Bleed green: Can anyone stop Kona?

Konawaena's Celena Molina fouled Punahou Buffanblu's Tyra Moe on Wednesday. Krystle Marcellus / Star-Advertiser
Konawaena’s Celena Molina fouled Punahou Buffanblu’s Tyra Moe on Wednesday. Krystle Marcellus / Star-Advertiser

The Final 4 is here.

The New City Nissan/HHSAA Division I Girls Basketball State Championships have boiled down to a fine quartet of teams. But let’s examine tonight’s matchups with the afterglow of what went down in the quarterfinals.

Konawaena (28-1, 12-0 BIIF) vs. Roosevelt (21-2, 13-0 OIA)
Semifinal round, McKinley Student Council Gymnasium, 7 p.m.

Results: Konawaena defeated Punahou 51-37 in the quarterfinals. Roosevelt defeated Baldwin 56-33.

Rankings: Konawaena, the five-time state champion, is ranked and seeded No. 1. Roosevelt is ranked No. 2 in the Star-Advertiser Top 10, but is seeded fourth out of four league champions (in D-I). That’s because the HHSAA seeding committee puts a heavy value on past results, and Roosevelt has a) never won a state crown in girls hoops, and b) has struggled in recent state tournaments.

Skinny: At first glance, these two programs seem cut from the same cloth. Both coaches have been in the game practically all their lives. They run year-round basketball club teams that travel in the summer. They have excellent guard play and are, for the most part, fundamentally sound at all times.

Every foe knows about Roosevelt’s transition game, but stopping it has been nearly impossible.

Then there’s this: Roosevelt has been very 3-heavy over the years and not dominant in the post — until this year. Keala Quinlan can step out and get open looks from the arc as opposing centers warily chase her and give her space to release her shot. Then she can scoot back into the post and score on any defender, tall or short, slender or stout, by using her 6-foot-1 frame and arsenal of moves. Being a good free-throw shooter adds to the challenge.

Roosevelt has done a much better job this season of pounding the rock rather than always settling for so-so shots when games are close — not that they’ve had a lot of serious opposition in the OIA’s down season. (Cycles happen.)

The effectiveness of Quinlan means that the Rough Riders can get a easy or high-percentage shot at point-blank range against man-to-man defenses. And if she gets double-teamed, she can kick the ball to any of her open and capable 3-point gunners (Ashley Kiko, Kaohi Kapiko, Sharice Kawakami). Or she can, as I mentioned, take her defender to the outer reaches in a 5-out scenario and open the lane for her slasher teammates, including Starr Rivera.

Getting the ball inside to Quinlan is a part of the RHS offense, but it’s not necessarily Point A. They’re still and team that first looks to run and get those easy layups, and then work the offense and take the first open look. Konawaena is a bit different, a team that has always favored an inside-out game even without a dominant post scorer.

With the arrival of Lahainaluna transfers Taylor Bates, Lindsay Bates and Aloha Salem, the Wildcats have the luxury of depth and 3-point shooting. Salem hit a nice 3 during a second-quarter run by Konawaena in last night’s comeback win over Punahou. Though these three can shoot lights out — Salem made 14 treys and scored 46 points in a win over Hawaii Prep two weeks ago — the Wildcats’ base offense is about passing and cutting over and over.

It’s not just a pass and slog-through-the-key deal. They really cut hard, and even after the wing hits a pass into the low or high post, there’s always a second cutter darting behind or through the defense waiting for another bounce pass. Few teams have gotten more easy layups off halfcourt sets than Konawaena. They even did it against defending national champion Riverdale Baptist (Md.), a squad of 6-4, 6-2 and 6-1 leapers.

When they get that motion going, the 3-point shot is an afterthought, basically. And yet, coach Bobbie Awa didn’t rely on the usual bread and butter. The Wildcats put one of their other sets, a double-high post look, to amazing efficient work last night. It came in handy on a cold shooting night from the 3-point line (1-for-10).

Awa said she hadn’t used it until late in the BIIF playoffs. With Chanelle Molina on the elbow, it gives her a chance to work a slower or smaller defender into the paint, to get a fairly high-percentage mid- or short-range jumper off.

“I love that offense,” the returning all-state player of the year said.

By running the offense exclusively through their best playmaker — best in the state — the Wildcats guaranteed that they would tilt the percentages in their favor. She went from a two-point first quarter (1-for-3 from the field) to scoring 12 points in the next two periods. Molina also had six rebounds, three assists and four steals.

What makes her especially tough, besides the smooth spin move or her ability to angle away from the hands of a taller defender, is that she can see the floor well. She works the defense without going into overdrive. Because she doesn’t rush, she eliminates the possibility of a charge as help arrives, and better yet, she can see open teammates in the corners.

Because of the Bates sisters and Salem, defenses have to respect Konawaena’s corner 3, and putting Molina at the controls in that double-high post set means she’s thoroughly in charge. That’s precisely what the Wildcats needed when they fell behind 13-7 against the bigger, hot-shooting Buffanblu. Elle Uyeda was smoking hot early with three first-quarter treys, but Konawaena adjusted and kept a lid on her the rest of the way.

After shooting 3-for-8 from the arc in the first quarter, Punahou was limited to six 3-point attempts the rest of the way.

Konawaena never strayed from its man defense, but as Awa said, they kept battling the Punahou power inside, limiting Tyra Moe and Va‘e Malufau to a combined 17 points despite their solid start. Celena Jane Molina looked much like the post who battled Riverdale and Miramonte’s bigger players, continuously fronting and working around Moe or Malufau on the low post while weak-side help made its presence all game long.

