Opening-round matchups and pupule prognostications of the New City Nissan/HHSAA Girls Basketball Division I State Championships.
The first round begins tonight. Seeded teams have opening-round byes and won’t play until Wednesday.
First, a look at the seeded teams/league champions, followed by tonight’s matchups.
1. Konawaena (27-1, 12-0 BIIF)
Deep, deep, deep. Most years, coach Bobbie Awa can count her lineup on two hands, and some of those players might be more suited for JV play, being young and green. She had plenty of shooting, passing and defense with the Molina sisters. Chanelle is the reigning Star-Advertiser all-state player of the year. Celena Jane is one of the best defenders, rebounders and passers in the state. And incoming freshman Cherilyn had already cemented her status as an elite point guard by playing with her sisters in Awa’s Kona Stingrays club team for years.
They’ve all met expectations, winning all but one game so far. That includes upset wins over defending national champion Riverdale Baptist (Md.) and Miramonte (Calif.). The rise of Ihi Victor in the post is almost a bonus; she was unavailable (concussion) when the Wildcats beat Riverdale and Miramonte.
The arrival of Lahainaluna transfers Lindsay Bates, Taylor Bates and Aloha Salem was almost too much, but in hindsight, their presence has been crucial as injuries and low numbers became factors for Awa again. The Bates sisters are excellent defenders and fearlessly box out foes who stand 6-4 and 6-2. Salem had the game of her life two weeks ago with 14 3-pointers and 46 points in a win over Hawaii Prep. Their ability to stretch the floor with their long-range accuracy makes Awa’s motion offense even more effective.
At the heart of the Wildcats dynasty — five state championships since 2004 — is a relentless man-to-man defense. Going eight to nine players deep this year, Awa has the luxury of little dropoff on the defensive end when she rotates her reserves in. It’s almost like having nine starters. They still aren’t the tallest team in the state, not even close, but no team plays defense quite as well, or converts turnovers into fastbreak layups as quickly.
Next: Konawaena will play the Kailua-Punahou winner on Wednesday, 7 p.m., at McKinley.
Note: Until the tourney expands to a 16-team field — no byes — there will always be flaws in the format. In this year’s bracketing, the other three seeded teams have easier potential matchups in the quarterfinals than No. 1 Konawaena.
2. Lahainaluna (22-1, 14-0 MIL)
No local team gave Konawaena a closer game than the Lunas did, a 61-52 Wildcats win on Dec. 5.
The Lady Lunas lost three key guards who transferred to Konawaena, but the influx of five freshmen from coach Todd Rickard’s Menehune club team has fortified a solid starting five. They made their mark immediately with the start of the season, sweeping three foes at the Ted Fukushima Invitational: Kaiser (69-34), Leilehua (65-43) and Punahou (52-50).
Cameron Fernandez, the former King Kekaulike standout, sat last year with a knee injury. She is, however, back to form. Fernandez is a 5-10 slasher, the glue on a team of swarming, pressing guards and tall, long posts. Folau Hafoka (5-10) and Keleah-Aiko Koloi (6-1) are good ballhandlers who bang on the boards and can stretch defenses.
Rickard’s teams have always used fullcourt pressure, and though they haven’t been seriously challenged since preseason, they haven’t missed a beat since losing in the state final to Punahou last season.
There has been some scuttlebutt about the Lunas getting a No. 2 seeding, but the HHSAA committee has often relied on historical data in their process. Lahainaluna has been very good for a long time now, and though they have just one state title compared to Konawaena’s five, the committee apparently sided with a team that has just one loss all season.
Next: Lahainaluna will play the Mililani-Radford winner on Wednesday, 5 p.m., at Moanalua.
3. Maryknoll (18-2, 11-1 ILH)
The Spartans made it a point to run more this season. Coach Chico Furtado knew early on that his depth — thanks to a talented freshman group of eight — gave him the luxury of running or slowing the pace at any time.
Alexis Delovio is a key asset in the backcourt as a playmaker. Freshman PG Rhianne Omori has stepped in nicely. Maegen Martin, their 5-10 senior, is the rock.
