A slow-paced first half didn’t worry the top-seeded ‘Iolani Raiders much.
In fact, it was defense that sparked a 15-4 run in the third quarter as ‘Iolani triumphed over Konawaena 43-22, ending the Wildcats’ string of state championships at four in a row.
It was a defensive victory in many ways. ‘Iolani limited Konawaena’s all-state post, Caiyle Kaupu, to 3-for-13 shooting and nine points. The Wildcats shot 26 percent from the field as the Raiders collapsed on Kaupu in the post, and switched off on Konawaena’s screen-heavy motion offense.
“We talked about defense. We knew we needed to box out, especially on 33, Caiyle. We entered the game knowing that 3 (Kaliana Salazar Harrell) and 33 were their main scorers, so we knew we had to shut them down,” senior Taylor Wu said.
Salazar Harrell, a freshman, finished with just two points on 1-for-5 shooting.
“We switched off on all the guards on offense, so everyone pretty much guarded her,” Wu added. “Even Caiyle, too, we switched, but we knew we had to help her if a guard was on her.”
Wu scored 15 points and Lily Lefotu Wahinekapu added 14 for ‘Iolani, which wasn’t scintillating offensively. Instead, the Raiders were superb on defense, coming up with 17 steals. Eight of them were by Alexis Huntimer. Wahinekapu and Wu had two takeaways each.
“Our coaches at practice make us do a lot of physical stuff, one on one, boxing out, not going easy, making contact all the time,” Wahinekapu said. “We were kind of playing their game in the beginning. When it was halftime, we told each other, we’re going to play our game and we’re going to stick together.”
The Raiders were rugged defensively, as they’ve been all season.
“A lot of teams beat us with their height and size, so we know we have to help on defense,” Wu said. “On offense, we moved the ball around with our five-out, try to get one-on-ones to the basket, and get a foul, if anything.”
Konawaena was 5-for-6 at the foul line. ‘Iolani was 11-for-22 and forced the Wildcats into 21 turnovers.
‘Iolani, a team loaded with juniors and sophomores, has leadership from its two seniors, Wu and Kawai Kahalehoe. The Raiders stuck with an eight-man rotation, the same crew that withstood the merciless ILH schedule. There was also the ‘Iolani Classic and the Title IX D.C. Classic.
“I think DC was a good experience,” Wu said. “We got to play the top teams in the nation and they were bigger than us, so I think from that it helped us box out more and know that in order to win, we have to box out, play good defense and be strong,” Wu said.
The Raiders were toddlers, or kindergarteners, the last time two ILH teams met for the state title in 2008.
“Tomorrow, it’s going to be our fourth time playing Kamehameha and we’ve beaten them twice. We know we’ve got to shut down Kalina (Obrey). We’ve got to play good defense with help side and everything,” Wu said. “I think we’ve just got to keep playing like we’ve been playing.”
‘Iolani has been No. 1 in the Star-Advertiser Top 10 since week 1. Kamehameha, with senior standout Kalina Obrey leading the charge, is playing its best basketball.
“We just have to play our game and play with no regrets again,” Wahinekapu said.