Kahuku advanced to the OIA championship game with a 56-40 win over McKinley on Monday night, but it was more than just a solid win for Kahuku.
It was about patience. Dealing with walkers instead of runners. Kahuku (24-3 overall) could have tried more to speed the game up, but opted not to press fullcourt. They do more than enough, really, out of a rugged man-to-man defense. But the Tigers were not quite accommodating.
Plan A worked to near perfection for McKinley in a David-versus-Goliath matchup.
>> Get a lead. The Tigers roared to a quick 7-0 cushion.
>> Use Hsien Pascua, a tough, athletic 5-foot-5 guard, to cover Kahuku’s 6-10 phenom, Tolu Smith, our of McKinley’s box-and-one defense.
After the TV timeout with 3:18 left in the first quarter, the Tigers spread the court four-corners style and Kahuku remained in halfcourt man-to-man. The lead changed hands four times as McKinley was diabolical and deliberate.
Then Ruanui Winitana, who had missed his first four shots, stroked a 3 from the right wing, giving Kahuku a 16-14 lead midway through the second quarter. The Red Raiders couldn’t break out, though, before outscoring the Tigers 8-0 in the final 3 minutes of the third period.
Smith, who struggled early — two points, four rebounds, three turnovers in the first half — turned it on after the break. The light-footed leaper went straight the paint to start the second half, and the Tigers could do little to stop him. Seven points in a row, 19 of his 21 in the second half, along with 11 rebounds. Passing, rebounding, challenging passing lanes and shots. He finished the third with a rebound, coast-to-coast drive and no-look dish to Ethan Erickson for a point-blank layup at the buzzer, and Kahuku could finally breathe a little with a 37-26 lead.
Kahuku withstood another McKinley rally before pulling away in the final minutes. Smith broke away for two scintillating slams on the break, but was less than thrilled about his approach to McKinley’s box defense in the first 16 minutes.
“It was my fault. I had a little kink in my knee and I wasn’t moving enough,” Smith said. “I had a bad first half. I had to stop making dumb plays.”
For all his accolades, including a 31-point, 17-rebound game last week, Smith has a willingness to accept responsibility for his team’s struggles from time to time. Sometimes, he might be too hard. He still hasn’t quite forgiven himself for Kahuku’s 50-48 loss to Punahou at the St. Francis Hoops Classic in December.
Punahou was unbeaten and No. 1 in the state at the time.
“I had 10 turnovers in that game. That one’s on me,” Smith said.
The Red Raiders are operating much more efficiently these days. They keep rising higher in the Star-Advertiser Top 10, but even at No. 4, their potential is clearly much higher. McKinley? Few teams have played smarter and tougher in the past three weeks. Like Kalani and other highly disciplined teams, the Tigers know who they are and completely embrace that. After a slow start, they won six of the last seven regular-season games, then stunned Leilehua in the playoffs to qualify for the state tourney.
“For the most part, most of our losses have been close,” said senior guard Kyle Moraga, who finished with 19 points. “Our first three games, we lost, but we figured out how to win.”