The Spartans’ 50-47 loss to ‘Iolani during the ILH playoffs showed that they’re vulnerable against fast, 3-point gunning squads. But they bounced back to beat Punahou for the league title.
That loss to ‘Iolani was their only one to a local squad.
Next: Maryknoll will play the Nanakuli-Hilo winner on Wednesday, 7 p.m., at Moanalua.
4. Roosevelt (19-2, 13-0 OIA)
Roosevelt has not lost to a local team all season. That includes a very early 47-46 win over Punahou, plus wins over Hilo and Kamehameha.
The Rough Riders have speed to burn and 3-point bombers deluxe with Sharice Kawakami leading the way. Starr Rivera has been a reliable, tough defender who stays out of foul trouble. But the horsepower of their engine comes from the rebounding, post scoring and 3-point shooting of 6-1 junior Keala Quinlan.
While Roosevelt struggled at times a year ago to get easy baskets near the hoop, Quinlan has developed her arsenal on the block. That’s a big bonus for Roosevelt, which still feels the sting of last year’s upset loss to Hilo.
While the Lunas got the No. 2 seed, there’s a stronger case to be built for Roosevelt, the unbeaten champions of the OIA. To that, the seeding committee would likely refer to 1) Roosevelt’s subpar state-tournament play in recent years, and 2) the undeniable need to pair top-seeded Konawaena with an accomplished Oahu foe in the same bracket early (quarterfinals), mainly for gate/revenue needs.
That opponent could’ve been Maryknoll, which had been unbeaten through most of the ILH season before falling to ‘Iolani in the league playoffs. There’s a sub-argument to be made that Maryknoll hasn’t pierced the upper echelon of state-tourney play just yet.
However, Roosevelt and Maryknoll did not meet in preseason, and even with the seeding committee’s penchant for past results, tradition, history and what have you, head to head would’ve probably been a factor if it was available.
After all, it wasn’t so long ago that then-Punahou coach Mike Taylor and Konawaena’s Awa both told me, in separate conversations, that winning their preseason matchups was a big key. They wanted to leave no doubt among those on the seeding committee.
Since Roosevelt has yet to prove that it can reach the state final, when compared to Maryknoll, the committee apparently felt that the ILH champion was better. Whether that’s true or not, we’ll see soon enough. After all, a Maryknoll-Roosevelt matchup in the semifinal is no guarantee, and if it happens, the Rough Riders match up well.
If there’s any team in the tourney that resembles ‘Iolani — the only local team to beat Maryknoll this season — it’s Roosevelt.
Next: Roosevelt will play the Baldwin-Leilehua winner on Wednesday, 5 p.m., at McKinley.
Here’s a look at Tuesday’s opening-round matchups.
Leilehua (13-8, 8-2 OIA) vs. Baldwin (7-5 MIL)
McKinley bracket, 5 p.m.
Ranking: Leilehua and Baldwin are unranked.
Skinny: The Bears haven’t been a force in the state tourney since Kami Kapaku was ultra-quick scoring guard (and soccer star) several years ago. The Bears upset ‘Iolani with Kapaku shredding through defenders. Leilehua has the balance and enough size to control this game, particularly with high-scoring Jerri Maluyo at guard and Tywanna Abbott in the low post.
X factor: Leilehua is dependent on Maluyo’s scoring, and even when she scores 20-plus points, the Mules have struggled to hit shots.
Pupule says: Baldwin’s best move is to blanket Maluyo with two defenders and take their chances that the other Leilehua perimeter shooters struggle again. Maluyo can beat any defender off the dribble, and she has NBA range on her 3. But if the Bears contain her and Abbott, they have a chance.
Pupule pick: Mules 57, Bears 37.
Next: The winner will play fourth-seeded Roosevelt.
Kailua (14-7, 11-3 OIA) vs. Punahou (10-6, 9-4 ILH)
McKinley bracket, 7 p.m.
Ranking: Kailua is No. 9 in the Star-Advertiser Top 10. Punahou is No. 5.
