Semifinal Preview: Wildcats and Lunas meet again

Konawaena’s Cherilyn Molina drove toward the hoop against Moanalua’s Kylie Casinas during a Division I state quarterfinal game on Thursday. Photo by Cindy Ellen Russell/Star-Advertiser.

Waiakea advanced. ‘Iolani did not.

The final four of the Snapple/HHSAA Girls Basketball State Championships are set for tonight’s clashes at Blaisdell Center. Waiakea, the Big Island Interscholastic Federation runner-up, eked out a 55-54 come-from-behind overtime win over Oahu Interscholastic Association champion Kalani on Thursday night at Moanalua gym.

Waiakea is the only unseeded team to advance to the semifinals. The Warriors do not have a single senior on their roster.

At McKinley, Lahainaluna survived, as well, fending off a big rally by ‘Iolani for a 38-36 victory.

Here’s a look at tonight’s matchups with team overall and regular-season win-loss records. Both semifinal games will be at Blaisdell Center.

Konawaena Wildcats (24-2, 10-0 BIIF) vs. Lahainaluna Lunas (21-4, 12-0 MIL D-I), 5 p.m.
Seed: No. 2 (BIIF champion. Def. Moanalua 59-32 on Thursday (quarterfinal).
Vs. Top 10: 7-2 (.778).
Strength of schedule: 9 of 26 games (35 percent) were vs. Top 10 (or similar level) teams.
Top 10 wins: Sacred Hearts, ‘Iolani, ‘Iolani, Mid-Pacific, Campbell, Waiakea, Waiakea.
Losses (Non-Top 10*): Maryknoll, Lahainaluna.

Seed: No. 3 (MIL champion). Def. ‘Iolani 38-36 on Thursday (quarterfinal).
Vs. Top 10: 3-4 (.429).
Strength of schedule: 7 of 25 games (28 percent) were vs. Top 10 (or similar level) teams.
Top 10 wins: Kamehameha, @ Konawaena, ‘Iolani.
Losses (Non-Top 10*): ‘Iolani, Maryknoll, Punahou, Campbell.

Skinny: Sometimes, a close game to start tournament play is better for a team. Lahainaluna led ‘Iolani from start to finish, but couldn’t make a 12-point lead stand. The heady play of their senior guards, Rachael Balagso and Braeanna Estabillo, is a major reason why the Lunas withstood ‘Iolani’s swarming fullcourt pressure just enough to escape with the win. Junior F Susie Namoa was the biggest difference with 17 points and 11 rebounds.

When the Lunas meet three-time defending champion Konawaena, it will be a rematch of a game played at Konawaena in preseason. The Lunas won that game 44-42 without Namoa (knee) and G Keiko Aotaki (foot). Right now, it is Namoa who is among the most consistent post players — a stretch 4, really — in the tourney. This will be a big element, the matchup between Namoa and Konawaena sophomore Caiyle Kaupu, who picked up two early fouls against Moanalua. Foul trouble has been a recurring them for the talented Kaupu. When Waiakea nearly upset Konawaena at the Wildcats’ gym during the regular season, Kaupu was in foul trouble.

The Wildcats showed a lot of matchup zone in the second half, a rarity in Coach Bobbie Awa’s years at the helm. It gives Konawaena options with and without Kaupu on the floor. Mikayla Tablit, Tanniya Uchida and Cherilyn Molina are arguably the best three-headed guard crew in the state on both ends of the floor. The Wildcats also showed a lot of development, to no surprise, with their freshmen and sophomores in the front court yesterday.

Still, getting past Lahainaluna means they’ll need Kaupu to stay out of foul trouble and contribute offensively. She had nine points and five boards against Moanalua.

X-factor: Mo‘o Mo‘o Fautanu was an integral part of the win, grabbing four offensive rebounds during the second quarter. Her energy level, toughness as a post defender and sheer hustle is irreplaceable.

Maryknoll Spartans (27-2, 10-0 ILH) vs. Waiakea Warriors (18-8, 8-2 BIIF), 7 p.m.
Seed: No. 1 (ILH champion). Def. Kamehameha-Maui 67-28 on Thursday (quarterfinal).
Vs. Top 10: 20-2 (.909).
Strength of schedule: 22 of 29 games (79 percent) were vs. Top 10 (or similar level) teams.
Top 10 wins: Lahainaluna, Konawaena, Waiakea, @ Mid-Pacific, @ Punahou, Miramonte (Calif.), Oregon City (Ore.), Kamehameha, Buckeye Union (Ariz.), Marlborough (Calif.), Campbell County, @ ‘Iolani, Sacred Hearts, Mid-Pacific, @ Kamehameha, Punahou, @ Sacred Hearts, ‘Iolani, Sacred Hearts, ‘Iolani
Losses (Non-Top 10*): Southridge (Ore.), Post Falls (Idaho).

Seed: Unseeded (BIIF runner-up). Def. Campbell 77-56 on Monday. Def. Kalani 55-54 (OT) on Thursday (quarterfinal).
Vs. Top 10: 6-8 (.385).
Strength of schedule: 14 of 26 games (54 percent) were vs. Top 10 (or similar level) teams.
Top 10 wins: Mililani, @ Sacred Hearts, Hilo, Hilo, Campbell, Kalani.
Losses (Non-Top 10*): Mid-Pacific, ‘Iolani, @ Maryknoll, Kamehameha, Konawaena, @ Konawaena, @ Hilo, Konawaena.

Skinny: The Lady Spartans have been not just winning, but winning with authority all season long. There have been a few single-digit margins, but they remain unbeaten against Hawaii teams. One of the interesting aspects of this matchup is that Maryknoll isn’t dependent on low-post scoring. They’ll occasionally post up C Isabella Cravens, but often she will camp at the high post and open up lanes for her slashing teammates.

