Jovi Lefotu’s 18 points spark No. 1 ‘Iolani to comeback win over No. 6 Punahou

Iolani guard/forward Jovi Lefotu(21) looked for aa cutter on Saturday. Bruce Asato / Star-Advertiser

For 16 minutes, the Punahou Buffanblu virtually matched everything No. 1 ‘Iolani threw at them.

The Raiders found their answers in the second half, turning a two-point halftime lead into a 41-32 win over No. 6 Punahou in the ILH regular-season opener for both teams. Jovi Lefotu scored seven of her game-high 18 points during a 12-5 run to begin the second half.

“Punahou was knocking down a lot of their shots,” said Lefotu, a 5-foot-9 sophomore who can play any position.

“And we weren’t making our shots,” said junior Lily Wahinekapu, Lefotu’s sister. “We had to play defense.”

The unbeaten Raiders also welcomed the return of Kylie Yung (back), the lone senior, and Alexsandra Huntimer (groin) from injuries. Huntimer had begun to work back into playing time recently.

“I was really happy with Kylie and Alexsandra,” Raiders coach Dean Young said. “They haven’t played. Alex hasn’t played for three weeks. She played a little bit against Mililani. I’m really trying to monitor her workload. It was really nice to see her playing in spurts. Kylie’s getting her wind back a little bit. We needed them. Punahou is huge.”

‘Iolani improved to 9-0 overall using a gritty man-to-man defense and a heightened ferocity on offense. With Punahou’s sticky man-to-man defense a big factor, the Raiders went to the bucket again and again, and it feels different now. Different from last season, when ‘Iolani won the state title. Different even from three weeks ago, when they won four games in four nights at the Matsumoto Law Group Black & Gold Classic at McKinley.

“Part of the reason is they weren’t giving us any 3-point looks, so we had to drive,” said Wahinekapu, who has a scholarship offer from Washington State.

“We’ve been in the weight room. I think that helps us a lot,” Lefotu said. “We still do it sometimes during the season.”

Melody Lum paced Punahou (9-2 overall) with 11 points, including nine in the first quarter, while point guard Caitlyn Andrade-Tomimoto added eight points.

“This showed that the kids can play ‘Iolani, no question,” Punahou coach Gary Pacarro said. “ ‘Iolani is the class of the ILH and the state. Yet, they’re beatable. We have an opportunity, but we have a lot of work ahead of us. In the ILH, every game is a battle.”

Wahinekapu added eight points and Kyra Tanabe tallied seven on an afternoon when ‘Iolani got just 10 3-point shots off — and made two. Punahou dared the home team to drive. Despite forcing 10 turnovers by the Buffanblu in the first half, the Raiders had limited success converting.

The home team shot 3-for-12 in the opening quarter and trailed 11-8. After Hannah Urbano hustled for a putback in the lane, the visitors had their biggest lead, 13-8, early in the second quarter.

“We just have to understand that we weren’t getting any calls in the first half attacking the rim, so we told the girls, you’ve got to go strong. You’ve got to make the ref make the call. You’re getting bumped, it’s not enough to get a call, and you’ve got to go tougher,” Young said. “You’ve got to be tougher. A lot of our game is drive-and-kick action, but when they take that away completely, we had to choice but to attack the rim.”

Lefotu missed her first four shots, but scored six in the second quarter. Her reverse layup gave ‘Iolani an 18-16 lead, the seventh and final lead change of the game. The Raiders led 20-18 at the half.

With Punahou running flex offense for a good chunk of the first half, the Raiders discussed some changes during intermission.

“They were running some flex, some basic motion and cross screening,” Young said. “We started switching the down screens on flex, and then switching the cross screens to fronting.”

Lefotu hustled for an offensive board and fed Tanabe, whose lone trey opened the lead to 32-23 with 4:35 to go in the third quarter.

After Huntimer threaded a perfect pass to Lefotu on a cut to the rim, the bucket gave ‘Iolani a 37-27 lead with 5:35 remaining. Lefotu shot 7-for-14 from the field, adding five rebounds, two assists, one steal. She had no turnovers.

Punahou finished with 14 giveaways. ‘Iolani had just five, which helped overcome 34-percent shooting from the field (15-for-43). Punahou shot 36 percent from the field (13-for-36).

Kamehameha awaits ‘Iolani next. The powerhouse programs meet on Tuesday at Kekuhaupio Gymnasium.

“We just have to play how we play. Play our game,” Wahinekapu said.

“Defense first. Start strong,” Lefotu added. “We always tend to not start strong.”

Punahou will host No. 4 Maryknoll on Tuesday.


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