Anything Konawaena could do, national powerhouse St. Mary’s could do a little better.
Almost anything. The Rams from Stockton, Calif. opened a 16-point lead in the second half and then hung on for dear life to beat Konawaena 68-59 in the championship game of the ‘Iolani Classic.
St. Mary’s (3-0), ranked No. 10 nationally by MaxPreps, narrowly avoided becoming the third upset victim of Konawaena in the tourney. The Rams overcame a near triple-double by junior Chanelle Molina. Konawaena’s returning All-State player of the year, had 17 points, 15 rebounds, nine assists, four steals and two blocks. Molina was named the tournament’s most outstanding player.
“Our team really played their hearts out,” the junior guard said. “That’s all you can ask for, so you can’t be sad about that. Next year, hopefully, we’ll win it if we get invited back.”
In three tourney games, Molina averaged 22 points per game.
Celena Jane Molina, who joined older sister Chanelle on the all-tourney team, tallied 13 points and five rebounds. Freshman Cherilyn Molina had 13 points points and eight boards while running the point. Aloha Salem scored 10 points off the bench, hitting two key treys in the second half.
Without the inside presence of Ihi Victor (concussion), the Wildcats did all they could do to stop another tall team from wreaking havoc under the basket early on. The Rams converted most of their 13 offensive boards into buckets; five of those came in the first quarter as the visitors from Stockton soared to a 24-15 lead.
Center Aquira DeCosta was pivotal for St. Mary’s with 14 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks. The 6-foot-2 freshman patrolled the paint and made life difficult for the much smaller Wildcats all game long. Still, the resilient Wildcats made a final, thrilling run in the final quarter.
Coach Bobbie Awa‘s Wildcats (13-1) trailed 52-36 when they went on a furious, fullcourt pressure-fueled 20-10 run, cutting the lead to 62-56 with 4:02 left. Three-point shots by Chanelle Molina and Aloha Salem sparked the run, and after Molina skied high to reject a shot by the Rams, Konawaena’s old and new fans were roaring.
It was, as St. Mary’s coach Tom Gonsalves had observed of Konawaena during their semifinal win over Riverdale Baptist (Md.), a dangerous scenario. The Wildcats were hanging around, keeping the game close, and the taller, deeper team was getting anxious. Like Riverdale — a team ranked No. 1 early in the season by MaxPreps — the Rams were faltering at the foul line.
But DeCosta, who finished team-highs of 14 points and 13 rebounds, hit two foul shots and junior Angel Johnson hit another to help the Rams open the lead to nine points. Cherilyn Molina’s 3 from the left wing cut the lead to 65-59 with 2:40 to go, but that was the end of Konawaena’s scoring.
Kat Tudor, the tournament’s most valuable player, added 12 points, and Naje’ Murray also scored 12. Mi’cole Cayton scored 11 points, including three treys, before fouling out. Johnson added nine points.
Konawaena, which switched to a 2-3 zone during a semifinal matchup with Riverdale Baptist, stayed in its traditional man-to-man defense against St. Mary’s. It was with good cause. The Rams were the best perimeter shooting team in the Classic, facing the best perimeter-defense squad in the tourney. They finished 8-for-22 against Konawaena (36 percent) from the 3-point arc.
The Wildcats shot just 4-for-18 from deep (22 percent).
It was Konawaena’s third try at beating a nationally-ranked team during the Classic. The Wildcats stunned No. 23 Miramonte (Calif.) 63-62 and Riverside Baptist (Md.) 49-41 to reach the tourney final. With just eight players in uniform and none taller than 5-foot-8, they were both the surprise and the Cinderella story of the Classic.
They just came up against a St. Mary’s team ranked No. 10 nationally by MaxPreps. The Rams played tough defensively, using fullcourt and halfcourt pressure to force 10 turnovers by Konawaena in the first half.
St. Mary’s stayed in man much of the night, but switched to a 1-2-2 zone down the stretch. That move was an attempt to stop Konawaena from getting open looks from the arc, and it worked. The Wildcats missed their last five tries from 3-point range.
The Wildcats actually outrebounded the taller Rams, 35-33. St. Mary’s lineup includes DeCosta at 6-2, as well as another 6-2 freshman, and two 6-footers. They swarmed and doubled teamed in their halfcourt defense better than any of Konawaena’s other foes, but the Wildcats did a better job in the second half with just six giveaways.
The Rams’ biggest advantage scoring-wise was in the first quarter, when Cayton hit two treys and scored eight points, while Tudor added seven, including a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
That bugaboo at the foul line hurt the Rams. They were 4-for-10 there until the final 4 minutes. The Rams finished 10-for-22 from the line. Konawaena was 7-for-12.