At one point, Bates, who is probably 5-foot-3 at best, battled the 6-1 Malufau in the paint. She is, quite possibly, one of the toughest guards in the state, if not one of the most fearless. She did the same thing against the mainland squads, using every bit of her strength to box out foes standing a foot taller.

They were, as Awa noted, a bit overexcited at the start. Freshman point guard Cherilyn Molina, the youngest of the sisters, missed her first three shots before settling in and finishing with 10 points and two steals. She was 4-for-4 at the foul line and her team was 14-for-21.

This is a senior-heavy lineup for Roosevelt, clearly the most efficient coach Hinano Higa has put on the floor. Of their top eight players, all can hit the open 3 and all are fairly good to excellent against on-ball pressure. That makes this an intriguing matchup.

X Factor: Ihi Victor was sidelined when Konawaena played in the ‘Iolani Classic, and her team still made it to the tourney final. With Victor, who is around 6 feet tall, and Celena Jane Molina patrolling the paint, it’ll be tougher than usual for Roosevelt to score inside. Both can cover the perimeter, as well, using their long arms to curtail 3-point shooters. Victor adds big value to the Wildcats defense, and if she scores, that’s gravy.

In the win over Punahou, Celena Jane Molina had six points, 11 boards, two dimes and three steals. Victor had nine points and eight boards.

Pupule says: When these teams run the floor, there are few teams as entertaining and mesmerizing. But it’s defense that they both take pride in. Roosevelt scored the first 13 points against Baldwin, then hit a wall while the score was 15-7. They didn’t score for several minutes, but neither did the Bears. Eventually, they got some transition buckets and opened the lead to 23-9 by halftime.

Offense comes and goes. Defense wins championships. In this case, one team has a bit more ‘D’.

Pupule pick: Wildcats 54, Rough Riders 51.

Lahainaluna (23-1, 14-0 MIL) vs. Maryknoll (19-2, 11-1 ILH)
Semifinal round, McKinley Student Council Gymnasium, 5 p.m.

Results: Lahainaluna defeated Radford 68-24 in the quarterfinal round. Maryknoll squeezed past Hilo 70-66.

Rankings: Lahainaluna is seeded second in the tourney and ranked No. 3 in the Top 10. Maryknoll is seeded third and ranked fourth in the Top 10.

Skinny: The Spartans got every ounce of energy and performance from senior leader Maegen Martin (21 points, 10 rebounds) in the narrow win over Hilo. Their depth proved to be a key factor, and it’s probably one of the reasons why coach Chico Furtado was willing to go fullcourt pressure for much of the contest against Hilo, which had played an opening-round game (beating Nanakuli).

The young Spartans have seven freshmen on their roster, but they came through. Freshman point guard Rhianne Omori (12 points) swished a corner 3 during the stretch run, turning a 61-60 game into a four-point lead. That was more than huge. It came just about the time when Martin fouled out. Lindsey Lee (10 points) also hit two big threes for the Spartans, who aren’t just an uber-talented young team anymore. They earned an ILH title in a year when it would’ve been easy to say the team was just a bit young and inexperienced.

Alexis Delovio had 16 points, three assists and two steals. She was 3-for-5 from the arc and Maryknoll shot 7-for-18 — a nice 39 percent — there for the game.

Coach Todd Rickard’s Lady Lunas were in full-throttle, 32-minutes-of-chaos mode against Radford. The same squad that played terrific basketball at the Ted Fukushima Invitational more than two months ago is playing even better now. The backcourt is solid even after the losses of the Bates girls and Salem to Konawaena. Fiamea Hafoka had eight steals to go with her 15 points and six assists against Radford.

It’s the progress of their wings and posts that was also impressive. Keleah-Aiko Koloi amassed 15 points, 17 rebounds and had no turnovers. Koloi, like Matafolau Hafoka (11 points, nine boards, four blocks), is versatile enough to cover the wing and strong enough to defend in the paint. Koloi also hit her only 3-point attempt, showing the same skill level she had at the Fukushima tourney.

The energizer offensively, though, is slashing junior swingman Cameron Fernandez. She had 17 points and just two turnovers in the win, and she will be a matchup problem because of her explosiveness and height. Maryknoll will be tempted to bring plenty of help defense when Fernandez touches the basketball. The Spartans might even consider some zone defense, but the Lunas were just 4-for-13 from deep last night. When Lahainaluna shot the ball in 2-point territory, they shot 24-for-49, and most of their 14 offensive boards came off of 2-point shots.

X Factor: The Spartans run much more than they did last year by design. Furtado said early in preseason that he wanted his team to be more versatile, able to play fast or slow at any time. He got what he wanted against a fast, tough Hilo squad. But the Spartans had more turnovers (22) than field goals (21) in the win. They made up the difference by shooting 21-for-30 at the foul line.

Lahainaluna backs down to no one, and their fullcourt press will be a major challenge for Maryknoll.

Pupule says: Aside from preseason and postseason tournaments, it’s rare for teams to play back-to-back games, and Martin expended a lot of energy in 29 minutes of action against Hilo. She was highly efficient (8-for-10 from the field), but she’s going to need help on the boards. No other Spartan had more than three rebounds. This is the toughest matchup for Maryknoll since their road-trip game against Bishop Gorman (Nev.). Fast teams fare better than big teams against Maryknoll. Lahainaluna is both fast and big.

Pupule pick: Lunas 72, Spartans 67.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

By participating in online discussions you acknowledge that you have agreed to the Star-Advertiser's TERMS OF SERVICE. An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. If your comments are inappropriate, you may be banned from posting. To report comments that you believe do not follow our guidelines, email