For a long spell, the ‘Iolani Raiders were unchallenged by local competition.
Finally, on Jan. 14, the top-ranked team in the state lost to a Hawaii program. Maryknoll came to Father Bray Athletic Complex and put a dent into the Raider roundball machine with a 55-51 upset win.
‘Iolani returned the favor on Monday night, stifling the Spartans in the second half for a gritty 54-47 win. With the regular-season automatic state berth, ‘Iolani’s victory in tonight’s second-round final seals the ILH championship for a second year in a row.
“There are a lot of tough teams,” said junior guard Lily Wahinekapu, who had 25 points, including the first 10 of the game for the Raiders.
Wahinekapu was active. Wahinekapu was everywhere. The machine was humming with screens and backdoor cuts, the usual unselfish, unstoppable attack. Alexis Huntimer (nine points) and Jovi Lefotu (six points) had five assists each. Lefotu also had five boards and two steals, and Alexsandra Huntimer had six points and four boards off the bench.
There isn’t quite a statistic to measure the kind of balance and pressure the Raiders put on a defense. It was almost enough to upset California powerhouse Mater Dei back at the ‘Iolani Classic, the only other loss for the Raiders this season. Yet, without a low-post iso game, ‘Iolani shot 50 percent from the field (22-for-44). Minus a 3-for-16 night from the arc, and the Raiders were 19-for-28 on 2-point attempts.
‘Iolani also outrebounded Maryknoll 23-19.
“Rebounding was really key,” Wahinekapu said.
‘Iolani (22-2) will have a 10-day wait, including an opening-round bye, before playing in the quarterfinal round of the New City Nissan/HHSAA State Championships on Feb. 6. Maryknoll coach Chico Furtado expects his team to host the OIA’s fourth-place team next Monday in the opening round.
Mililani will host Radford in the OIA third-place game on Wednesday.
Maryknoll had played one of its best game of the season two days earlier, hitting 13 treys in a win over Kamehameha. ‘Iolani’s defense did the job, limiting the visitors to 3-for-10 from the arc. Maryknoll had seven turnovers in the second half. ‘Iolani had only one.
“We just wanted to wear them down a little bit. Once they get tired, they’ll make some mistakes,” ‘Iolani coach Dean Young said. “We had to work on our press. We gave them three or four layups.”
Maryknoll’s defense was tough, too. Using a mix of 1-3-1 and 2-3 matchup zones, the Spartans limited ‘Iolani to 3-for-16 shooting from deep.
“They’re really big, they’re quick and they’re long,” Young added.
With ‘Iolani and Maryknoll, the HHSAA has two of the top three ranked teams in the state. No. 5 Kamehameha will stay home. So will No. 6 Punahou. The chances of the Raiders and Spartans meeting again in the state final aren’t a long shot.
No. 2 Konawaena already split two preseason matchups with Kamehameha on Oahu. The Wildcats need to get past Keaau on Tuesday to reach the BIIF final. No. 4 Waiakea meets No. 7 Hilo, also on Tuesday, in a do-or-die showdown, with the winner meeting the Konawaena-Keaau winner on Wednesday.
Also on Wednesday, Kahuku battles Moanalua for the OIA crown. In the MIL, Lahainaluna has a state berth locked up with a second spot available to contenders Maui and King Kekaulike.
For the ILH’s entries, the state tourney will reveal whether the arduous, compact regular-season schedule — four Top 10 teams meeting each other four times each before the playoffs — takes a toll, causes postseason fatigue, which leads to erratic long-distance shooting. There is no plan for any of the ILH’s Division II programs to return as D-I entries in the near future.