GIRLS QUARTERFINALS: When 4 is better than 3

Mililani's Dahlis Sablay attempted to dribble around Kaiser's Trinidee Kahunahana during the quarterfinals of the OIA playoffs last season. The Trojans have won 12 straight regular season games in the OIA West. Photo by Darryl Oumi/Special to the Star-Advertiser.

Twelve is a lovely number that is welcome in every corner of planet earth.

Unless it is state-tourney time in Hawaii. On Monday, the field was trimmed down to eight teams. By the end of today, barring any chain of multi-overtime battles, the Snapple/HHSAA Girls Basketball Division State Championships will be whittled down to four in Division I.

As usual, there will be at least one elite-level team ousted in the early going due to the nature of the system — the HHSAA by-laws — that are a direct effect of the size of the state’s biggest league. Because the Oahu Interscholastic Association has half (six) of the 12 entries, it is almost impossible to A) avoid OIA-versus-OIA matchups in the opening round, and B) some teams that aren’t widely considered to be among the top eight statewide are in the picture.

That’s what leads to fantastic matchups between OIA champion (No. 4 seed) Kalani and BIIF runner-up Waiakea — a track meet on hardwood — and even more historically potent, MIL champion (No. 3 seed) Lahainaluna against ILH runner-up ‘Iolani.

In terms of rankings, not seedings, this means the No. 8 (Kalani) and No. 7 (Waiakea) will battle at Moanalua’s gym, and the No. 3 (Lahainaluna) or No. 4 (‘Iolani) will be eliminated.

>> Not many fans outside of the always lethal ILH feel a lot of pity for the state’s most glamorous, expensive and historically successful league. So the fact that ‘Iolani doesn’t get an easier road is lost on most observers because they’re going the route that any unseeded team might. The real complaint could come from the Lady Lunas, who ran the table in the MIL once again — the win streak in league play is now up to 146 games — and drew the toughest possible opponent.

>> While the third seed, Lahainaluna, got a tougher draw than the fourth seed, Kalani, it had to be done in this matter or some similar fashion. If ‘Iolani — ranked fourth statewide in the Star-Advertiser Top 10 — had been bracketed with Kalani, there would’ve been the possibility of ‘Iolani and ILH champion Maryknoll meeting in the semifinal round Friday. By-laws state that scenarios like this must be avoided when possible.

>> The OIA’s fourth-place team has long enjoyed the perks of a slightly better draw than the third-place team. Not always, but often. Even Maryknoll coach Chico Furtado, while coaching at Kalaheo, brought this point up practically every year. It rarely, if ever, affected his program, but this aspect of the pairings always drew his ire, as well as that of other longtimers in the hoops community.

Case in point: OIA 3 Kahuku played ‘Iolani in the opening round on Maui. OIA 4 Mililani played at Kamehameha-Maui, a team it nearly beat in preseason. ‘Iolani routed Kahuku 88-47. KS-Maui got past Mililani 35-27.

In the end, bracketing properly may not be as challenging as solving a Rubik’s Cube, but there will probably never be a perfectly set bracket as long as there are 12 entities involved. The old eight-team format was more fluid, but even then, keeping the ILH 1 and ILH 2 apart was an issue. Expanding to 16 teams would smooth out some of the rough edges, but it still would not unfold without a snag or two due to the size of the OIA.

It is what it is, and unseeded teams simply have to work through every round. And teams like Lahainaluna will have to be in semifinal or championship-game mode against one of the hottest, deepest and most talented teams in the state in a quarterfinal round.

Here’s a look at tonight’s D-I matchups with overall and regular-season records.

Maryknoll Spartans (26-2, 10-0 ILH) vs. Kamehameha-Maui Warriors (12-7, 7-5 MIL), 7 p.m., Moanalua gym
Seed: No. 1
Vs. Top 10: 20-2 (.909).
Strength of schedule: 22 of 28 games (79 percent) were vs. Top 10 (or similar level) teams.
Top 10 wins: Lahainaluna, Konawaena, Waiakea, @ Mid-Pacific, @ Punahou, Miramonte (Calif.), Oregon City (Ore.), Kamehameha, Buckeye Union (Ariz.), Marlborough (Calif.), Campbell County, @ ‘Iolani, Sacred Hearts, Mid-Pacific, @ Kamehameha, Punahou, @ Sacred Hearts, ‘Iolani, Sacred Hearts, ‘Iolani
Losses (Non-Top 10*): Southridge (Ore.), Post Falls (Idaho).

Seed: Unseeded (MIL runner-up). Def. Mililani 35-27 on Monday.
Vs. Top 10: 1-5 (.167).
Strength of schedule: 6 of 19 games (32 percent) were vs. Top 10 teams.
Top 10 wins: Mililani.
Losses (Non-Top 10*): @ Lahainaluna, Kamehameha, @ Lahainaluna, @ Maui*, Maui*, Lahainaluna.

Skinny: The Lady Spartans have delivered as expected, going unbeaten against Hawaii teams and winning in mostly dominant fashion. With 11 seniors and more quality depth than perhaps any team in ILH or state history, the state title is Maryknoll’s for the taking after four consecutive league titles and three trips to the final.

