By Paul Honda
It’s been quite a week for prep basketball fans. Talk about intensity levels!
After the girls state championships — kudos to Lahainaluna and Kaimuki for such clutch performance — the boys gave us some fantastic pace. Moanalua and Mililani provided a statewide TV audience with the most pinball-type action in the first half of their game, a combined 88 points.
Then last night, Punahou kept its food on the pedal from start to finish in a 65-59 win over Kamehameha. It was the gazillionth time the two storied programs met on the hardwood, and it may rank as one of the better battles. Kamehameha never stopped coming even after a cold start: 2-for-12 from 3-point range in the first half.
Some post-game thoughts.
• The Warriors continue to rely heavily on the deep ball — a strategy that has been successful most of the time. Last night: 6-for-25 (24 percent) against Punahou’s man-to-man defense. Granted, they shot much better in the second half (4-for-13) and were within four points despite a relatively cold shooting performance.
• Micah Christenson finished with 16 points and seven boards. Nice numbers, but not close to what he’s done to the Buffanblu in three other games this year. One of the best things he did last night was attack the glass more consistently in the second half. That resulted in two big putbacks during Kamehameha’s mini-rallies.
Before that, he was content to shoot treys — his trademark stroke is unmatched by any 6-foot-5 shooter I’ve seen this season — but he was not in position to board. He was 1-for-5 in the first half and four of those were from the arc — zero offensive boards. Second half, he tried just two treys, hit one, and hustled for four offensive rebounds.
It’s not that he shouldn’t shoot treys. When he does that, centers and forwards have to stretch out to the arc, and that opens the lanes for Kamehameha’s slashers. But it does cost Kamehameha its best rebounder, even with Charlton Tang hanging down on the low post (four offensive boards).
I’d love to see Christenson, who shot just two free throws, post down low more often and use his shooting touch and smarts to draw fouls. Maybe not on every possession, but four or five times per half. There are a lot of defenders who would love to swat a Christenson shot. It would be helicopter city.
• With Christenson’s limited trips to the foul line, it was guards Shane Matayoshi and Dyrbe Enos who bravely drove through traffic. Matayoshi (2-for-5) and Enos (4-for-4) did it just enough to keep defenders honest. Kamehameha shot 17-for-23 from the line. Punahou was just 7-for-13. It’s a trend that might continue if the teams meet again.
• As I wrote yesterday in the pre-game report, the absence of guard Taylor Crabb (ankle) led to more touches, at least in the early going, for 6-5 forward Malik Johnson. The sophomore is playing like a senior, using his footwork and ballhandling to get high-percentage shots. He took four shots in the opening quarter and set the tone for his team in the paint. Eight points and six rebounds might not sound like a huge contribution, but once Johnson got going, fellow twin tower DeForest Buckner pillaged on the other side with single coverage.
Buckner had just two points in the first half, but commanded the boards (eight rebounds, three blocks). Better yet for the Buffanblu, Kaiwi Crabb brought his guile and physical force (6-3, 272 pounds) to give the sophs some rest time. It’s the perfect low-post scenario. Two smart young players who are long and athletic combined with a savvy senior who has no ego and simply wants to protect the house, make outlet passes and hit every point-blank shot available. Crabb, to borrow a cliche from Bill Simmons, knows The Secret.
• Henry Cassiday is and has been a great plus/minus player, though I don’t have the empirical data to show anyone. Yet. But his defensive stops have bordered on spectacular this season. Last night’s 24-point outburst was no less impressive. He shot 9-for-14, found his bigs, Buckner and Johnson, on the low post for high-percentage shots (five dimes), grabbed six boards and had just one turnover until a spell midway through the second half when the small, quick Warrior defenders exposed Cassiday’s sore right knee (bruise) and relative inexperience at the point.
Punahou has the luxury of putting Matt Feldman at the point if necessary, but chose to stick with Cassiday while still up by 5-10 points. Feldman was clutch and very confident from the arc, hitting two early 3-pointers over the 2-3 zone. The entire team seemed to be on a new level of confidence — not surprising since everyone gets more touches now. Whether it’s James Duncan or James Dowsett (five assists) off the bench, every Buffanblu is playing strong.
Punahou had struggled from the arc more times than not this season. With Crabb sidelined, they lose one of the most athletic guards in the state, one who isn’t afraid to take a clutch shot. They also have a more conservative shot selection, particularly with Cassiday, who is much more of a mid-range, higher-percentage shooter who makes good entry passes. It’s old school and it works.
• In a nutshell: Punahou had 17 turnovers to just 11 by Kamehameha, but shot 53 percent (27-for-51) from the field, including 4-for-5 from the arc, and owned the boards (35-23).
• Kamehameha’s two nights of crucial defeats, first at ‘Iolani, then at Punahou, could easily have swung the other way. It came down to shooting and rebounding, which sounds simplistic, but with only seven boards in the first half — and 16 in the second — it’s always understandable when the Warriors struggle.
A win against either team would’ve netted them a state-tourney berth. Now, the Warriors head into the ILH tournament and need to win out for a shot at the play-in game at Honokaa on Saturday. Only then will they get into the state tournament.
Only the NBA plays as many games in a six-game span, and they get to fly in first class. The plus for Kamehameha is that these tourney games will be at home. Should the Warriors get past some hungry ILH teams, there’s the trip to Hilo and the winding hour-long drive north to sugar cane country.