Maryknoll isn’t a purely finesse team, but the gist is there. That could be enough for the small, speedy and senior-less Warriors to get into a track-meet pace with the ILH champions. That would be, actually, probably the best circumstance for Waiakea. They showed their resilience during the preseason tourney at Sacred Hearts with wins over Roosevelt and host SHA, and a good battle in defeat against Kamehameha.

Waiakea will have issues keeping Maryknoll’s wealth of talented, tall players off the boards. Cravens will crash the glass, as will Kamalu Kamakawiwo‘ole, Kodee Viena, Moe Notoa and Chayse Milne. The Warriors, led by sophomore Kelsie Imai, will need near-flawless execution to keep up with the Spartans. Though they normally can use their speed to overwhelm opponents, the Warriors can’t afford to give up freebie putbacks in this one — unless they run the floor at all times and shoot lights out. That would be fun to see, but Maryknoll is a rare team that has the height, length and speed to match foes.

On the flip side, Waiakea has a multitude of scrappy, quick perimeter defenders who can take turns on Maryknoll PG Rhianne Omori. The senior floor leader won’t see as many cloying guards as she will in this game.

X-factor: How will Jazelle Dorser match up in the paint with Maryknoll’s athletic bigs? She had 21 points, 11 rebounds and four steals against Kalani. It would be simple to imagine that Maryknoll would look past Waiakea, but after getting so close over the past three years, this senior class — 11 in all — is too hungry to let down. Right?

‘Iolani shot 1-for-16 from the arc against Lahainaluna, a drastic dip from an 11-for-33 night against Kahuku. Whether it was the home court or the air-conditioning (at ‘Iolani) or significant humidity (at McKinley), the Raiders just didn’t get their perimeter game going. If they shoot a modest 5-for-16, still below a standard minimum 33 percent, this is an ‘Iolani victory. The Lunas can count their blessings. They survived and advanced. And ‘Iolani loses senior leaders like Kellie Okamura, but with the returning talent, it would be tough to pick against the Raiders as a preseason No. 1 for the 2018-19 season.

Moanalua’s game against Konawaena had a similar vibe to some of their late-season wins — and losses. For a half, they battled even as C Delylah Sanerivi couldn’t get many touches because of Konawaena’s smart, though defense in the low post. Then it all slipped away in the third quarter. Moanalua couldn’t hit an open 3. Couldn’t get back on defense. I don’t know how to measure it, but Na Menehune seemed tired in some key games late in the season, which seems surprising given they won seven in a row during a crucial stretch of the regular season. Every team goes through its lulls, just as a cross country team would. The legs start to give out. The team hits a wall. There’s a need for recovery time. But there was not enough time for Moanalua, which had a solid season and will finish out with consolation play.

There’s a principle that each missed 3 in a game mandates 1,000 practice reps. With so many young teams returning title-contending talent next season, it’ll be interesting to see which players actually raise their skill levels on a daily basis. It’s clear at this point of the season to see which players and teams took that approach over the past 12 months, and which ones did not.

Please, no more 45-percent free-throw shooting teams anywhere.

Kalani played well enough to win. The problem was that Waiakea was nothing like the senior-less team that they are on paper. They had plenty of competition in preseason, they travel in the offseason, and they have one of the most veteran coaching staffs in the state. That crew includes former Hilo boys coach Ben Pana, Shannon Poe and Jason Kauhi on Brandon Kauhi‘s staff. Basically a who’s who of former Hilo/Waiakea standouts from the 1980s.

The Lady Falcons had a remarkable season, rising to a new level to become one of the top teams in the state. They will lose four seniors who helped Coach Chi Mok establish a distinct culture and tradition, two of them being Logan Luke — who had 14 points and 18 rebounds in yesterday’s loss — and versatile Kaylie Espinas.

It was, my guess, the most entertaining game of the tourney so far. Two running teams that went about their business and thrilled fans the way they have all season. Unlike the Lahainaluna-‘Iolani game that could’ve been faster and higher scoring, Kalani and Waiakea went toe to toe. Maybe not an instant classic, but a memory that both teams won’t forget anytime soon.

Division I

Match #DateMatchupTime/ScoresSite
1Jan. 29KS-Maui vs. MililaniKSM, 34-27KS-Maui
2Jan. 29Waiakea vs. CampbellWaik, 77-56Waiakea
3Jan. 29Moanalua vs. KaiserMoan, 42-34Moanalua
4Jan. 29'Iolani vs. KahukuIol, 88-37'Iolani
5Feb. 1(4) Kalani vs. WaiakeaWaik, 55-54 (OT)Moanalua
6Feb. 1(1) Maryknoll vs. KS-MauiMryk, 67-28Moanalua
7Feb. 1(2) Konawaena vs. MoanaluaKona, 59-32McKinley
8Feb. 1(3) Lahainaluna vs. 'IolaniLah, 38-36McKinley
9*Feb. 2Moanalua vs. 'IolaniIol, 72-38Blaisdell Arena
10*Feb. 2Kalani vs. KS-MauiKaln, 37-34Blaisdell Arena
11Feb. 2Konawaena vs. LahainalunaKona, 50-45Blaisdell Arena
12Feb. 2Waiakea vs. MaryknollMryk, 75-40Blaisdell Arena
13*Feb. 3'Iolani vs. KalaniIol, 59-37Blaisdell Arena
14*Feb. 3Lahainaluna vs WaiakeaLah, 52-45Blaisdell Arena
15Feb. 3Konawaena vs. MaryknollKona, 47-32Blaisdell Arena
* — consolation


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