The talent coming off the bench, that second group of five, would probably be ranked in the Top 10, maybe the Top 5 as a team unto itself. Coach Furtado has a team that can play fast with nonstop pressure to halfcourt or fullcourt, but he will revert to a medium tempo to protect leads. That doesn’t mean the Spartans are constantly vulnerable, but it does mean that they aren’t married to high-risk tactics. On a team that has well over five players that could average double-figure scoring anywhere, this means the championship takes precedent over numbers.

As PG Rhianne Omori said after Maryknoll’s ILH title win recently, something has been missing since they lost in the 2016 state final.

KS-Maui is a solid team with a stretch 5, Angel Pauole, who can pose mismatch issues for any opposing center. Maryknoll has tinkered with a variety of matchup zones to protect C Isabella Cravens. Rather than send her to the arc to defend, Furtado has long-limbed athletes like Kodee Viena, Kamalu Kamakawiwo‘ole and Chayse Milne providing excellent coverage from sideline to sideline.

X-factor: It’s a tall task for the Warriors from Pukalani campus, but they have a slugger’s chance thanks to a good supply of 3-point ammunition. They controlled the tempo for the most part in a 35-27 win over Mililani on Monday. That will be key to any chance they have tonight.

Did you know? Maryknoll is 3-4 against all MIL teams in the state tournament. (Info courtesy of Jerry “Mad Librarian” Campany.)

Kalani Falcons (14-8, 8-2 OIA East) vs. Waiakea Warriors (17-8, 8-2 BIIF), 5 p.m., Moanalua gym
Seed: No. 4
Vs. Top 10: 1-6 (.143).
Strength of schedule: 7 of 22 games (32 percent) were vs. Top 10 (or similar level) teams.
Top 10 wins: Mililani.
Losses (Non-Top 10*): Maryknoll, Kamehameha, Punahou, Southridge (Ore.), Miramonte (Calif.), ‘Iolani, Kahuku*, Moanalua.

Seed: Unseeded (BIIF runner-up). Def. Campbell 77-51 on Monday.
Vs. Top 10: 5-8 (.385).
Strength of schedule: 13 of 25 games (52 percent) were vs. Top 10 (or similar level) teams.
Top 10 wins: Mililani, @ Sacred Hearts, Hilo, Hilo, Campbell.
Losses (Non-Top 10*): Mid-Pacific, ‘Iolani, @ Maryknoll, Kamehameha, Konawaena, @ Konawaena, @ Hilo, Konawaena.

Skinny: This is a game for fans who love racetrack hoops, a flurry of fastbreaks and dizzying runs off steals and loaded with reverse layups and transition 3-point bombs. Sure, it could turn into a grind in the late going, but I expect both coaches, Chi Mok of Kalani and Brandon Kauhi of Waiakea, to stick to what brought their teams to the big dance: whiplash-speed basketball.

Kelsie Imai, the youngest of the talented Imai sisters, is only a sophomore, but has the court vision and presence of a senior. Waiakea is basically a 5-foot-6 and under team, but they’ve pushed hard against many of the state’s top teams.

Kalani has relied on a host of contributors, and the surge of freshman marksman Alayna Akiona gives the OIA champions a major boost. They have more size thanks to Kandyce Woods and Logan Luke, and they have consistently tough fullcourt on-ball pressure. Kalani wears most opponents down, but this could be the exception.

X-factor: Mok has implemented a delay game when necessary, true to his roots as a former coach in the ‘Iolani system. The team that can control the pace and dictate the tempo has the big edge. Waiakea’s youth — not a single senior on the roster — shouldn’t be a factor thanks to year-round experience at the club level. In addition, the Warriors traveled to Oahu in preseason, so there probably won’t be as many jitters.

Konawaena Wildcats (23-2, 10-0 BIIF) vs. Moanalua Na Menehune (17-10, 7-3 OIA East), 5 p.m., McKinley Student Council Gym
Seed: No. 2. Defending state champion.
Vs. Top 10: 7-2 (.778).
Strength of schedule: 9 of 25 games (36 percent) were vs. Top 10 (or similar level) teams.
Top 10 wins: Sacred Hearts, ‘Iolani, ‘Iolani, Mid-Pacific, Campbell, Waiakea, Waiakea.
Losses (Non-Top 10*): Maryknoll, Lahainaluna.

Seed: Unseeded (OIA runner-up). Def. Kaiser 42-34 on Monday.
Vs. Top 10: 5-7 (.417).
Strength of schedule: 12 of 27 games (44 percent) were vs. Top 10 teams.
Top 10 wins: Mid-Pacific, @ Kalani, Kahuku, @ Kalani, Kahuku.
Losses (Non-Top 10*): Punahou, Mililani, @ Sacred Hearts, St. Francis, Lahainaluna, Hilo, McKinley*, @ Kaimuki*, @ Roosevelt*, Kalani.

