In the end, the rebounding numbers were almost dead even for No. 9 Kahuku and Kaiser.
Kahuku outboarded Kaiser 31-30 in the final tally, but it was the third quarter when Leiah Naeata took the lead role. The sophomore point guard scored eight points and grabbed seven rebounds — five on the offensive glass — in the pivotal third period as the Lady Raiders turned a 17-15 lead into a 34-17 cushion.
Kahuku went on to a 55-37 win over the tough Cougars and will meet No. 4 Kalani on Thursday at Radford for the Oahu Interscholastic Association Division I championship.
Naeata finished with 17 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists — sparking the Kahuku fastbreak — to lead Kahuku (14-4 overall), a team that has yet to lose in 11 league games. In all, Kahuku grabbed a whopping 10 offensive rebounds in the third quarter.
“I told myself, for my team, I need to grab rebounds. The points that I make is for our team. To get more chances on offense, I knew I had to go inside,” said Naeata, who had all 10 boards after halftime.
They haven’t missed a beat despite losing all-state center Sisilia Kaufusi early in the season.
“With Sisi gone, we knew we had to work harder. She was one of our strong bigs, she was, and it was a loss for us, but we knew it was next man up. We worked hard and took our practices seriously,” Naeata said. “We got yelled at, but it was all worth it.”
Kahuku forced Kaiser into 21 turnovers, including 19 in the first three quarters. Tati Kamae scored 10 of her 12 points in the fourth quarter, and Meleane Tonga added 10 points. Aja Tapusoa had eight points and seven boards.
“We just needed to do the little things. Spacing, boxing out, play more disciplined,” Lady Raiders coach Latoya Wily said.
Now Kalani awaits.
“It’s been (14) years since Kahuku has won the OIA championship. That’s our fuel, our motivation,” Naeata noted. “That number has been embedded into our brains the whole season.”
Kahuku won an OIA Division II title in 2009, but hasn’t won the league’s D-I crown since ’05, when Wendy Anae was head coach.
Whether this year’s Kahuku squad wins the OIA or not, it’s an interesting approach when guards like Naeata and Kamae are free to spot up, cut or simply crash the offensive boards. It’s basically position-less offensive basketball.
“Everybody did their part from the bench all the way to the floor,” Wily said. “Our girls know, we’ve had a lot of teams play 2-3 zone on us, so we look for openings and gaps,” Wily said.
Maya Claytor took just two treys in this semifinal game, but her ability get hot from the 3-point arc could be a factor in the final.
“We’re fortunate to have an outside presence with Maya and Leiah, this season, she’s been working on it. And our other girls, too, if they’re comfortable and confident,” Wily said.
Kaiser (13-10, 7-3 OIA) 6 9 4 18 — 37
Kahuku (14-4, 10-0 OIA) 11 6 17 21 — 55
Kaiser: Jodie Otani 0, Dacee Tsue 0, Kylee Mahiko 3, Macy Hill 3, Stephanie Cannon 13, Ivane Aholelei 2, Trinidee Kahunahana 9, Taeya Blakeney 7.
Kahuku: Meleane Tonga 10, Si‘itia Cravens 0, Tati Kamae 12, Aja Tapusoa 8, Teija Carvalho 0, Serina Aumua-Tuisavura 4, Leiah Naeata 17, Mary Fonoimoana 0, Maya Claytor 3, Trisha Faumuina 0, Mursina Soli 1.
3-point goals: Kaiser 1 (Hill), Kahuku 2 (Naeata, Clayton).