Hoopbook: Business as usual for Konawaena Wildcats

This season's Konawaena Wildcats have the same all-in commitment that has been a major ingredient to state championship teams of years past. Paul Honda/phonda@staradvertiser.com.

Officially, the first basket of the Konawaena-Mililani state quarterfinal game was recorded at “8:00.”

It was actually 7:56, according to longtime hoops fan Frank Mauz. The former Advertiser sportswriter has been at girls basketball state tournaments as a reporter or spectator since its inception by the HHSAA in 1977. Konawaena’s flash-quick guard, Kaliana Salazar-Harrell, hauled in the opening tip and within seconds, the Wildcats were up 2-0.

If it stays officially 8:00 of the first quarter as the time of her basket, well then.

“i saw Kaliana’s shot hit net with 7:56, which equals 4 seconds, on the clock. The official HHSAA play-by-play lists the time as 8:00, therefore, the fastest or at least tied basket in the history of basketball,” Mauz said.

Just days earlier, Mililani pushed Campbell to the hilt before losing in the OIA Division I championship game. The Lady Trojans then overpowered Roosevelt, 40-17, in Monday’s play-in round. There was no way, though, to slow nine-time state champion Konawaena. Even a few Trojan fans who hollered for more effort in the first half eventually saw the truth. Effort alone isn’t enough against a dynasty, even one with less than 10 players most years.

The Wildcats’ 56-24 win on Thursday night was merely confirmation that the most consistently successful girls basketball program in Hawaii for nearly two decades is still about skill, teamwork, defense, fundamentals and coaching. Konawaena’s latest new wrinkle: a matchup zone that looks like a 1-3-1 or 1-2-2, but turns into a legalized form of defensive treachery for opponents.

By halftime, Mililani had 13 turnovers. After three quarters, it was 20. Konawaena had only three turnovers by halftime and five total after three stanzas.

Coach Bobbie Awa made it a point to sit on the second chair during the game.

“I’m just a co-head coach. You should talk to Dawnyelle. She runs the defense,” Awa said.

Dawnyelle Awa, daughter of Bobbie, was a defensive master during her All-State years as a player for Konawaena before matriculating to Washington State. She also had toughness unmatched, playing through a softball-sized lump on her sprained ankle during one of the Wildcats’ state-title runs. Unlike most humans, she did not cringe. She simply did all the little things that separate Konawaena from the pack.

Konawaena’s matchup zone has been a work in progress, according to Salazar-Harrell, who finished with 24 points before leaving the game with 4:52 left in the third quarter and her team up by a sizable margin.

“We’ve been working on it since freshman or sophomore year,” the recent Fullerton State signee said.

“It’s like a man, a matchup zone. This is probably the most aggressive we’ve been out of it,” Dawnyelle Awa said. “We ran it well against Waiakea at the beginning.”

“It’s very intense and we really work on defense a lot. You could see on the court that we’re putting in work,”Salazar-Harrell said.

“We learned to love it, to love playing defense,” said junior Braelyn Kauhi, who scored 13 points.

Juliana Losalio-Watson is a key piece in Konawaena’s high-pressure defense. Agile and quick defensively on ball, and strong and long enough to battle bigs in the paint. Kayla Pak played major minutes on Thursday, finishing with eight points, four boards, four assists and four steals. Rebekah Fong was among the Wildcats who provided solid minutes in the backcourt, while senior Sanoe Kihe added size, strength and crisp skip passes when Mililani set up in a zone.

It’s not just the one-, two- or four-hour round-trip bus rides that make Konawaena a unique dynastic team. But all those miles pile up. You never forget those girls who sat in that bus with you from one corner of the Big Island to the other.

“I feel like our team chemistry has been really good this year. I feel like that helps a lot,” Kauhi said.

The unofficial survey began on Thursday: who is the funniest Wildcat player? Salazar-Harrell pointed right at Kauhi.

“This one,” she said.

Salazar-Harrell and Kauhi agree that Pak is the smartest teammate, though Kauhi points out that Salazar-Harrell is currently taking AP Computer Science.

The most likely Wildcat to become a coach?

“Bekah! Rebekah Fong,” Salazar-Harrell said. “She’s a good communicator. She tells us what to do. She’s a leader out there.”

Less than two hours later, Lahainaluna ousted Punahou in the other semifinal battle. By then, Konawaena had seen enough. They scouted the Lady Lunas and were out the door somewhere around halftime.


Game #DateMatchupTime/ScoresSite
1Feb. 14Maui vs. KaiserMaui, 51-45Maui
2Feb. 14Waiakea vs. MoanaluaWaik, 51-31Waiakea
3Feb. 14Mililani vs. RooseveltMil, 40-17Mililani
4Feb. 14Punahou vs. RadfordPun, 47-35Punahou
5Feb. 17(4) Campbell vs. WaiakeaCamp, 44-39 (OT)Moanalua
6Feb. 17(1) 'Iolani vs. MauiIol, 51-32Moanalua
7Feb. 17(2) Konawaena vs. MililaniKona, 56-24McKinley
8Feb. 17(3) Lahainaluna vs. PunahouLah, 49-36McKinley
9*Feb. 18Waiakea vs. MauiMaui, 45-43McKinley
10*Feb. 18Mililani vs. PunahouPun, 46-26McKinley
11Feb. 18Konawaena vs. LahainalunaKona, 40-21Moanalua
12Feb. 18Campbell vs. 'IolaniIol, 54-39Moanalua
13*Feb. 19Punahou vs. MauiPun, 35-33Blaisdell Arena
14*Feb. 19Lahainaluna vs. CampbellLah, 46-36Blaisdell Arena
15Feb. 19Konawaena vs. 'IolaniIol, 28-17Blaisdell Arena
* — consolation


  1. Iliahi February 18, 2022 10:43 pm

    Salazar is a beast! By far the best player on the court tonight. Kona’s best player was WAAAYYYY better than Lahaina’s best player.

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