The ‘Iolani Raiders, with a ton of returnees and great chemistry, might be playing basketball better than any team in the state.
While Maryknoll is unbeaten, the tall, long, No. 1 Lady Spartans have their lulls — typical of a team stocked with juniors. Konawaena is at No. 2, but the Wildcats are figuring things out with a roster of new players to go with three returning starters.
It is ‘Iolani, still undersized whether it’s against the nation’s best teams or foes from the ILH, that is playing with a precision and flow that is remarkable for any team this early in the season. The third-ranked Raiders’ 55-50 win over No. 6 Kamehameha was efficient: nearly 50 percent from the field (20-for-42), serviceable from the arc (6-for-17), very good at the foul line (9-for-11) with just 10 turnovers.
They are better to be seen than heard, a roster of just 10 players, a modern-age basketball perpetual motion machine, built and assembled on the grounds of the ‘Iolani campus.
Perhaps most importantly, the rebounding gap between the taller Warriors and the Raiders was modest: 26-22.
Is it possible that the Raiders (8-4, 3-2 ILH) are already peaking? How much better can they actually get, and will it be enough to get past Maryknoll, a team they’ve lost twice to already?
“We can still clean up our motion offense,” coach Dean Young said. “We can improve our shot selection. We can pass up a good shot for a great shot.”
Camy Aguinaldo has added a consistent 3-point shot to her already elite-level fastbreak skill set. She sprinted by everyone again and again during a pivotal 8-2 run that gave the Raiders a 40-28 lead in the third quarter. She finished with 20 points (9-for-14 from the field) and four rebounds.
“After the Classic, everyone’s confident. We want to keep playing at a high level,” she said.
Since losing at Maryknoll in the league opener, ‘Iolani has gone almost exclusively to a five-out attack, giving their guard-heavy lineup plenty of opportunity to weave and drive again and again. It’s enough to wear out big posts who have to chase ‘Iolani’s stretch 5, Skylar Nakata, and stretch 4, Kayla Malta. Taylor Wu is a guard, but defensively, her height and length makes her a wing or post defender, depending on the matchup. ‘Iolani is simply a matchup nightmare when 3-point shots are falling.
The Raiders’ mobility and ability to dish on the drive were two big reasons why Maryknoll coach Chico Furtado junked his man defense for a matchup zone in their games.
‘Iolani did likewise on Tuesday night, filing away its man defense in favor of a 2-3 matchup zone against Kamehameha. Warriors center Kalina Obrey was on a tear with nine of her 19 points in the first quarter against man coverage.
“We needed to watch for Kalina, and not let their shooters get open shots,” said Tori Lynn Maeda, who ran the fastbreak and halfcourt offense flawlessly with 11 points, seven dimes and zero turnovers. “We couldn’t really handle Kalina. We put in a zone just the other day. Her spin move is unstoppable.”
Obrey still managed to score eight points in the second and third quarters, but the double- and triple-teams down low made a difference. She got just one shot off in the final quarter while Jewel Paaluhi-Caulk rained four trifectas to rally the Warriors from a 12-point deficit to within two.
With Mikiala Maio distributing from the elbow for five assists, Kamehameha did enough to rally and get in striking distance. But it’s the little things that matter in close games. One reserve who hadn’t played entered in the final few minutes and missed her first shot, a 20-footer from the top that missed. Another reserve took a contested, tough 15-footer from the baseline and missed. With Obrey, Maio and Paaluhi-Caulk on the floor, those shots weren’t the best ones available in a two-point game.
Kamehameha lost for only the second time this season. The Warriors are 10-2 overall, 1-2 in league play. Coach Joe Cho is waiting for the day when his team plays smart from start to finish.
“We still don’t make crucial plays,” he said, lamenting the shots his best scorers didn’t get. “We don’t get Kalina the ball enough. Princy is our best shooter.”
Still, it was a solid performance by the Warriors against a team that might be playing smarter basketball than anyone in the state.
“He always has faith in me,” Paaluhi-Caulk said of her coach. “Every loss is frustrating, but there’s still two more rounds. We can learn from our mistakes.”