Villa’s return sparks Kahuku to OIA title

The Kahuku faithful celebrated the Red Raiders' OIA Division I boys basketball title. Photo by Cindy Ellen Russell/Star-Advertiser.
The Kahuku faithful celebrated the Red Raiders’ OIA Division I boys basketball title. Photo by Cindy Ellen Russell/Star-Advertiser.

The Villa effect is real.

A month ago, Jessiya Villa was on the court when Kahuku played Kailua and won, 53-37. Fast-forward to the OIA playoffs on Tuesday: Villa is out with a concussion and Kahuku has to scramble for a 42-40 win over that same Kailua team.

His return on Thursday did more than energize No. 1 Kahuku. The Red Raiders captured their eighth OIA boys basketball championship with a 70-60 victory over No. 6 Kapolei. It was Kapolei’s first loss in league play after 12 wins.

” ‘Siya is another gear out there. The guys relax and have confidence with him out there,” Red Raiders coach Brandyn Akana said.

Villa scored 24 points, providing the balance that Kahuku sorely missed in the semifinal round. Even when his push downcourt was met by five retreating defenders, he found his gaps and made the right decisions, as usual. His first trey, a 22-footer from the left wing off the dribble, was opportunistic. Not rushed. Not selfish. Just an open shot that Villa has practiced tens of thousands of times. All net, and Kahuku led 9-0.

It’s always something to see when a 6-foot-7 scorer (Dan Fotu) and a 6-6 scorer (Samuta Avea) get hyped by their 6-foot point guard’s return. Always affable and candid, Fotu admitted that he was “scared” during the battle without Villa against Kailua. With their dynamic playmaker back, it was “Dunk you very much” time for Kahuku’s springy leapers. Fotu and Avea got revved up.

Villa? Stoic. Rarely shows emotion. But even on his 3-pointer early in the game, he turned to hustle back on defense, and he couldn’t reel in that passion: a tiny hop in his first step.

The joy of basketball isn’t a given for any team. Kahuku, with all the bull’s eyes and attention, continues as they run at hyperspeed. Avea and Fotu each had dunks in the first quarter, and even when Avea missed on a one-handed jam during the second quarter, it was clear that the Red Raiders were fully energized.

There wasn’t a whole lot Kapolei could do, but there’s this: The Hurricanes kept battling.

“Kapolei’s a good team that likes to go up and down the court, but they knew this was different. After we got up big, they took their time and didn’t force shots,” Akana said. “They’re a good team. I’m just glad we got the win.”

The work behind the scenes, so to speak, was done on defense. Once again, Kesi Ah-Hoy and Codie Sauvao took their assignments to heart. Kapolei’s talented backcourt of Ja’Shon Carter and Isiah Higa were limited to nine points each.

On the other end, Kapolei stayed in a 2-3 matchup zone, as most OIA foes do against Kahuku. The Hurricanes were fully aware of Villa’s scoring ability.

“I knew Kapolei would come out playing scrappy. They’re a physical team,” Villa said. “We were able to counter that and play smart.”

The lead got bigger in the third quarter before Kapolei chipped away against Kahuku’s reserves. In the end, coach Gary Ellison was positive, and facing the state’s biggest and best team should raise the bar for the ‘Canes come state-tourney time. The big dance starts on Monday.


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