By Paul Honda
Before crunching the numbers a bit, let’s just take a deep breath.
Those of you who are heavily, emotionally invested in the Interscholastic League of Honolulu boys basketball race could use the breather. Last night’s 49-47 win by Kamehameha at ‘Iolani confirmed the high-pressure stakes and competitive level of the league this season. Less than one week into the regular season, Punahou has beaten Kamehameha (at Kamehameha) and the Warriors have beaten ‘Iolani (at ‘Iolani). The top three teams in the league are also the trio atop the Star-Bulletin Boys Basketball Top 10.
Damien, Maryknoll and Mid-Pacific have their tallest teams in recent memory. Maryknoll’s 37-31 win over MPI last week proves this: there just isn’t a cakewalk game on the ILH slate this winter. Nada.
Kamehameha’s early loss to Punahou put the Warriors — at least one of them — in familiar territory. Chaz Bajet, point guard and cornerback on the state-championship football team, knows comebacks. Kamehameha lost an early-season football game, then ran the table en route to the state crown.
Now the hoops team is in a similar scenario. To win at ‘Iolani with a dominating presence on the glass is a major confidence boost for Kamehameha.
“The loss to Punahou, it really helped us,” said Bajet, a senior. “We knew from then that we have to win. Losing left a sour taste in our mouths.”
No question, knocking off a defending state champion when its back is against the ropes — very tough challenge for any team, even ‘Iolani.
But scrape the numbers away from the emotion, and it’s very interesting how much of a difference Micah Christenson meant to Kamehameha. When ‘Iolani and Kamehameha met on Dec. 30 in Moanalua’s Na Menehune Holiday Classic final, Christenson was gone to play volleyball on the mainland.
The Warriors struggled at some points without their 6-foot-5 junior, but showed great resolve in comeback wins over Waiakea and St. Joseph, which is currently ranked No. 6 in the Star-Bulletin Top 10.
But ‘Iolani was the better team that night, shooting 55 percent and outrebounding Kamehameha 20-14. In fact, the Warriors had just two offensive caroms all night. The Raiders led 26-16 at the half and won rather decisively, forcing the Warriors into 19 turnovers.
The one obvious positive of that night for Kamehameha? Forty-six percent shooting (18-for-39) without Christenson, including 40 percent from the arc (6-for-15).
Last night, different story. ‘Iolani shot 47 percent, which most teams will not do against Kamehameha’s mix of 2-3 zone and man defenses. However, Christenson was beastly with 19 points on 8-for-20 shooting along with 20 rebounds, including seven on the offensive glass.
He never hesitated to pull the trigger, but he didn’t rush or force a single shot attempt.
“I know I had to get my shots. My teammates trust me. My coaches trust me. I just got shots within the system,” Christenson said. “We had a lot more preparation and focus, especially with the loss against Punahou. That lit a fire under our butt.”
Charlton Tang, who was quiet in the preseason game against ‘Iolani (four points), played major minutes and was Mr. Energy on the fastbreak. When the Warriors scooped up loose balls, it seemed Tang was always in position for a layup. He had 14 points (6-for-9) to help Kamehameha overcome a mediocre shooting night (19-for-51).
The most glaring statistic, of course, was rebounds. Kamehameha’s 33-16 edge was due partly to ‘Iolani’s decision to go small; down 10 points in the third quarter, the Raiders stayed small to apply defensive pressure.
That left center Josiah Sukumaran on the bench most of the night. He finished with two points and five boards, including three in the first quarter.
Kamehameha finished with 16 offensive boards. ‘Iolani, which didn’t have the services of Kainoa Scheer (meniscus), had just five offensive caroms.
Another key stat: Kamehameha utilized Christenson as a key ballhandler in its pressbreaker, and the result was 11 turnovers — a big difference from the 19 without Christenson at the Moanalua tourney.
For fans who saw the game live, one of the most glaring aspects was Kamehameha’s team defense, which gave up few open shots by an ‘Iolani team that might be the best at drawing defenders and kicking out to open shooters.
As always, the tight ILH race — pick almost any sport — is a survival-of-the-fittest vacuum that forces elite teams to evolve constantly or perish.
“We’ve got to come to practice and focus more on the little things,” said Kainoa Chu, who led ‘Iolani with 25 points. “We’ve got to want it more. (Kamehameha) wanted it. Their defense was good. All the teams in the ILH are athletic. Everyone has that desire to win and fight. That makes it tough.”