Skinny: If this were a 3-on-3 tournament, Kailua’s trio of center Patria Vaimaona (20 points per game), forward Tau Williams (12 ppg) and point guard Tara Takata (10 ppg) would be formidable. But this is 5-on-5 basketball and that makes the very deep Buffanblu very likely to wear down the Surfriders. Punahou also has the benefit of last year’s experience as the state champion.
X factor: While Kailua will build a wall around the basket in an attempt to stop Tyra Moe and Va‘e Malufau, Punahou playmaker Elle Umeda has the court vision to locate open shooters on the wing and baseline.
Pupule says: Kailua’s best hope is that Umeda and Kamaile Kandiah struggle with their shooting; Kandiah was 0-fer until hitting a buzzer beater in the third quarter, sparking a comeback win over ‘Iolani in the ILH playoffs.
Pupule pick: Buffanblu 52, Surfriders 33.
Next: The winner will play No. 1 Konawaena on Wednesday, 7 p.m., at McKinley.
Mililani (11-3, 11-2 OIA) vs. Radford (12-4, 11-3 OIA)
Moanalua bracket, 5 p.m.
Ranking: Mililani is tied for No. 10. Radford is No. 8.
Skinny: The state tourney by-laws require matchmakers to avoid OIA-versus-OIA matchups in the first round, but this is unavoidable with half the field coming from Oahu’s public-school league. These teams met on Dec. 23 with Mililani winning 32-27. The Trojans were unbeaten in the OIA West, then lost to Kailua in the OIA playoffs, again reaffirming the relative weakness of West-side basketball. The Trojans beat Kaiser to claim a state berth, then lost to Leilehua. All in all, coach Patrick Basilio’s Trojans have done a solid job one year after losing a talented senior class.
Radford was able to slow the tempo down against eventual league champ Roosevelt before falling. Jasmine Moody (14 ppg) may be the premier post scorer in the state. The 6-foot-1 lefty is quick and aggressive, an elusive penetrator from the high post or wing, too.
X factor: The Rams, like most teams with a reliable post scorer, have struggled at times with open shots from the arc. If they hit enough from deep, it’ll come down to Moody’s free-throw shooting (46 percent).
Pupule says: Mililani post scorer Shantel Appleby is said to be out with a knee injury. That’s a major loss. She was a key secondary scorer on last year’s powerhouse squad, and at 11 ppg, she was the go-to offensive weapon.
Pupule pick: Rams 33, Trojans 30.
Next: The winner will play No. 2 seed Lahainaluna.
Nanakuli (10-3, 10-3 OIA) vs. Hilo (12-4, 10-2 BIIF)
Moanalua bracket, 7 p.m.
Ranking: Nanakuli is unranked. Hilo is No. 6.
Skinny: These teams aren’t twins, but they could easily be siblings. Both love to run the floor, though the Golden Hawks have an affinity for launching threes. The arrival of Ciera O’Brien (14 ppg), who transferred from Moanalua, transformed Nanakuli into a West-side force. Alexis Pana (13 ppg) is one of the top defenders in the state, a long, quick and aggressive point guard who can play the 2, 3 and 4.
X factor: The Vikings are small, maybe the smallest in the field, but are historically tough and physical. Coach Ben Pana’s team always boxes out no matter the matchup, and Shaylyn Guthier, a 5-6 forward, brings them a warrior mentality.
Pupule says: Nanakuli will live and die by the 3, while Hilo will count on its man-to-man defense to stifle most teams. The Vikings led Konawaena in the second quarter before losing 58-41 in the BIIF final. Like Kailua, Nanakuli and Hilo are mid-sized schools that easily could (or should) opt to play in Division II. Obviously, they’d rather make a run at the best of the best.
Pupule pick: Vikings 47, Golden Hawks 41.
Next: The winner will play No. 3 seed Maryknoll.
Tomorrow: A look at Wednesday’s quarterfinal matchups. Check back here at hawaiiprepworld.com on Wednesday morning.