It was a teachable moment of sorts for the still-blending crew of North Shore talent and Kiwi transfers. Technical fouls were assessed that night, the type that Kahuku quickly learned to avoid in the many games since.
On Thursday, they were simply too powerful for a very young Konawaena squad. This is what often happens when young teams heavy with underclassmen see Kahuku’s 2-3 zone for the first time: passes from the point to the wings are nearly clipped by the length of Samuta Avea; entry passes to the high post are sometimes tipped by Hyrum Harris and/or Denhym Brooke; soft, lobby passes to the corner spring the Red Raiders into trap mode.
It’s tough for any player to get out of a trap set by 6-5 and 6-7 defenders. Tougher when it’s a team as young as Konawaena. The Wildcats got a splendid effort from veteran Cameron Howes (21 points, four steals), but on the whole, Konawaena did what it could just to stay close for a half before falling 67-45.
Now, Kahuku gets a shot at Kalaheo.