On Thursday night, unranked Kaiser stepped into the charming, antiquated and tiny gym at Roosevelt High School. The Lady Cougars showed that yes, they’ve come a long way since taking their lumps from Lahainaluna, Hilo and ‘Iolani way back in mid-November during preseason. The young Cougars lost to those three Top-10 teams by a total of 108 points. That’s an average margin of 36 points. It was ugly.
Kaiser’s not the same team now. Brandi Baker was a studette at the point for Kaiser last night, continuously attack Roosevelt’s man defense in the first half. It didn’t matter that the home team was on fire from the start with a 23-12 lead after one quarter, or that the pace was insanely entertaining. Roosevelt took 42 shots in the first half, which is basically the amount that most ILH teams will take for an entire game. It was the Rough Riders’ frenzied tempo of choice, and Baker responded by driving to the rack as often as possible.
But even Baker ran out of gas by the second half, and without a whole lot of depth — starting guard Macy Hiraki (knee) won’t be back until the playoffs — the Cougars had few alternatives. They could’ve gone slow to counteract the Roosevelt transition game. But the Rough Riders press after every basket and when they start rolling, there is no mercy for the weak.
Kaiser’s roots come from the Eastsidaz basketball club run by Simon Bitanga, who coaches both programs. Talent stays home, talent leaves home, and though Kaiser doesn’t get the benefit of keeping all of the Eastsidaz talent, there’s still plenty of potential. Brooke Ho was steady and resilient with 12 points and 10 rebounds in the loss. The 5-foot-11 junior has come a long ways since preseason and is now a true force in the OIA, even though she has plenty of room for improvement on the low post. Roosevelt’s talented junior, Keala Quinlan, blocked Ho five times in the pivotal third quarter, but that’s only because Ho went to the same move almost every time. A little work, a little tweaking and layering (a pivot-to-the-middle, up-and-under move once in awhile would work) — plus some patience and Ho should fare better against Quinlan or any other 6-foot shot blocker in the future.
Kaiser shot 6-for-7 at the foul line in the third quarter, but turned the ball over six times. After falling behind by 18 points, the Cougars made a run to close it to 46-37 entering the final quarter. But they shot 2-for-12 from the foul line in the fourth quarter, shutting the door on what little opportunity they had.
All in all, this is a much improved Kaiser team since November — no surprise there. But if the Cougars are going to seal a state berth, Hiraki’s return will make a difference. So will stepping up on those charity shots — they finished 18-for-35 against Roosevelt.