On paper, this was Kalani’s championship for the taking.
Three players back since the last time the Lady Falcons met Kahuku, including Kamalu Kamakawiwo‘ole and Alayna Akiona. When Kahuku won at Kalani 51-48 during the regular season, it wasn’t a true test of the OIA East’s top teams at full strength.
On Thursday night, there was no doubt. No. 9 Kahuku got a career-high 33 points from sophomore guard/post boss Leiah Naeata in a 63-59 win over No. 9 Kalani to capture the OIA Division I championship. Kahuku’s first league title since 2005 was a perfect performance from start to finish, a 13-0 mark in OIA play.
Naeata is one of the few point guards in Hawaii prep history to play point guard while dominating inside. She had 17 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists in a 55-37 semifinal win over Kaiser on Tuesday. This time, she had eight rebounds, seven assists and two steals to go with the 33 points. She was shocked at her point total.
“I did not know that,” Naeata said.
Perhaps the most intriguing stat: just 12 turnovers against Kalani’s relentless fullcourt and halfcourt pressure.
“Me and my teammates had to keep our composure, keep calm. We didn’t want their awesome press defense to get to our head,” Naeata said. “We worked on it at practice, staying calm, and we eventually did our job.”
An 11-point lead dwindled to one point, but most teams that face Kalani have more turnovers than field goals. Kahuku did just enough — 18 offensive rebounds, 17-for-48 from the field, 17-for-32 at the foul line.
Coach Latoya Wily was a senior, playing for then-coach Wendy Anae, when Kahuku won the OIA title in 2004. They repeated in ’05 after Wily went off to college, and the title drought began.
“It’s amazing,” Wily said. “As a coach, it’s so rewarding to see all their hard work, and seeing them get rewarded tonight with the title. They wanted it. They really wanted it. They worked for it.”
Just when most or all of the frenzied crowd at James Alegre Gymnasium was convinced Kahuku couldn’t win without her, Naeata fouled out with 1:10 left. The lead was 57-55. Instead of wilting against Kalani’s fullcourt press, the Lady Raiders sent Aja Tapusoa back in, and they scored again.
“We already know, our whole team, that’s not the first time we’ve needed the next man up,” Wily said.
Maya Claytor came through as the next-man-up point guard, hit three free throws, and after some heroic comeback shooting by Kalani — the Lady Falcons trailed 47-37 entering the fourth quarter — Meleane Tonga stepped to the foul line.
Tonga had missed two foul shots earlier in the fourth.
“We talked to her. We knew she was going to pull it out,” Naeata said.
This time, Tonga swished both free throws to give Kahuku a 63-59 lead, icing the win. It wasn’t pretty, but it was solid-steel strong. Defense. Rebounding. The will to do whatever it took, up and down the lineup. Tapusoa: eight points, 11 rebounds. Tati Kamae: six rebounds, four steals.
At one point in the second half, Naeata sank seven free throws in a row. Fatigue caught up with her, and she only made one of her next five tries. Before she was disqualified, Naeata hit her final two charity shots. In the final quarter, the Lady Raiders shot 10-for-17 at the line, accounting for all but six points there.
Naeata was 9-for-16 from the field, 13-for-18 from the free-throw line, and hit two treys along the way. When she wasn’t slashing to the rim, she posted up and drew more fouls.
Kahuku took 32 free throws and made 17. They got away with that poor trade off — one point on many possessions — by limiting Kalani to just three treys.
In eight consecutive wins since the previous loss to Kahuku, Kalani won by a margin of at least 20 points six times. The exceptions were a 51-44 win over a McKinley squad that was fighting for survival, and a 38-34 semifinal win over No. 10 Mililani on Tuesday.
Kalani (20-7 overall) had more than its share of empty possessions, quick-shot decisions while nobody was in position to crash the offensive boards. It’s an approach that wreaked havoc on many opponents, but Kahuku’s rebounding prowess is unmatched in the OIA.
Kamakawiwo‘ole scored 16 of her team-high 21 points in the second half, and sophomore guard Kalena Halunajan had 15 of her 19 before intermission. Akiona chipped in 10 points. The Falcons rallied majestically in the final quarter — 50 percent from the field, 8-for-9 at the foul line — but never seemed to be in a consistent rhythm all night.
That was never more evident than from the arc, where they were 3-for-17 (18 percent). Inside the arc, Kalani shot 18-for-29 (62 percent). After taking just eight free throws in the first half, they were 10-for-13 in the second, 14-for-21 on the night.
Kahuku outrebounded Kalani 42-30, grabbing a whopping 18 offensive boards. Kalani had just seven caroms on the offensive glass.
And finally, some tidy and tasty OIA girls basketball championship game records courtesy of our resident mad librarian, Jerry Campany:
>> Naeata’s 33 points is the third-most by a player in the OIA girls championship game. Brandy Richardson of Kalaheo has the two highest totals. She scored 35 points in the ’00 final and 41 in the ’01 title game. She went on to play at UC Santa Barbara, and then coached at Radford. She is now a referee and actually worked in the D-II title game prior to the Kahuku-Kalani matchup. The fourth-highest was 30 points by Monica Faria of Kaiser in ’89.
>> The 122 combined points by Kahuku and Kalani is the most ever in one game. The previous high was 121 points in ’09 when Farrington defeated Roosevelt 71-50.
>> Kalani’s 59 points is the most by a losing team in the OIA final. The previous mark was 56 points by Kahuku in a loss to Kaiser for the ’89 title.
Kalani (20-7) 13 11 13 22 — 59
Kahuku (15-4) 13 17 17 16 — 63
Kalani: Kamalu Kamakawiwo‘ole 21, Daesha Viela 0, Lilehina Oyama 0, Alayna Akiona 10, Kalena Halunajan 19, Heidi Kishaba 0, Shelby McDaniel 5, Kandyce Woods 4.
Kahuku: Meleane Tonga 5, Kalia Kaahu 0, Si‘itia Cravens 0, Lela Tonga 0, Tati Kamae 2, Aja Tapusoa 8, Liana Holani 0, Serina Aumua-Tuisavura 1, Leiah Naeata 33, Maya Claytor 14, Trisha Faumuina 0.
3-point goals: Kalani 3 (Akiona 2, Kamakawiwo‘ole), Kahuku 5 (Claytor 3, Naeata 2).