It’s one thing to knock off the frontrunners of your division, as the Leilehua Mules have done lately.
It’s another to take the court, as they did at Moanalua last night, with a combination of height and athleticism in the front court, and good ballhandling in the backcourt. Leilehua is a team built to upset a season-long elite squad, which is what Moanalua is.
It’s what makes the playoffs that much more interesting. For several minutes in the second quarter, we saw what the Mules are capable of. Their 11-0 run had No. 4-ranked Moanalua flustered, frustrated and in a rare loss of composure, down on each other after a few missed passes.
The rest of the time, it was no contest. Moanalua won 66-39, running the break, moving the ball fluidly and smartly for better shots. Many of those passes found Marcus Monroe (7-for-12 shooting, 19 points) for open looks near and far, and Keven Amaral (15 points) for his accurate mid-range jumpers.
At one point, Moanalua had Monroe and four guards on the floor, wreaking havoc defensively. Leilehua could not make Na Menehune pay. For all their athleticism, the Mules don’t have a lot of shooters. Carlos Marshall has a nice 3-point stroke, and slashers like Martin Hall and Brent Lemon are tough off the dribble. But the Mules are limited by three factors.
1. Free-throw shooting. Leilehua shot 10-for-31 at the line. Part of that inefficiency came from playing back-to-back nights, but 32 percent is not par for the course.
2. Moanalua outrebounded Leilehua 26-21. Even with bigs like Cassius Camanse and a hustler like Xavieuer Adger (first name has a French twist and spelling), the Mules managed just three offensive boards.
3. Eighteen turnovers.
The pluses are there. Dustin Pau‘u and Marshall are solid ballhandlers against fullcourt pressure. Leilehua has pretty good shot selection (13-for-29) and is unselfish, no surprise with coach Keith Spencer in charge.
Leilehua will get its legs back, and with one more win, the state tournament beckons. If they can just hit some foul shots, a berth is theirs for the taking.
As for Moanalua, it was a mostly scintillating performance, something fans are almost taking for granted. No, there weren’t any alley-oop dunks by Monroe, though freshman guard Marcus Keene tried during that second quarter. His errant pass — giving up an easy layup for a lob to Monroe, who was trailing and in traffic — drew the ire of coach Greg Tacon.
The coach gives his players a lot of flexibility, but only if their plays are within the context of the offense and defense.
“Coach gives us a lot of leeway,” said guard Reece Racoma, who scored five points during Moanalua’s 24-6 run to open the game. “We learned that when we get down, not focusing, we just gotta stay together as a team.”
If that means a 20-5 squad found another way to improve this late in the season, Na Menehune nation will gladly take it.
By Paul Honda, Star-Bulletin