Two weeks ago, Na Alii of King Kekaulike were on the outside looking in.
In a gut-wrenching turn of events, the girls basketball team went from queen slayers — ending Lahainaluna’s historic 164-game win streak in MIL play — to third place in the standings. Four losses in a span of five games, including two to the same Lady Lunas, forced King Kekaulike into a tiebreaker game with Maui for the second and final state-tourney berth.
King Kekaulike prevailed over the Sabers, qualified for the state tourney and advanced to the quarterfinal round with a home-gym rout of Radford on Monday.
On Thursday, they had the dynastic Konawaena Wildcats on the ropes. Konawaena outlasted King Kekaulike, 40-37, but Na Alii had the lead in the fourth quarter. Ledjan Pahukoa, a freshman guard, hit from long, long distance. Two of her 3-pointers in the second half were from another zip code. One was from NBA range and the other was just outside the midcourt circle.
One of those 3-pointers gave King Kekaulike a 35-33 lead with 3:13 left, but Konawaena closed the game out with a 7-2 run.
“We’re young. We’ll build off this,” King Kekaulike coach Cy Peters said. “We put ourselves in position to win.”
Na Alii are young enough that there were no post-game tears of broken-heartedness. Instead, they ate outside the gym on picnic tables as team parents fed them. The young hoopsters posed and took group selfies, laughing and enjoying their road adventure. But they had their shot to take down an iconic program, the Konawaena dynasty that has won nine state championships — especially with two-time All-State Fab 15 selection Caiyle Kaupu on the bench with four fouls in the third quarter.
“We definitely wanted to attack the basket even if our offense wasn’t flowing,” Peters said.
But Na Alii are the most 3-happy team in the state, and the rainbow bombs kept launching. And launching. By game’s end, they made five. They stuck to their guns defensively, staying in a 2-3 matchup zone until the final minute, when Konawaena had a one-point lead. It was a risk, but Peters’ gamble paid off even though the Wildcats sank three treys in the opening quarter.
“Our zone is fast-moving,” he said.
King Kekaulike has laid the groundwork with a squad that has just two seniors. The maddest of mad bombers, Pahukoa, is a 5-foot-7 freshman with an effortless stroke from deep. There’s enough size in the paint to counter the likes of Kaupu, enough that she missed her first seven shots, all in the key.
When Cameron Fernandez left King Kekaulike five years ago and transferred to Lahainaluna, Peters was in his first season as head coach. He was undeterred.
This year, four teams from the MIL have been in the Star-Advertiser Top 10. Power shifts. Power grows. Lahainaluna is still on the throne on Maui, but the landscape has changed.
“Now everyone is staying in their home districts. The league is balancing out,” Peters said, referring to the rise of Maui and Seabury Hall, in addition to King Kekaulike.
King Kekaulike will meet Maryknoll at Blaisdell Center on Friday afternoon in consolation play.
HHSAA Division I Tournament
|1||Feb. 3||Moanalua vs. Kaiser||Moan, 34-28||Moanalua|
|2||Feb. 3||Waiakea vs. Mililani||Waik, 55-42||Waiakea|
|3||Feb. 3||Radford vs. King Kekaulike||KK, 61-35||King Kekaulike|
|4||Feb. 3||Maryknoll vs. Kalani||Mryk, 59-42||Maryknoll|
|5||Feb. 6||(1) 'Iolani vs. Moanalua||Iol, 65-31||Moanalua|
|6||Feb. 6||(4) Lahainaluna vs. Waiakea||Waik, 37-26||Moanalua|
|7||Feb. 6||(2) Konawaena vs. King Kekaulike||Kona, 40-37||Kalani|
|8||Feb. 6||(3) Kahuku vs. Maryknoll||Kah, 43-27||Kalani|
|9*||Feb. 7||King Kekaulike vs. Maryknoll||Mryk, 69-40||Blaisdell Arena|
|10*||Feb. 7||Moanalua vs. Lahainaluna||Lah, 52-39||Blaisdell Arena|
|11||Feb. 7||Konawaena vs. Kahuku||Kona, 56-39||Blaisdell Arena|
|12||Feb. 7||'Iolani vs. Waiakea||Iol, 57-44||Blaisdell Arena|
|13*||Feb. 8||Maryknoll vs. Lahainaluna||Mryk, 50-38||Blaisdell Arena|
|14*||Feb. 8||Kahuku vs. Waiakea||Waik, 56-44||Blaisdell Arena|
|15||Feb. 8||Konawaena vs. 'Iolani||Iol, 55-46||Blaisdell Arena|
|* — consolation|
Didnt mention one word of the star player on the team. That doesnt take 17 shots a game to make 15 points. Take 7 attempt and make 13 points. Plays for the team and only the team. Not for the satisfaction of scoring 30 and ecstatic with a team loss…the player that passes when her teammates are open. And passes early. Takes blame and accountability even if it’s not her fault… this team would be dangerously great if they learned to play together. And pass the dang ball especially with your best shooter open on the wing calling for the ball