Kahuku, Roosevelt hoopsters growing up quickly

Kahuku’s Marina Toelupe drove toward the basket as Roosevelt’s Haven Gabriel defended on the play. Photo by Cindy Ellen Russell/Star-Advertiser.

Kahuku and Roosevelt had appeal for basketball fans long before there was anything resembling the unusual.

Kahuku’s 42-37 overtime win in Roosevelt’s gym was every bit as tantalizing as imaginable for two fairly young teams in the hunt for an Oahu Interscholastic Association championship. It has been three games since coach Chad Kaihe resigned after an incident with a parent in the parking lot at Sacred Hearts Academy following a tournament game.

That situation remains in the no-comment zone for Roosevelt officials, of course. In Kaihe’s place, longtime athletic director John Chung stepped into an interim head coaching role. He has a big hand from the boys varsity coach, Steve Hathaway, who is now an assistant to Chung with the girls team.

Since a forfeit win over Kailua to open OIA play, Roosevelt has been close in losses to Kaiser (51-49) and now, Kahuku.

“We’re meshing the old and the new,” Chung said. “A lot of things were already in place. Hopefully, the wins will come sooner rather than later. The team has great effort and great attitude at practice and in games. That’s all we can ask for.”

In the midst of an unusual scenario — this reporter hasn’t witnessed anything quite like it in nearly three decades of covering prep sports — the game played out like the first in an epic movie series. The sequel won’t come, though. Roosevelt is in Division II this season, so their chances of making noise against D-I programs will be strictly in the regular season.

There clearly could be a lot of noise by both Roosevelt and a very young Kahuku squad. Both teams have shown substantial improvement since week one of preseason.

>> Roosevelt’s Sadie Ann Luiz had some nice offensive stretches, finishing with 12 points on crafty low-post moves and a nice shooting touch.

>> Reserve forward Mari Foster gave the Rough Riders a scrappy, quick defender in the paint and helped spark a comeback after her team trailed by nine points in the first half. She finished with seven points and two steals to go with five points. Foster missed two point-blank shots in traffic before regulation ended, but without her defense and toughness, the rally doesn’t happen.

>> Sunshine Vicente scored five of her nine points in the fourth quarter as Roosevelt pushed closer and finally took a 34-31 lead on her transition 3-pointer. Vicente has speed and grit, adding two steals and a block. As a team, Roosevelt forced Kahuku into 20 turnovers, mapping out what will likely be an effective blueprint for the remainder of the season.

>> Haven Gabriel finished with just four points, but two of them came on a buzzer-beater at the end of the first half. Gabriel’s floor leadership and poise are crucial. She also had three rebounds, three assists and three steals to steady the ship.

>> A year removed from a season-ending knee injury, senior guard Kaonohi Quinlan was strong and quick, providing composure and leadership in the backcourt for the Rough Riders. She hit an NBA-range 3 to set the tone early and finished with five points, three rebounds, two assists, one steal and one block.

All in all, a team that has more turnovers than field goals normally won’t win a game, but that was the case for Kahuku, which was 15-for-39 from the field with 20 giveaways. The biggest difference in Kahuku’s favor wasn’t rebounding — Roosevelt finished with a 23-22 edge — but in long-range accuracy.

Kahuku made two of its six tries from 3-point range, both by sophomore Tatianna Kamae in the first quarter. Roosevelt was 2-for-14 from the arc in its home gym. Make one more trey before regulation ends, and that might have made the difference in a closely-contested battle.

The Lady Raiders, like Roosevelt, have made significant improvement since week one of preseason. Sisila Kaufusi has emerged as a serious force after a 19-point, 10-rebound performance. At 5-foot-11 with power and finesse, she was impossible to stop without two or three defenders.

“We’re working on recognizing when the double and triple team arrive,” Kahuku coach Latoya Wily said. “You’re always getting better or getting worse. That’s what I always tell my girls. There’s definitely room to improve.”

>> Kaufusi is only a junior, and though she had trouble with fouls, she also had three steals as Kahuku stayed in man-to-man defense from start to finish.

>> Freshman Leah Naeata was a revelation. Her 10 points did little to measure her value as a spark to the Kahuku fastbreak, and her strength — court vision. She also had four rebounds, four assists and three steals. Freshman.

>> Kamae, with her set-shot long-distance shooting, could turn out to a vital part of the offense. She finished with eight points.

>> The Lady Raiders shot 10-for-17 from the foul line, 59 percent, which isn’t bad for an underclassmen-heavy roster.

Wily reiterated the importance of that tough nonconference schedule — seven of eight games against either Top 10 teams or programs that were in the state tournament a season ago.

“Even with preseason, some people thought I was crazy,” said Wily, a former All-State Fab 15 player at Kahuku. “But playing ILH teams, playing Konawaena, they need to be exposed to top competition. Now we’ve won three games in a row, but this not the time to plateau.”


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