Defense fuels offense as Kalani captures OIA title

The Kalani Falcons celebrated after winning the 2018 OIA Division I Girls Basketball Championship game against Moanalua Na Menehune on Wednesday at McKinley Student Council Gymnasium. Photo by Cindy Ellen Russell/

What if this deal was on the table: you endure the worst possible game experience of your basketball season, but in return, maybe you win the OIA championship?

Of course, there are no such deals to be made. What Kalani gained from a profoundly painful senior-night 60-55 loss to Moanalua 15 days ago was a renewal. Renewed spirit. Renewed commitment. Renewed heart.

Tonight’s wipeout of that same tough Moanalua squad wasn’t as close as the score may indicate. Kalani’s 55-33 victory in the final of the OIA Division I playoffs — its first OIA D-I girls basketball title since 2008 — was classic Falcons basketball. Relentless, swarming defense from baseline to baseline. Drive and dish opportunities for layups and 3s. Tough half-court man defense.

Kalani (14-8, 10-2 OIA) did more, actually. A consistent sideline trap derailed much of Moanalua’s momentum. Instead of allowing center Delylah Sanerivi to post up on the block and take constant entry passes, the Falcons trapped the wing into submission over and over again. Moanalua (15-10, 9-4 OIA) committed six turnovers in the first quarter alone.

Offensively, Kalani set an OIA D-I record for most points scored in a first quarter. The previous mark was 21 points by Farrington in the 2011 OIA final, according to in-house historian Jerry Campany. It was almost magical, every following 3-point bomb or layup simply a self-fulfilling prophecy that sent Kalani’s near-rabid fans into ecstasy. For the record, this is the loudest Kalani fan base I can remember since the Iwalani Rodrigues years. And even then, Falcons fans didn’t necessarily out-scream opposing fans, which is what they did on Monday (against Kahuku) and tonight.

Here’s how the first quarter reads offensively for Kalani:
>> Logan Luke post-up bucket, 2-2
>> Logan Luke baseline jumper, Kalani 4-2
>> PG Daesha Viela drive layup, 6-2
>> Luke follow shot, 8-4
>> Luke layup, 10-4
>> Inbounds pass, Alayna Akiona left corner 3, 13-6
>> Akiona left corner 3, 16-6
>> Kandyce Woods elbow bank shot, 18-6
>> Akiona left corner 3, 21-6
>> Viela drive layup, 23-6
>> Kaylie Espinas steal and wing 2, 25-6
>> Espinas right corner 3 at the buzzer, 28-6.

Despite a TV time out and a Moanalua time out, Kalani set a record for points in a first quarter by a seven-point margin. That’s 33 percent more points than any team had ever scored in an opening period. That’s how HOTHOTHOT the Falcons were. Viela had three of her nine assists in the first stanza. Five Falcons scored at least four points. The ball moved. Moanalua couldn’t close out. And that’s where fatigue is a real factor.

By finishing second in the OIA East, the Falcons secured a first-round bye. Moanalua had to hustle hard to finish third, and though they were the hottest team in the league coming into the playoffs — they knocked off frontrunners Kahuku and Kalani during that seven-game win streak coming into the game today — that extra game is 32 more minutes of wear and tear.

It mattered. Moanalua didn’t have the same energy. Key players got into foul trouble. Shots weren’t falling. Wide-open shots missed. By the end of the first half, Moanalua was 5-for-20 from the field, including 0-for-6 from the arc. Na Menehune had twice as many turnovers, 10, as they had field goals. The only saving grace was 9-for-12 shooting from the free-throw line.

Down 38-19, there was plenty of time to chip away at Kalani’s lead. The third quarter, however, resembled the first quarter. Moanalua couldn’t get Sanerivi involved; she committed a foul almost immediately and sat down again. Moanalua was outscored 15-3 in the third, shooting 1-for-11 from the field.

“We struggled in the third quarter last time (against Moanalua). Coach said to pick them up (defensively) early,” Viela said. “We had to pick up (point guard Kelcie Leong) early when Delylah’s in the game. This time we communicated better.”

Kalani’s offense? Fresh and crisp. The Falcons rained in three more treys in the third stanza, and before the fourth quarter started, the game was essentially over with the score at 53-22. Kalani’s stats before emptying the bench in the fourth: 22-for-42 from the field, including 8-for-13 from the arc. Even more impressive, the Falcons had just four turnovers in the first 24 minutes.

By game’s end, the battle for boards was even at 39. The Falcons wrangled in 14 offensive boards, hitting the floor continuously. They simply wanted it in the best way, and they had the game plan to counter a talented, balanced Moanalua squad.

“Part of me is a little surprised at how well we played, but these girls, especially with Alayna and Kaylie, who can stop them if they’re both shooting well?” Falcons coach Chi Mok said. “We looked at the potential mismatches, and when Delylah was on Logan, we told her, ‘You take her to the basket.’ ”

The primary narrative is about the incredibly hot shooting of their freshman, Akiona, but even she wouldn’t rate her team’s offense above what they did defensively. Moanalua finished 9-for-44 from the field (20 percent), including 1-for-16 from the arc.

Espinas (15 points) and Akiona (14) showed that run-and-gun basketball can be a perfect fit with nonstop full-court pressure. The fuel that originated out of that earlier loss to Moanalua was absolutely flammable.

“After that senior night, we wanted to get revenge and come back stronger,” Akiona said.

Coach Mok saw similar circumstances in the rematch.

“We led in that game on senior night at home. Shots weren’t falling and we didn’t recover. The girls cried their hearts out,” Mok said. “But that was the game that really helped us. We had to humble ourselves. How would we respond to adversity?”

Kalani finished 8-for-17 from 3-point range just two days after nearly shooting themselves out of a game with Mililani. They had a 10-point lead on the Lady Trojans, missed a few 3s and free throws, and hung on for a 47-45 win.

“Coach knows we can get the job done. If we don’t shoot,” Akiona said, “we hear about it.”

Mok and his staff set the tone early by lining up a killer schedule that included the ‘Iolani Classic.

“Yeah, some of the kids must’ve been thinking, ‘What the heck, coach?’ But we scheduled those games for this (championship) game right here. Playing top teams with great talent,” Mok said. “I’m relieved, just elated for the girls.”


  1. Ice January 25, 2018 1:35 am

    Great accomplishment for the lady falcons! Back to back chips!! This game was exciting to watch especially the post defense played by Kalani and hot shooting.

  2. Burgla January 25, 2018 1:36 am

    Great accomplishment for the lady falcons! Back to back chips!! This game was exciting to watch especially the post defense played by Kalani and hot shooting.

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