The patience of seasoned leaders is hugely valuable at ‘Iolani.
Nearly three months into the season, returnees like senior Kellie Okamura and junior point guard Tori Maeda are seeing their ninth-grade teammates blossom. The timing couldn’t have been better on Monday night. Five Raiders, including freshmen Kyra Tanabe (15 points, three treys), Alexis Huntimer (12, two treys) and Lily Lefotu Wahinekapu (11, one trey), scored in double figures to power ‘Iolani over Kahuku 88-47 in the opening round of the Snapple/HHSAA Girls Basketball State Championships.
They also played enough team defense to limit Kahuku junior center Sisila Kaufusi to just 25 points and nine rebounds. If not for the constant double- and triple-teams of the second half, the nimble 5-foot-11 post scorer could have erupted for much more.
Sizzling offense, with 51-percent field-goal shooting (33-for-65), including 11 3-pointers. Just nine turnovers. Good defense on Kaufusi for three of the game’s four quarters. Instead of concern about the absence of junior guard Taylor Wu, who was denied an exemption by the HHSAA because she was not enrolled on campus when the basketball season start date arrived in November, ‘Iolani enjoyed one of its best team wins of the season.
“Now that Taylor’s out, everyone needs to step up,” said Maeda, who finished with 16 points and three assists. “Tonight, they showed it.”
Okamura added 14 points and a game-high six assists, along with three steals and zero turnovers in an exceedingly efficient performance. The Raiders outshot the visitors, got outrebounded 31-26, but forced them into 31 turnovers. Twenty-one of the giveaways came in the first half. ‘Iolani hustled for 20 steals. They got a combined 10 points, three rebounds and four steals from posts Kayla Malta and Alexsandra Huntimer.
It was gameplan execution at an elite level, which is no surprise given how well ‘Iolani has played in the past month. It is also a long way from those early preseason jitters.
“I thought we didn’t shoot well at that time because of nerves,” Raiders coach Dean Young said. “We had good ball movement.”
The weave-oriented offense was a demonstration of perpetual motion that often created open looks from the arc. The pace, though, was a force of will. Young and his staff kept on their team about pushing the ball downcourt, and at least once, when a Raider hesitated to shoot an open transition 3, there was some minor consternation. It was a point of emphasis to create a high-possession game and get Kahuku running a track meet.
The fascinating thing, though, was that every Raider made a contribution at the right time. Kawai Kahalehoe, the promising freshman two seasons ago, battled back from two injuries — including an ACL tear — in the past year and looked more and more like her old self with four assists, four points and two steals in just 11 minutes.
“We told her she’d start feeling better by January,” Young said of Kahalehoe’s gritty comeback.
It wasn’t all peaches and cream, of course. Young wasn’t satisfied with his team’s defense in the second quarter, when Kaufusi scored 14 points on 7-for-7 shooting. But he acknowledged it’s time to move on.
The Raiders face the No. 3 seed, Lahainaluna, on Thursday. ‘Iolani edged the Lunas 49-45 on Nov. 9 at the McKinley Black and Gold Classic. It was the first game of the season for both teams.
“Their ball pressure is a concern. We handled it last time, but they’re going to be tough. They’re a huge challenge, and they’ll have all their players healthy this time,” he said.