Hoopbook: Kamehameha-Mililani opens with elimination match

Kamehameha’s Haley Masaki(10) keeps the ball away from Maryknoll forward Mahalo Akaka(23) in the fourth quarter of the Kamehameha vs Maryknoll girls basketball game at Maryknoll gym, Friday, January 18, 2019. Bruce Asato / Star-Advertiser

The pairings and bracket for the Snapple/HHSAA Girls Basketball Division I State Championships released on Wednesday night are nearly duplicate to last year’s template.

The layout posted here at Hawaii Prep World a few days ago had Lahainaluna as the No. 2 seed instead of Waiakea, the most obvious difference. Also, Maui reached the tourney as the MIL’s runner-up instead of King Kekaulike. As always, there’s at least one potential gangbuster in the quarterfinal round. This season, it’s going to be two, perhaps three.

Because higher-ranked Kalani lost in the OIA final to Kahuku, the Lady Falcons are now in the same sub-bracket with Waiakea and Lahainaluna. If Kalani (20-6) gets past OIA 6 Radford on Monday (at Kalani’s gym), the Falcons will meet BIIF champion Waiakea in the quarterfinals on Thursday.

“We knew the brackets would end up this way with us or Lahainaluna as the 2 or 3 seed,” Waiakea coach Brandon Kauhi said. “Regardless, it’s the state tournament and you will need to beat three great teams to reach your ultimate goal.”

The possibility of Kalani-Waiakea might not even be the toughest second-day draw, though. MIL champion Lahainaluna (19-4) will face the Kamehameha-Mililani winner in the quarterfinals.

Wait. What? Kamehameha and Mililani are meeting in the opening round? This matchup, at Kekuhaupio Gymnasium, is the lone first-day pairing featuring two Top 10 teams. ILH runner-up Kamehameha is ranked third by coaches and media in the Star-Advertiser Top 10. Mililani, unbeaten in the OIA West, third overall in the OIA, is ranked ninth. In fact, three of the four first-round pairings have at least one ranked team. Because ‘Iolani and Kamehameha, the ILH’s two representatives, are slated in opposite sub-brackets (by HHSAA by-law), Kamehameha (15-6) had to be in the same grouping with Waiakea and Lahainaluna.

Mililani and Kamehameha met once in nonconference play. Kamehameha won 64-42 on Nov. 12 at the Matsumoto Law Group Black and Gold Classic.

Kalani drew OIA sixth-place team Radford, which tells us that the seeding committee gave a slight edge to Kalani over Kamehameha. For reference, Kamehameha is No. 3 in the Star-Advertiser Top 10 and Kalani is tied for sixth.

‘Iolani, the ILH champion and top seed in the state tournament, earned its position. The Raiders (20-6) will meet the Maui-Kaiser winner on Thursday in the quarterfinals. Maui hosts Kaiser in a 5 p.m. tip-off on Monday. It will be the first off-island trip of the season for the Lady Cougars.

Maui and Kaiser have one common opponent that reveals what the Sabers have done over the course of the season: King Kekaulike. Kaiser defeated King Kekaulike 58-45 in the Menehune Peek tourney on Nov. 9. Maui lost to King Kekaulike three times — 43-33, 59-44 and 63-40 — and then turned it around. On Jan. 28, the Sabers stunned King Kekaulike 58-53, and then in the playoffs won going away 63-38.

Kahuku, the upstart OIA champion, is the lowest (fourth) seed in the big dance. The Lady Raiders (14-4) will take on the Konawaena-Leilehua winner on Thursday. Leiah Naeata has been a point center with no match. She was a major factor in the playoffs against Kaiser and Kalani, but it’s the overall ballhandling and rebounding of the Lady Raiders that makes them a unique matchup. They had just 12 turnovers against Kalani’s relentless fullcourt press.

The Lady Raiders might have enough to break the trend. OIA champions have lost in the quarterfinals every year since 2010 with the exception of ’15, when Roosevelt advanced to the semifinals, according to hoops historian Frank “Wizard” Mauz.

Konawaena, a senior-less team that is peaking at the right time, has won nine of the last 15 state titles. The Wildcats edged Hilo in the BIIF semifinals 37-33 to seal a state berth. It was a triangular musical chairs in the BIIF. Hilo beat Waiakea twice (once in the preseason). Waiakea ended up beating Konawaena twice. Konawaena beat Hilo twice.

