Paliku Kamaka, Oni Pung spark Kamehameha in 55-53 comeback win over Punahou

The 2020-21 Kamehameha Warriors were on track to contend for ILH and state championships before the season was called off due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo courtesy of Larry Park.

Paliku Kamaka scored 13 points and Onipa‘a Pung scored five of his 10 points in the final quarter as Kamehameha rallied from an eight-point deficit for a 55-53 win over Punahou in exhibition basketball action on Tuesday at Kekuhaupio Gymnasium.

“It was more focus on what each responsibility was. If they all focus on what they need to do offensively and defensively, then the end result is a little better,” Warriors Coach Larry Park said. “Punahou, we have good games with them all the time, even in summer league. Both sides like to get after it. They play man and pressure defend full court like us.”

Kamaka came up with seven points in the final stanza for Kamehameha, which trailed 50-42 before rallying with a 12-3 run to seize a 54-53 lead. Isaiah Paekukui-Cockett’s 3-point shot gave the Warriors the lead with 41 seconds remaining.

“We needed to play with aggressiveness and confidence, and Isaiah shot it with confidence,” Park said.

After a Punahou miss in the paint, Pung sank a free throw with 13.8 seconds to go for a two-point lead. Down 55-53, the Buffanblu missed a 24-foot bomb and then a putback at the rim as the final buzzer sounded.

“We had the media time out at 4 minutes. We all knew, it was pretty clear they were giving more effort than us,” Pung said. “We were making careless turnovers, so we came out of the time out thinking this is one of our last games. We have to play smarter and with more effort.”

It was a learning experience for a talented, but young Buffanblu squad.

“We missed some gimmies at the end, two layups and the front end of a free throw,” Punahou Coach Darren Matsuda said. “Peyton cramped up at the end so that gave some of our freshmen some experience. Coaches are using this like a summer league, which is the right thing to do. We haven’t had time to work on a pressbreaker, but we got to see what we can do.”

The battle was intense, as most Kamehameha-Punahou clashes are.

“We were just feeling each other out at the beginning. We realized that we’ve got to play hard. This is one of our last games,” said Kamaka, who will play football at either the University of San Diego or Tufts University (Mass.). “I was practicing a lot of basketball until we found out we weren’t having a (league) season, so I was lifting a lot. It’s mostly lifting now.”

Drake Watanabe scored 16 points to pace Punahou, which played its first exhibition game of the 2020-21 year as a school team. Several of the Buffanblu have played with their Buff Nation club team.

“We just needed to stay strong with the ball and make less turnovers,” Watanabe said.

Kamehameha played a home-and-home series with Hawaii Baptist Academy over the weekend.

Punahou will travel to Saint Louis for its final exhibition game on Friday. That game will be streamed live on Saint Louis’ Facebook page.

Even as an exhibition only, the competitive fire and rivalry were there for two powerhouse basketball programs.

“I do wish there would be a rematch between us and Kamehameha,” Watanabe added. “We just have to practice more and get used to the masks. I’m very grateful and happy that we are having these exhibition games.”

Junior point guard Peyton Macapulay still has the postponed ILH football season to look forward to. Losing the basketball season is still a heartbreaker, but being on the court helps.

“We played as a team for the first time. I think our defense was pretty good. We’ve got people who can ‘D’ up and get after the ball,” he said. “For the first time playing together as a team, we did a pretty good job to control the pace and not let Kamehameha speed us up.”

Kamehameha’s patented fullcourt man defense was on display.

“He’s a tough guard. We tried to trap him and he found the backside guy for a layup,” Park said. “We didn’t trap him as much after that. We just wanted to wear them down.”

Watanabe, a 6-foot guard, played at Punahou as a freshman, then helped Roosevelt reach the Division II state final as a sophomore before transferring back to the Buffanblu. Watanabe has spent much of his time training and preparing.

“While this pandemic is going on and there are limitations we have for basketball, I feel pretty good. I really like that the (private) schools like to have these games,” he said. “I just want to play the sport I love, just having fun out there.”

Kamehameha will meet ‘Iolani in a home-and-home series on Friday and Saturday.

“ ‘Iolani has a lot of people returning from last year. They’re a good team. I’m excited to play anyone with as little games as we have,” Pung added. “Playing more games (beyond this week) would be great, but we’re all going into every game like it’s our last. They told us if one person gets COVID, they’ll shut the game down.”

Matsuda is hoping things get back to normal, enough for summer-league play. For now, the Buffanblu are counting their blessings, even in defeat.

“We’re extremely lucky. Everybody’s healthy. Our leadership made the game happen. At least we get a few games in,” Matsuda said. “That was the first time in over a year. It was great to see everybody out there, even the officials.”


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