Tickle the twine, anyone?
The opening round of the Hawaiian Airlines/HHSAA Girls Basketball State Championships is upon us. In 2.5 hours, the games shall begin. Here’s a pupule look at today’s matchups. (I’ll update new matchups each day, including tomorrow’s opening round in Division II.)
Seeded teams (opening-round bye)
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‘Iolani (13-6) vs. Kaimuki (9-6), 5 p.m.
Ranking: ‘Iolani is ranked No. 3 in the Star-Advertiser Top 10. Kaimuki is unranked.
On paper: A helluva way to start the tourney, pitting the OIA’s third-place team against the Raiders. As I mentioned earlier today, the OIA 3 often gets a much tougher route than the OIA 4, at least in basketball (boys and girls), and sometimes in baseball.
‘Iolani won’t have much sympathy for the Bulldogs. A schedule loaded with ranked teams — all six losses in preseason and ILH play have been to mainland squads or Top 10 programs. In fact, the Raiders had been one of the hottest teams in the state, winning six in a row before a 47-40 loss to Kamehameha in the ILH playoffs.
The skinny: The Raiders have been more of a halfcourt team since the graduation of all-state guards Kylie Maeda and Saphyre Rezentes. They’ve used pick-and-roll action, a lot of slip screens, and even Alex Masaquel has opened up the floor by connecting from 3-point range this winter.
Jade Botelho scores in spurts. Her low-post play is tough to stop, as it was against Kamehameha, but the Raiders sometimes lose track of her and don’t always go to the well enough.
That slower pace, even though ‘Iolani still applies fullcourt pressure, should suit Kaimuki just fine. The Bulldogs go as far as point guard Canny Aikau, shooting guard Ally Pologa and swingman Princess Lauvao can take them. Pologa has the green light whether she’s hitting that corner 3 or not. When she hits, the ‘Dogs go on big runs.
Lauvao scored 39 and 36 points in regular-season games, but has dealt with a chip fracture in her foot.
X factor: The Raiders have struggled at times against fullcourt pressure. Kaimuki’s short bench makes extended fullcourt pressing rare, but when they do go to it, it has been quite effective short term, but dangerous long term. The Bulldogs may not have the legs to run with the Raiders, so I’m expecting a more conservative approach.
Up next: The winner will play fourth-seeded Lahainaluna.
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Kaiser (11-4) vs. Mililani (16-2), 7 p.m.
Ranking: Mililani is ranked No. 5. Kaiser is not ranked.
On paper: The Cougars are not as deep, experienced or talented as last year’s formidable squad, but Michaela Bitanga is still there, running the show, doing a lot of the “glue” work that keeps an offense and defense cohesive.
The Trojans saw an unbeaten run in the OIA obliterated by rival Leilehua in last week’s OIA Red final. They were ranked No. 3 in the Star-Advertiser Top 10 before the loss. They are the only team to give Konawaena, the top seed, a loss this season. The Wildcats had three starters out of that game, but still.
The skinny: The Cougars are not going to match the Trojans with personnel. Mililani is deeper and more skilled on the bench. But for 32 minutes tonight, all Kaiser has to do stay close, and if anybody knows how to extract maximum effort, it’s Cougars coach Simon Bitanga.
Mililani’s reluctance to play at a faster pace and use its depth to fortify fullcourt pressure — Coach Patrick Basilio prefers halfcourt traps — works in Kaiser’s favor. Do NOT be surprised if this turns into another slowdown grind in the 40s.
X factor: The Trojans were stunned on statewide TV already (OIA Red final). They may play with a furious anger tonight.
Up next: The winner will play top-seeded Konawaena.
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Maui (11-1 MIL) vs. Waianae (8-6 OIA), 5 p.m.
Ranking: Maui and Waianae are unranked.
On paper: The Seariders are in an optimal situation after losing to Kaimuki in the OIA Red third-place game last week. A win would’ve set them up against ‘Iolani. Instead, they draw Maui, a solid, improved team that nonetheless is a notch below elite status.
The Sabers lost to Lahainaluna in MIL play three times: 56-47, 63-14 and 57-37, the latter in the MIL D-I final.
Waianae has overachieved all season long. They’re a gritty, gutty bunch that will impose their will on you if you are a team that is not sound fundamentally.
The skinny: This might not be the most aesthetically pleasing game of the first round, but there will be bumps, bruises and tears. This will be physical.
X factor: Maui didn’t travel to Oahu in preseason, which could mean nothing in the bigger picture. Sometimes, though, with high school kids, it makes a HUGE difference. If the Sabers don’t adjust to a totally new environment — their best effort against Lahainaluna came in a home game — and the officiating, they could be in for a struggle.
Up next: The winner will play second-seeded Kamehameha.
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Hilo (15-2) vs. Roosevelt (14-2), 7 p.m.
Ranking: Hilo is No. 10. Roosevelt is No. 6.
On paper: Along with the ‘Iolani-Kaimuki game, this could be a stupendous battle. The Viks are young, small and quite skilled. They’ve put up some nice numbers, but against two ranked opponents, they’ve fallen short. Hilo lost to Mililani 61-50 at Ka Makani Tip-Off Classic, and to Konawaena in the BIIF final on Saturday.
Roosevelt? If not for guard Starr Rivera’s DNP in the OIA Red playoffs — a loss to Kaimuki — the Rough Riders may have rolled to the league title. But she didn’t play, apparently due to an elbow injury, and Roosevelt went from being an unbeaten OIA Red team to a fifth-place finisher.
The skinny: Roosevelt won’t be overly concerned about Hilo’s quick guard-heavy lineup. The Rough Riders are all about guard play thanks to Coach Hinano Higa’s 808 Basketball program, and they have steady play from swingmen like Devyn Kauhi who can stretch opposing posts to the 3-point arc.
X factor: Viks coach Ben Pana, a former Hilo standout, has daughters Aliyah and Alexis Pana in the mix. If they have some of that Pana mojo, it could be a special week for the young Viks — a team without any seniors. But experience is on Roosevelt’s side. So is balance. It’s hard to rule out the Rough Riders as a sleeper contender.
Up next: The winner plays No. 3 Leilehua.
Wednesday: A look at the Division I and D-II quarterfinal matchups.