Can the Wildcats win a fifth consecutive state championship? The emergence of young players like Kaliana Harrell-Salazar and Grace Lyn Ching has been vital. Defenses can collapse on all-state returnee Caiyle Kaupu in the post, but if she gets opportunities against single coverage, Kaupu might be the most difficult matchup in the state. She can drive from the wing, hit the 3-point shot on a bigger defender. Coach Bobbie Awa has a long history of getting her teams to peak at states.

The Wildcats get to host the opening-round game with Leilehua, but the tip-off time (4 p.m.) means fans will need to get off work earlier than usual.

Kalani’s loss in the OIA final to Kahuku was a bit of a revelation. The Falcons scored the most points recorded by an OIA title-game loser. They also had difficulty stopping Kahuku on the boards. Kamalu Kamakawiwo‘ole and Kalena Halunajan were able to score, but Kahuku’s tough man defense made them work hard. The Falcons also opted to keep center Kandyce Woods on the bench most of the way in favor of a quicker defensive group.

If they get past Radford, a sneaky quick group that is willing to slow a game to a crawl — the Lady Rams lost to Mililani 26-21 late in the regular season — the Falcons will see another quick team in Waiakea (20-4). Coach Brandon Kauhi’s team is virtually all guards, doesn’t have a pure center, and has plenty of travel experience in school and club seasons. Tayvia Cabatbat’s emergence in the BIIF title game (17 points) was a huge factor for a team that doesn’t lack for scoring, speed and fastbreaks. Kelsie Imai, Keeli-Jade Smith, Jazelle Dorser, Destynee Williams — all seasoned, multi-position speedsters who score and rebound. As a team, there are few others that can match Waiakea’s motor.

The potential of Kamehameha-Lahainaluna is compelling. The Lady Lunas began preseason slowly, but managed to beat Kamehameha 46-39 at the Matsumoto Law Group Black and Gold Classic on Nov. 10. Lahainaluna’s young backcourt — led by Ashley Akamine and Abigail Akamine — has matured, and wing/post Susitina Namoa remains one of the state’s most versatile and powerful players. She was able to challenge Kamehameha’s potent two-way weapon, Kalina Obrey, in the paint.

But the darkhorse is possible Mililani. Dahlis Sablay is the spark plug at point guard who never seems to tire, strong enough to attack the paint and draw contact again and again. The return of Kalena Gibson from last year’s knee injury fortified a long, athletic front court that gave Kalani fits in the OIA semifinals.

The big dance is still four days away.

Power in numbers, and only numbers
There is power in numbers, isn’t there?

Here’s a team that has entertainment value, and let’s admit for a minute that most basketball fans enjoy watching a team inflict fullcourt pressure on an opponent for virtually all 32 minutes.

That a team that doesn’t have a senior can still contend for a league championship in the toughest conference statewide. This squad went 6-5 against Top 10 competition. Middling, perhaps? Not really. Only two teams statewide had more Top 10 wins.

Win-loss records against Top 10 opponents with Star-Advertiser rankings
>> No. 1 ‘Iolani 12-6 (.667)
>> No. 2 Lahainaluna 3-4 (.429)
>> No. 3 Kamehameha 9-7 (.563)
>> No. 4 Waiakea 4-4 (.500)
>> No. 5 Kahuku 2-3 (.400)
>> No. 6-t Kalani 4-6 (.400)
>> No. 6-t Maryknoll 6-5 (.545)

Maryknoll is the only team out of these seven that is not in the state championships. There have been countless teams in just about every team sport that have been on the outside looking in despite a high ranking and a strong resume. In this case, the field has been thin in 2018-10, a trend that has continued since the incredible breadth and depth of talented basketball players of the 2000’s.

For now, though, Maryknoll sophomore Jalen Tanuvasa is probably the most productive two-way player statewide who fans won’t get to see at the big dance. Teammates Mahalo and Aloha Akaka also emerged as stellar top-line performers, but they’ll be watching from the sidelines, as well.

Here’s how other teams fared against the Top 10.
>> No. 8 Konawaena 2-4 (.333)
>> No. 9 Mililani 1-4 (.200)
>> No. 10 Hilo 2-3 (.400)
>> Punahou 4-5 (.444)
>> Sacred Hearts 1-11 (.083)

Of course, Hilo missed the state tourney, losing to Konawaena at Konawaena in the semifinals of the BIIF tourney. Punahou isn’t in the state tourney because the ILH has two state berths. Punahou and Sacred Hearts were ranked in the poll during the regular season.

