At Punahou, the student body knows all about big tests.
The Buffanblu passed with flying colors — and a checkered flag — on Tuesday night with a 71-49 win over No. 10 Sacred Hearts at Hemmeter Fieldhouse.
In their Interscholastic League of Honolulu regular-season opener, No. 9-ranked Punahou (5-0, 1-0 league) platooned five in and five out, pushing the ball up court at every opportunity. Sacred Hearts (9-4, 0-2 ILH) shot 34 percent from the field (15-for-44), struggling often in the paint against the bigger Buffanblu. The struggled extended to the backcourt, where Punahou’s press was active.
“We’ve got a young crew and they’re learning. The emphasis this year is have some fun, play ball, love the game, show up every day,” veteran coach Gary Pacarro said. “Credit to Sacred Hearts. They’re very scrappy. I’m happy with the energy our kids brought tonight.”
Tama Fonoti, Punahou’s 6-foot-4 sophomore, poured in 12 of her 16 points in the final quarter. She had just one rebound, but that was more because she sat for most of the second and third quarters after picking up her second personal foul.
Punahou’s depth in the front court is something Pacarro can trust. Sophomore Aleah Liilii played major minutes, scoring four points and dominating the paint at times with 11 rebounds and a block. Junior Chloe Kaahanui also provided strength in the paint and finished with six points and nine rebounds.
Between Liilii and Kaahanui, they combined for nine offensive rebounds. Punahou finished with 14 offensive caroms in all.
Kiarra Young, one of just two seniors on the roster, added nine points for a deep Punahou backcourt. Melody Lum, one of the six sophomores, also scored nine points and had four of her team’s 15 steals. Junior guard Caitlyn Andrade-Tomimoto scored nine points on 4-for-6 shooting.
All this with Pacarro, a longtime Division II boys coach at Punahou, coaching the varsity girls for the first time.
“It’s been a pretty smooth transition,” said Young, who has played for three head coaches at Punahou. “Today, we played fast, but we could play faster.”
Sina Uluave, a senior forward, sat out with a sore knee.
“Seeing what we did tonight, I know what I have to work on,” Uluave said.
They and the rest of the team made a quick adjustment to their new coach and his staff.
“He sits back and observes before he says anything,” Uluave said. “He gives us more time. We have more time to make mistakes.”
“He’s very calm,” Young added.
Senior Dallas Martinez led Sacred Hearts with 15 points and eight rebounds. Sade Mizusawa, another senior, added 10 points.
Punahou’s press, a trademark of Pacarro and his coaching family going back a half century, was on full display. The Buffanblu swarmed and caused 24 turnovers by the visiting Lancers. That helped opened the lead to 23-13 at the end of the first quarter.
Sacred Hearts cut the lead to 33-26 on a straightaway 3 by Mizusawa with 58 seconds left in the first half. A turnover in transition by SHA led to a final possession for Punahou, and Andrade-Tomimoto fed Tara Kaneshiro for a wing 3 at the buzzer, opening the lead back to 36-26.
The Lancers cut the margin to 38-31 on a wing 3 by Martinez, but Punahou went on a 13-4 run to close the third quarter. Once Fonoti returned to the game in the fourth quarter, there were fewer double teams on the block and she went to work.
“I think we’ll need to come out with more intensity,” Martinez said. “We came out slow and we were playing catch-up the whole game. We also learned we need to execute. We have a lot of great plays, but we didn’t execute enough.”
The Lancers opened ILH play with a home loss to ‘Iolani last week.
“This was just another wake-up call,” Martinez added. “If ‘Iolani wasn’t enough of a wake-up call, this one is.”
Punahou’s confidence is growing immensely, one year after struggling in the rugged ILH. With Maryknoll, ‘Iolani and Punahou playing at a fast pace, the hardwood might as well be a raceway.
“The goal for us is to make states,” Uluave said.