Walter Marciel would have made a great chef.
People skills. Knowledge of his environment. Makes do with great or so-so ingredients.
At Kailua, Marciel has superb ingredients this season, a mix of size, height, guards with offensive and defensive skills. When the Surfriders stunned defending state champion ‘Iolani in the semifinal round of the Surfrider Holiday Classic, it took awhile before it made sense. Kailua has just enough height and girth to give any team — even ‘Iolani with 6-foot-9 Hugh Hogland — trouble in the paint.
Their guards are seasoned and tough enough to make stops on the perimeter, and to control possessions — and shorten games, when necessary. That’s why, when the Surfriders arrived at No. 1 Kahuku on Wednesday night, Marciel, his staff and their team knew precisely what had to be done against one of the few teams statewide that is taller, longer and more athletic.
Kailua was ready to grind every possession into dust. Kahuku showed it is willing to stand toe-to-toe with any heavyweight as often as it runs the transition race with quick teams. Samuta Avea finished with 12 rebounds, including eight on the offensive board, and combined with Dan Fotu (seven rebounds, four blocks) and Taimoana Wright (five boards) to build a big red wall at the rim.
Kahuku stifled No. 8 Kailua 53-37 on Wednesday night before a pensive home crowd at Thomas Walker Gymnasium.
“We’re trying to push it, get after it defensively when teams slow it down,” Kahuku coach Brandyn Akana.
Easier said than done, of course. Kailua got early treys from Zach Marrotte and Keoni Serikawa Jr. to take an 8-5 lead. Without the shot clock that both teams saw during the ‘Iolani Prep Classic — Kailua and Kahuku did not meet there or anywhere until Wednesday — the Surfriders were able to milk the game clock successfully in the first quarter.
After the first eight minutes, Kailua had taken just nine shots, making four, grabbing two offensive boards with three turnovers. Not a bad deal, and Kailua trailed 11-10.
“We did what we had to do,” Marciel said. “The tempo was perfect for us.”
Kahuku was 5-for-15 from the field in the opening quarter, including 1-for-4 from 3-point range.
“Kesi (Ah-Hoy) hit that 3, and then we took a few shots after that without going inside-out,” Akana said. “I don’t mind us shooting it if we go inside-out first.”
The rebounding edge was modest: 8-6 in favor of Kahuku, which started 6-6 Avea, 6-4 Wright, 6-1 Ah-Hoy, 6-foot Codie Sauvao and 6-foot Jessiya Villa.
Then came a chilling second quarter for Kailua, 2-for-10 from the field with a staggering difference on the boards. Kahuku, which inserted Fotu to begin the second, owned a 10-6 advantage on the glass in the quarter, grabbing five offensive boards. Three were by Avea, who had a total of five offensive caroms before halftime. He was relentless.
“I feel like I try to play my role. If it’s in the paint, then that’s what I do,” said Avea, who has signed to play for Hawaii.
The intensity Avea normally channels into the transition game, which was non-existent earlier, was in full-tilt mode in the paint.
“We could tell on defense, the way they were swing the ball more than usual,” he said.
Fotu was fairly quiet offensively in the second quarter with four points and three rebounds, but his length and energy were a big help to Kahuku’s defense against Kahuku center Christian Mejia. The 6-4 senior finished the game with four blocks, but had just five rebounds and scored eight points on 3-for-9 shooting.
And yet, Mejia was still a force in a low-scoring defensive battle. Kailua guards Aaron Mejia and Makana Robeson did enough to create some roadblocks for Villa, who was 1-for-5 from the field for two points before the half.
“Aaron and Makana did a great job,” Marciel said.
So did Kahuku’s defense. With Sauvao (nine points, six boards, two steals) and Ah-Hoy (seven points five boards, three assist, two steals) playing sticky defense, Kailua’s keep-away game plan became difficult to execute. The visitors shot 2-for-10 from the field in the second quarter and 3-for-11 in the third.
With an 11-3 edge on the boards in the third, Kahuku opened the lead to 36-26 entering the fourth. By then, Villa got untracked. He finished with 14 points, three boards, five dimes and two steals.
Kahuku was still within 10 after sophomore Everett Torres-Kahapea (17 points) hit a tough runner in the paint with 5 minutes to go. Kahuku went on an 11-3 run, getting nine points from guards Villa, Ah-Hoy and Marcus Damuni. Fotu was a block machine in the fourth with all four of his swats, including one that triggered a fastbreak layup by Villa.
“In our last five games, Dan has been a spark coming off the bench. He has a presence on offense and defense, and our guys are getting used to him,” Akana said.
“Whenever I go in, I try to make an impact and play every play like it’s my last,” Fotu said.
The biggest factor — aside from Kahuku’s 40-23 domination on the boards — was at the charity stripe. Kailua shot just 10-for-20 there, all in the second half. The Surfriders were in the bonus before the third quarter ended, but couldn’t cash in.
“The whole plan was to attack and use fakes, and get to the free-throw line,” Marciel said. “But we turned the ball over too much and we didn’t hit free throws.”
The Surfriders shot 2-for-16 from the floor in the final quarter and finished the game 11-for-46 (24 percent). Kahuku shot 38 percent from the field (22-for-58).
Kailua finished with 12 giveaways against a Kahuku defense that extended to three-quarters of the court much of the time after the first quarter. Kahuku finished with eight turnovers against Kailua’s halfcourt man and zone defenses.
“We broke down out there,” Mejia said. “We’ll work harder.”
So will Kahuku.
“We’ll be back to practice at 8 in the morning,” Avea said.