Hoopbook: No. 1 ‘Iolani pressing on; OIA playoff pairings set

Senior Jovi Lefotu finished with 21 points as No. 1 ‘Iolani defeated No. 3 Punahou, 53-37, to clinch the ILH regular season and a state-tournament berth. Paul Honda/phonda@staradvertiser.com.

So many things in prep hoops this season are long overdue, including this post.

Here goes.

>> ‘Iolani 3-peat? The relaunch

The last time Punahou met ‘Iolani, the Buffanblu stayed close with big plays in the second half. A lot of clutch 3s. ‘Iolani hammered out a 54-47 win on Jan. 15.

On Thursday night, 12 days later, the Raiders smelled blood in the water and left no doubt. With two starters out with injuries, including junior playmaker Shania Moananu (knee), Punahou found points much harder to come by. Moananu’s ability to drive and dish, to hit open 3s and get to the foul line were missed. Laynee Torres-Kahapea had a gritty 18 points, but the Buffanblu lost, 53-37, their second loss in a row since Moananu was lost for the season.

‘Iolani came at the visiting team from the opening seconds with a three-quarter trapping press that was relentless. Punahou had nine turnovers in the first eight minutes and never truly recovered. Whether it was Jaety Mandaquit (nine points, four steals) or Jovi Lefotu (21 points, seven rebounds, four assists and three steals) creeping around to get deflections or simply pickpocket Buffanblu ballhandlers, the Raiders were in their full glory as ballhawkers.

It was scary. Punahou, ranked No. 3 in the Star-Advertiser Top 10, is normally the team that presses everyone else. The old saying — that a pressing team sometimes doesn’t like being pressed — proved true on this night.

“ ‘Iolani is not the kind of team you can press. They’re so talented, so unselfish. It’s a testament to coach Dean (Young) and his crew,” Punahou coach Gary Pacarro said. “Our girls keep battling. Now we have a big one on Saturday (at Kamehameha).”

At 6-0, ‘Iolani sealed first place in the ILH regular season, earning an automatic state-tournament berth. Claiming a third ILH title in a row is rare enough, but the Raiders were heavy favorites to win last year before the winter season was cancelled. This could have been a 4-peat run.

Doing it with a unit lacking starting experience is mind blowing. Now, the Raiders can enjoy the fruits of their labor.

“It’s a huge advantage, so I’m very proud of the girls and how hard they worked to get it,” Young said. “Every game in the ILH is tough and the season is a grind.”

While the previous title-town Raiders regularly throttled competition, this season’s group has eked out wins. A boxer who wins by decision with sound fundamental jabs, uncorking a knockout-level uppercut some of the time. Young and his staff are thriving on single-digit margins of victory, the better to keep everyone’s attention at practice.

The emergence of guard Paige Oh gives the running Raiders another solid piece in the halfcourt offense, but her skill set in transition complements Lefotu and Mandaquit and the rest of her teammates with pinpoint precision. The one takeaway on what Young considers perhaps the best effort of his team thus far: they can only get better. ‘Iolani shot a nice 40 percent from 3-point range (6 for 15) and 52 percent inside the arc (13 for 25).

The 40-percent rate is good, but all 15 tries were wide, wide open. With that kind of separation, all five players in perpetual motion, passing the ball unselfishly, there’s reason to believe the Raiders will shoot above 50 percent from the arc more often than not.

That would be the dagger to end all contenders.

Punahou? The loss of a major contributor like Moananu can’t be underestimated. It could take another game or several more before the Buffanblu evolve into a new creation. They were playing some of the best basketball in the state before her injury, but good teams find a way to transform.

>> Cardiac Cougars do it again

On Tuesday, Kaiser got a game-tying bucket from Dacee Tsue with 11 seconds left in regulation, then went on to beat previously unbeaten Roosevelt, 58-54.

On Thursday, the Cougars edged Moanalua on the road, 44-43, to finish the regular season first in the OIA East. A loss by Kaiser would have created a three-way tie atop the East between Roosevelt, Moanalua and Kaiser. Coin flip? No need this time.

Kaiser’s cardiac Cougars have room to improve, or maybe they’re using up their nine lives.

“I wasn’t too happy with our defense throughout the game, but at the end, I was proud of the girls for how they didn’t give up,” Kaiser coach Noah Keolanui said.