Here are teams that qualified for the state tourney — the OIA has half the entries because it has half the Division I teams statewide.
>> Kaiser 0-9 (.000)
>> Radford 0-2 (.000)
>> Leilehua 0-2 (.000)
>> Maui 0-6 (.000)

The eternal case for this type of imbalance at the state championships is that “state” also means representation. A bit of a quota system, otherwise we might not have a ratio based on the roll call total of schools. Take it even further, and if Konawaena — state champion in nine of the past 15 seasons — and Lahainaluna were not epic dynasties in their respective leagues, there might be a major drop-off over that length of time.

But it is what it is. And in fact, the BIIF in more years than not, has been equal or better than the OIA in quality of teams in the highest tier. During the 00’s, the top five teams of the BIIF were often better than the top five of the OIA.

How would the best five teams of the OIA and BIIF stack up today?

>> BIIF 1 Waiakea vs. OIA 1 Kahuku. Toss-up? Or slight edge to a more experienced Warriors team?

>> BIIF 2 Konawaena vs. OIA 2 Kalani. The Lady Falcons won at Konawaena in preseason. Both teams were figuring out roles, building chemistry. Slight edge to Kalani, though Konawaena’s progress has been significant with a very young team (no seniors). Bobbie Awa. ‘Nuff said.

>> BIIF 3 Hilo vs. OIA 3 Mililani. This is a game from this ’18-19 season that should’ve happened somewhere, anywhere. Hilo didn’t travel off-island in preseason, but the Vikings did play Lahainaluna (43-42 loss) and Kalani (60-51 loss) at the Konawaena Invitational. The only Top 10 common opponent between Hilo and Mililani is Kalani, which defeated Mililani in the OIA semifinals last week (38-34). A Hilo-Mililani matchup would’ve been intriguing at the big dance, but we will never know…

Here’s where we have a noticeable dip in each league compared to the 00’s. BIIF 4? Kealakehe or D-II titlist Kamehameha-Hawaii? At home, Kealakehe beat KS-Hawaii 44-38. KS-Hawaii also beat crosstown rival Keaau 49-36.

>> BIIF 4 Kealakehe vs. OIA 4 Kaiser. The Waveriders haven’t been quite the same since Danny and Lynette Kamakau of A‘oia basketball club stepped down as coaches more than a decade ago. Some say the local P&R gym (Kekuaokalani at the Old Airport) is simply too far for young players to access by foot, and that is true. When the gym opened in ’92, the P&R summer league drew 77 teams from up and down the coast. Teams from as far away as Kohala and Ka‘u trekked to the sultry, new gym. Even a young, 10-year-old Max Unger feasted in those leagues.

Kealakehe went 6-5 in BIIF play, a D-I team caught in the whirlwind of Big Island hoops, a competitive team that was overpowered by Waiakea, Konawaena and Hilo. Kaiser? The Lady Cougars got better with each week, and has the kind of balance that would wreck teams that aren’t at an elite level. Kaiser was 0-9 against ranked teams, but 16-1 against unranked teams.

While Kealakehe lost to the BIIF’s big three by an average margin of 49.3 points, Kaiser was fairly competitive against Waiakea (17-point loss). Edge to the Cougars.

>> BIIF 5 Keaau/KS-Hawaii/Hawaii Prep vs. OIA 5 Leilehua. It’s a scrappy bunch of Warriors, or the stunning Ka Makani, who won BIIF D-II after upsetting KS-Hawaii 35-24 in the semifinals. HPA-Leilehua would be close, but I think the Lady Mules’ Kaylen Kamelamela would be tough for any of these teams to stop.


  1. hoops January 31, 2019 5:37 pm

    Good luck to all teams…lots of talented players in the big dance. It’s going to be a good one.

    **Jalen Tanuvasa is a sophomore

  2. Basketball4lyfe February 1, 2019 11:26 am

    Girls state tournament will be exciting for sure . Saw Iolani in preseason and they look like the team to beat . They are very explosive on offense and they have multiple people that can handle it and put the ball in the basket . The neighbor island teams (Lahaina ,waiakea ,Kona) will have a chance if they play well . Good luck to all the teams

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