The Big Dance, the Hawaii High School Athletic Association Hawaii State Girls Basketball Championships, is finally here. On the girls side, it’s been largely dominated by neighbor-island teams like No. 1 Konawaena and No. 2 Lahainaluna.
Unlike the boys rankings (and seedings, most likely), the girls hoops scene this year has been very static. Konawaena has been No. 1 from Week 1, and Lahainaluna has been at the second spot as long. The two teams played in the state final last year, with Konawaena winning its sixth title in 12 years under Bobbie Awa.
The Wildcats had their share of injury scares recently with all-state forward Mercedes Ihi Victor and player of the year Chanelle Molina on the shelf. Both returned, however, for the BIIF playoffs. Here’s a look at the HHSAA bracket.
Kaiser (11-8, 10-3) vs. Kamehameha-Maui (10-5, 10-4)
Tuesday, 5:30 pm
I’m not sure what’s happened with basketball upcountry. Aside from the King Kekaulike boys of recent years, it’s been really slippery for the rest of the programs. Can KS-Maui’s girls reverse the trend? Or are the best athletes playing volleyball, soccer and softball? This is a question I wonder about statewide because girls basketball outside of Kona, Lahaina, Hilo and a few locations on Oahu seems to be on decline. And some of the better players have transferred to the elite programs in recent years.
And yet, KS-Maui beat every D-I team in the MIL not named Lahainaluna. Things seem to be looking up for the Warriors.
Kaiser has a LOT of experience facing the state’s best teams thanks to its annual Ted Fukushima Invitational. Roselyn Shimaoka and Brooke Ho are among the top players in the OIA.
The winner will meet No. 1 Konawaena on Wednesday, 7 p.m.
Farrington (11-4, 10-4) vs. Punahou (16-9, 12-3)
Tuesday, 7:30 p.m.
Moli Heimuli was one of the bright spots for the Lady Governors, a 5-foot-11 junior with a nice shooting touch. The Govs nearly took defending OIA champion Roosevelt down in the semifinals by using a triangle-and-two defense. Crafty.
The Govs will need to play their cleanest game of the season, and by that I mean minimal turnovers. Punahou may have fallen to Maryknoll in the ILH title game, but they’re probably be hungrier for the cause now. They are solid fundamentally and have one of the best posts in the state, Tyra Moe, looking for the big prize in her senior year. She has been explosive and prolific in the past two weeks with her pal and teammate, Va‘e Malufau, out of the line (shoulder).
There’s enough talent on this team that any of the top seven or eight players would probably average 18-20 points in any other league. Kamaile Kandiah is unstoppable off the dribble, while Elle Uyeda and Lexie Taylor have been clutch from the perimeter while providing length and great defense.
The KS-Maui/Kaiser winner will meet OIA champion Leilehua, the No. 4 seed, on Wednesday, 5 p.m.
Radford (12-6, 12-1) vs. Hilo (21-3, 10-2)
The Lady Rams were on a roll before falling in the OIA playoffs to eventual champ Leilehua. Can they return to their winning ways? It’s going to be a difficult challenge against a veteran, tough and physical Hilo squad. For the past four years or so, there have been very, very few teams as willing to battle on the post and willing to hit the floor for every loose ball like the Lady Vikings — even though they often had nobody over 5-7 on the floor.
Often times, Hilo had nobody over 5-3 on the court and still won rebounding battles.
Alexis Pana is among the most versatile players in the state, but it’s Hilo’s scoring balance that is tough to deal with. They’ve always given Oahu teams a serious battle, and if not for Konawaena, the Vikings would garner more attention, certainly. But they didn’t travel to Oahu in preseason this season, and they probably didn’t need to. Arguably the darkhorse sleeper of the tournament.
Radford will be up against a tenacious man defense, but they’re going to lean on Kyle Johnson and guard Puni Seei for leadership.
The Radford-Hilo winner will face ILH champion Maryknoll on Wednesday, 7 p.m.
Mililani (12-5, 10-3) vs. Roosevelt (14-3, 12-1)
Tuesday, 5 p.m.
No doubt Roosevelt will come out firing and maybe a little stirred up after losing to Leilehua in the OIA final on Saturday. Mililani could be a tough matchup, however, with some size in the paint and a long point guard who has nice court vision and scoring ability in Jazmina Lafitaga (5-9 senior).
When Keala Quinlan is on, there are few other players who can answer. The 6-1 senior drilled a pull-up 3 to give Roosevelt the lead with less than a minute left in the game against Leilehua. Otherwise, she was quiet with nine points in all, settling for contest mid-range shots instead of attacking the paint.
Here’s my pupule view: if Quinlan takes at least 10 free throws, Roosevelt has its best opportunity to reach the final. Her free-throw total against Leilehua? Zero for zero. Roosevelt will also need more from explosive point guard Ashley Kiko (six points against Leilehua).
It’s a tough call for longtime coach Hinano Higa, who doesn’t have a deep bench. She could let the reins loose and let her best players run and gun for three quarters or more. But would they have anything left in the tank for the final 8 minutes?
This winner will face No. 2 seed Lahainaluna on Wednesday, 5 p.m.