Skinny: The Wildcats are in dynasty mode, no question about it, with eight state championships in the past 14 years. Coach Bobbie Awa isn’t just a historically unmatched coach. She basically cracked the code when it comes the right balance of intensity, basketball IQ, communication and commitment for her players and staff. This year’s team has its senior standouts in Cherilyn Molina and Mikayla Tablit, and the arrival of Kawena Kaohimaunu has give them a dangerous 3-point shooter. Kaohimanu can be streaky, but her hoops IQ is a stabilizing factor.

Sophomore Caylie Kaupu has continued to develop and build confidence as a quick, long and effective post player who can cover multiple positions. Last year’s clutch bomber in the final, Tanniya Uchida, has missed some time on the court.

The Konawaena team that had some ups and downs in preseason is far more seasoned now after two months of battle. Few teams build young players up like the Wildcats do, and that’s been crucial for a roster that includes three freshmen.

Moanalua was the hottest team in the OIA during the final weeks, posting seven wins in a row before falling to Kalani in the final. C Delylah Sanerivi can be an unstoppable force on the block; she had 21 points and 16 rebounds against Kahuku and its talented front court. But Na Menehune will be up against a top-rate man-to-man defense today that includes the state’s best two on-ball defenders, Tablit and Molina.

X-factor: If officials call it tight, that could be trouble for the physical, fast Konawaena defense. It could also be trouble for Sanerivi, who thrived when referees allowed more contact against Kahuku, but she struggled when a different crew called a tight game against Kalani. Foul trouble.

Did you know? Moanalua and Konawaena have met only once in the state tournament, a 52-48 win for the Wildcats in ’08. … Konawaena hasn’t lost a state-tourney game since 2014, against Mililani. The current run is nine consecutive state-tournament wins. The margins of victory during the streak: 14 points, 21, 10, 24, 38, 10, 37, 20 and five (2017 final against Maryknoll). (Info courtesy of Jerry Campany.) … Only Punahou has played more state-tournament girls basketball games than Waiakea, which has played in 77 contests. Punahou has played in 90. … Konawaena has played in 17 consecutive state tournaments (2002-18). Only Punahou (18 tournaments, 1994-2011) has more. (Info courtesy of Frank “Wizard” Mauz.)

Lahainaluna Lunas (20-4, 12-0 MIL D-I) vs. ‘Iolani Raiders (16-8, 7-3 ILH), 7 p.m., McKinley Student Council Gym
Seed: No. 3
Vs. Top 10: 2-4 (.333).
Strength of schedule: 6 of 24 games (25 percent) were vs. Top 10 (or similar level) teams.
Top 10 wins: Kamehameha, @ Konawaena.
Losses (Non-Top 10*): ‘Iolani, Maryknoll, Punahou, Campbell.

Seed: Unseeded (ILH runner-up). Def. Kahuku 88-47 on Monday.
Vs. Top 10: 12-7 (.632).
Strength of schedule: 19 of 24 games (79 percent) were vs. Top 10 (or similar level) teams.
Top 10 wins: Lahainaluna, @ Waiakea, @ Mid-Pacific, @ Punahou, @ Sacred Hearts, Mid-Pacific, @ Kamehameha, Punahou, Sacred Hearts, @ Kamehameha, Kamehameha, Kahuku.
Losses (Non-Top 10*): Konawaena, Konawaena, Oregon City (Ore.), Naha Senior (Okinawa), Kamehameha, Maryknoll, @ Maryknoll.

Skinny: Detractors could point out that the Lunas barely had serious competition compared to the Raiders, but Lahainaluna did beat Konawaena at Konawaena in preseason with a lineup that was still not fully healthy. With Susie Namoa back, the Lady Lunas have a versatile rebounder and slasher with enough strength and size to challenge any post in the state. Veteran guards Braeanna Estabillo and Rachael Balagso rank among the best defenders statewide.

The Raiders are playing their best basketball even with the loss of Taylor Wu, who was declared ineligible to play in the state tourney because she was not enrolled at ‘Iolani in the fall semester for the official start date of basketball season. On Monday, the Raiders’ four freshmen were spectacular, and longtime leaders Tori Maeda and Kellie Okamura were outstanding.

Both teams like the pressure fullcourt, so this might turn out to be the most captivating game of the night, and perhaps the tourney.

X-factor: ‘Iolani’s speed is a huge plus against most teams, but Lahainaluna kept pace in the first preseason game of the season even with two starters out. Both teams have evolved in the nearly three months since that matchup, and one thing hasn’t really changed: the Raiders don’t have the girth in the post to stop strong inside scorers. If they continue to pester scorers in the paint with double and triple teams, the onus will fall on Lahainaluna’s perimeter shooters.

Did you know? ‘Iolani’s 88-point output against Kahuku is the second-highest by any team in a winners-bracket contest since Farrington nearly blew out the scoreboard in 1985 with a 103-point game against… Lahainaluna. … ‘Iolani and Lahainaluna have played seven times at states including consolation-bracket games. The Lunas have never beaten the Raiders. Margins: 12, 12, six, 30, eight, 25 and 32. (Info courtesy of Jerry Campany.) … Lahainaluna has played in 17 consecutive state tournaments (2002-18). Only Punahou (18 tournaments, 1994-2011) has more. (Info courtesy of Frank “Wizard” Mauz.)


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