Kaiser led by two with 10 seconds left when Trendee Kahunahana made one of her two free-throw attempts for a 44-41 lead. The Cougars defended the 3-point line and Moanalua hit a harmless, 2-point mid-range floater as time expired.

Dacee Tsui, with her father Dan, came through with a game-tying basket late in regulation to force overtime. Kaiser eventually prevailed over Rooseelt, 58-54, in a battle of OIA East unbeatens. Paul Honda/phonda@staradvertiser.com.

The OIA Division I playoff lineup looks like this:

East 1: Kaiser (11-0)
East 2: Roosevelt (10-1)
East 3: Moanalua (9-2)
East 4: Kahuku (8-3)
East 5: Farrington (6-5)
East 6: Kalani (5-6)

West 1: Campbell (10-0)
West 2: Mililani (9-1)
West 3: Radford (8-2)
West 4: Nanakuli (6-4)
West 5: Leilehua (6-4)
West 6: Kapolei (5-5)

Just a play here, a play there, and Kaiser easily could have been the East 3 with narrow losses to Roosevelt and Moanalua. Instead, the Cougars have a bye plus home court plus the advantageous seeding. Tsue clutched up in the comeback win over Roosevelt. The Cougars led by eight in the first half, but trailed 44-35 entering the fourth quarter.

“I feel amazing. It was a great win, a great battle. I’m just so happy we won on senior night,” Tsue said. “Our coach, his enthusiasm, all our coaches are super confident in us. They never put us down and they never give up on us, which is helpful. We never put our heads down. We just keep on playing.”

In a slightly bizarre twist, after scoring the game-tying bucket in regulation, Tsue nearly fouled a Roosevelt player a few seconds later.

“That was an accident,” she said.

Instead of fouling, she missed and bounced off another Roosevelt player.

“I fell on my hip bone,” Tsue said.

Roosevelt had a chance to win the game in that sequence, but turned the ball over in the final seconds of regulation. If the Rough Riders had made that pass and layup, maybe it’s a three-way tie in the East.

“We were super lucky. We all worked really hard. Our teamwork and chemistry is really amazing. We have each other’s back and we know it,” said Tsue, who scored 11 points. “We were down by nine (points) and I’m just so happy that none of us gave up. We kept fighting and pushing ourselves. This win gives us more confidence, but we’re still humble.”

Keolanui and his staff has emphasized conditioning all season. The Cougars press from start to finish. They had some extra gas in the tank when overtime started.

“I guess it was a shock to our players that another team pressed up. What I preach to our girls, no matter what team we play, every second of the game we’re going to run. We run a mile every day, and then we run before they leave the gym,” Keolanui said. “If they make their shots, we don’t have to run. Free throws is where we try to end the practice. Eighty percent of the time, we’re making, and another day it’s like 60 or 50.”

Alexus Ma‘ae is only a sophomore, but her motor late in the game was a key. She finished with 21 points and 14 rebounds.

Kaiser sophomore Alexus Ma‘ae was clutch with 21 points and 14 rebounds in the Cougars’ 58-54 overtime win over Roosevelt on Tuesday. Paul Honda/phonda@staradvertiser.com.

“She’s a lot stronger than most forwards. She knows how to finish in the key. The beginning was a little bit rough because she’s not used to people staying with her as a big,” Keolanui said.

Roosevelt’s super freshman, Makalah Richardson, had five blocks to go with 19 points and nine rebounds.

“Alexus ended up hitting those free throws at the end. I’m glad she had the ball,” Keolanui said. “(Richardson) is talented. She has a lot of heart. She’s a freshman? She’s going to be a reckoning for Roosevelt the next three years.”

The bye gives teams an extra day to prepare.

“We have a lot to work on, a lot of fine tuning,” Keolanui said. “We also need to heal up.”

In the West, Kapolei’s midseason forfeit loss to Aiea (due to protocols) is the difference between a 4 seed and a 6 seed, especially after a 27-26 loss to Leilehua on Thursday.

The opening round:

Wednesday, Feb. 2
E3 Moanalua vs. W6 Kapolei. (Winner vs. W2 Mililani.)
E4 Kahuku vs. W5 Leilehua. (Winner vs. W1 Campbell.)
W3 Radford vs. E6 Kalani. (Winner vs. E2 Roosevelt.)
W4 Nanakuli vs. E5 Farrington. (Winner vs. E1 Kaiser.)

