By Paul Honda
It could be a spectacular week for the Kahuku Red Raiders. Or the Mililani Trojans.
A loss tonight eliminates one of them. Then comes a matchup with Moanalua on Thursday. A victory there and it’s a championship game on Saturday for the Oahu Interscholastic Association Red Conference crown.
There are some complaints about the multitude of playoff games in the OIA since it adopted a double-elimination format last season. Me? I love it. Though I still have an issue with the lack of reward for regular-season winners (they deserve automatic berths or at least an East-West game for the berth), I love the fact that one bad night doesn’t end the season for most of the teams that made the playoffs.
It gives No. 6-ranked Mililani and No. 5 Kahuku a second chance. Mililani didn’t defend well on Saturday, giving up layups as Moanalua sprinted upcourt after rebounds and made baskets. Kahuku has lost three of its last six, including a 45-40 loss to Mililani.
Someone’s going to win tonight, and on the surface, it seems to be the Trojans who hold the best cards. Reginald “R.J. Griffin is coming off a 23-point effort (8-for-19 shooting) against Moanalua. Griffin is one of the best in the state on pull-up jumpers and has a super motor, but Mililani is at its best when he breaks down a defense and can get easy baskets for Hassan Richardson and Trent McKinney at the hoop.
The Trojans relied heavily on a 1-2-2 zone against Moanalua, which still managed to work the ball for open 3-pointers. They’ll probably go back to their fullcourt press against Kahuku, a fairly good ballhandling team, though not as good as Moanalua.
The Red Raiders got just eight points from sharpshooting Nehoa Akina in their loss to Mililani on Feb. 12. It was a poignant experience for Akina and his dad, coach Hiram Akina. The two lived in Mililani for a couple of years while the elder Akina coached there. Little Nehoa was there at practice every day, a middle-schooler with better handles and 3-point accuracy than most of the varsity guys.
Kahuku will need to unleash its leading scorer tonight. Easier said than done, of course. What might come easier is another solid scoring night from 6-foot-4 Shairone Thompson, who had 13 points against Mililani.
If the teams choose to run and gun, it would be entertaining, but it probably won’t happen. Aside from Nehoa Akina, Kahuku doesn’t have a consistent second gunner on the perimeter. They’re deep, big and athletic enough to withstand a high-pace game, though.
Combined with Mililani’s strength in the paint (Richardson, McKinney) and overall depth — coach Ed Gonzales uses 9-10 players early and often — this should be another low-scoring duel.
Losing tonight means getting the OIA’s third spot in the state tourney. There’s always debate over why the fourth-place team sometimes gets an “easier” draw than then third-place team. Or even among the top two, there have been times when a runner-up seems to get the better draw. True enough, maybe, but those runners-up often draw a very tough team — sometimes the No. 1 seed in the tourney — by the second day. It evens out eventually, and until the state tourney expands to 16 teams (unlikely), first-round byes and consternation over unfair matchups will be the norm.
Tonight, it’s just basketball and if we’re lucky, both teams roll out the ball and run, run, run.