Thursday, Feb. 3
Semifinals, TBD

Monday, Feb. 7
Championship semifinals (winners bracket)
Fifth-place semifinals (losers bracket). Winners earn state-tournament berths.

Wednesday, Feb. 9
Championship game
Third-place game
Fifth-place game

Division II is wide open, too.

East 1: Kailua (5-6)
East 2: Kalaheo (5-6)
East 3: McKinley (3-8)

West 1: Waianae (3-7)
West 2: Pearl City (2-8)
West 3: Aiea (2-8)

Wednesday, Feb. 2
Opening round
E3 McKinley vs. W2 Pearl City
W3 Aiea vs. E2 Kalaheo

Monday, Feb. 7
McKinley-Pearl City winner vs. E1 Kailua
Aiea-Kalaheo winner vs. W1 Waianae

Wednesday, Feb. 9
Third-place game

Kaiser coach Noah Keolanui had his squad ready for showdowns with Roosevelt and Moanalua this week. Paul Honda/phonda@staradvertiser.com.

>> Lady Lunas clutch up

No. 6 Lahainaluna edged No. 4 Maui, 43-41, on Wednesday, putting the MIL D-I standings in a bit of disarray with each team now 6-1. Ledjan Pahukoa, the long-range bomber, had 16 points and Tavina Harris added 15 for the Lady Lunas. Kayla Thornton had 17 and Kiana Manuel 11 for the Sabers.

“It was a fun game,” Maui coach Vic Aguirre said, noting that his squad missed 14 shots in a pivotal second quarter.

When the teams met on Dec. 21, Maui prevailed, 67-62. In each matchup, the road team won. On Wednesday, the Lunas and Sabers meet in a make-up game at Lahaina’s gym. So far, the visiting team has won in this season’s Maui-Lahainaluna series. For the Lady Lunas, getting players back from injuries has been vital.

“We are feeling OK. We are getting healthy at the right time. Our girls have been working hard to prepare for an end-of-season push,” Lahainaluna coach Iolani Kaniho said. “I think we are where we expected to be at this time, fighting for our league championship and hoping to make a competitive run at states. Maui High is a quality team, well coached and they have a really talented player. It should be fun.”


  1. cougarfan January 28, 2022 2:01 pm

    Dacee Tsue is clutch

  2. Iliahi January 28, 2022 9:48 pm

    Watched the Kamehameha vs, Maryknoll Girls game last night. It is the 3rd time playing each other I think. The Kamehameha coach is still running the same sets on both offense and defense. You would think that after the first time playing, each team has film on each other. But there is no adjustments and nothing done different. This leads to Kamehameha losing by 18-20. Down 10 late and they are sitting in a zone? I mean, c’mon. You are losing. You need the ball back. There is no shot clock. And you are going to sit in a zone so Maryknoll can use clock with no ball pressure on them? It’s just hard to watch them play. Very talented young ladies with no direction. They remind me of my tutu when she used to cut off the chicken’s head. The bugga run all over crazy kine until it’s dead. They play all crazy kine run all over the place. No get me wrong. They play hard. But no leadership and no direction going on.

  3. Iliahi January 29, 2022 6:33 pm

    I am just in awe of how poor the coaching is. Watching KS vs. Puns. Puns hit 2 free throws to go up 3 with 6 seconds left. KS calls their LAST timeout. Punahou elects to keep their center in the game. Why? They are up 3. Then, Puns bring up 2 people to put ball pressure and the 3 defenders are sitting in a zone.

    Pun defender gets beat. The forward waiting is sitting in a zone. Tries to stop ball. Leaves her man unguarded in the corner to hit the game tying 3 at the buzzer. And their center in sitting in the middle of the key guarding no one. YOU ARE UP BY 3 and KS has no timeouts. Why would the center sit in the middle of the key when only a 3 can tie. A 2 POINTER DOES nothing. KS has no timeouts. Even if KS hits a 2 pointer. There is only like 1-2 seconds at that point. Puns don’t need to inbounds and game over. And dis is outta 1 timeout. I get it that it’s KS’s senior night, but geez. SMH…

  4. Fullcourt January 29, 2022 9:26 pm

    @Iliahi, I was thinking the same thing . Why do you have a defender in the paint . Kam needed a 3 so why would you even be inside the 3 pt line . Anyways , what an exciting finish

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