The little kids were there again, asking Konawaena players for autographs.
Lia Galdeira and Dawnyelle Awa may be long gone to Washington State — Awa just started her third game in a row at point guard — but the aura of Konawaena basketball hasn’t dissipated.
“I can still feel it,” said Courtney Kaupu, one of the five seniors who rode that championship rocket with Galdeira and Awa in 2011 and ’12.
But right now, after a narrow, come-from-behind 40-38 win over Mililani in the quarterfinals of the Hawaiian Airlines/HHSAA Girls Basketball State Championships, the question, at least for me, still remains.
Is this the 2007-08 Wildcats all over again? Or is this an extension of the Konawaena teams that brought home the fourth and fifth state title trophies recently. By winning yesterday, the ‘Cats avoided what the ’07-08 team did — which had just eight players (if I remember right) — a loss in the quarterfinals. Konawaena rallied for a win over a strong Mililani team, the same Trojans who were unbeaten in the OIA West and through the playoffs until the league final against Leilehua.
So, this is not a program ready for a dropoff, as the ’07-08 team did despite the play of all-state forward Mana Hopkins. That year, Konawaena had devastating losses to graduation. So, with Awa and Galdeira gone, slippage was not going to be a surprise. But there’s this.
Chanelle Molina might be the best freshman in the state since … Lia.
Molina isn’t quite what Galdeira was as a freshman, but who really is? Galdeira is a once-in-a-generation athlete with the inner drive to match. Molina? Scoring 18 points in her state-tourney debut last night is a good way to start, and her pass to Ihi Victor for the deciding basket says even more.
But it doesn’t get easier, even after avenging a preseason loss to Mililani. ‘Iolani is in position to do its own avenging. From my records, it’s been YEARS since the Raiders beat Konawaena. In fact, going back to 2007, I don’t have a thing showing an ‘Iolani win over Konawaena.
KON def IOL (Lahaina tourney)
KON 56, IOL 45 (Feb 10)
@ KON 60, IOL 35 (Nov 18)
KON 60, IOL 29 (Feb 3)
@ KON 48, IOL 41 (Dec 3)
KON 49, @ IOL 39 (Dec 12)
KON 54, IOL 22 (Feb 18)
@ KON 61, IOL 43 (Dec 5)
KON 59, @ IOL 48 (Dec 13)
DID NOT MEET
DID NOT MEET
If these records are accurate, that’s seven wins in a row by Konawaena against one of the premier girls basketball programs in the state. With Molina and a new generation of Stingrays entering the Wildcat program, combined with returnee firepower in Kaupu and Hoku LIftee, it won’t be easy for ‘Iolani tonight, even with their lineup of top-shelf talent.
Here’s a look at the D-I semifinals
Konawaena (17-1) vs. ‘Iolani (15-6)
Seed: Konawaena is seeded No. 1. ILH runner-up ‘Iolani is not seeded.
Ranking: Konawaena is tied for No. 1 in the Star-Advertiser Top 10. ‘Iolani is No. 3.
On paper: Great matchup, arguably the best we may see in D-I this season. Both teams have quick, smart, opportunistic bigs, though ‘Iolani has more depth there. Konawaena’s guard play over the past decade has been ethereal. Patient passers, smart defenders. Usually.
The skinny: Konawaena got into foul trouble last night, using a 2-3 zone against Mililani. The Wildcats are almost exclusively a man defense, but the zone switch was smart against a bunch of physical, slashing scorers. Bobbie Awa will do whatever it takes to put her team in position to win. The same can’t be said of all coaches, and for the most part, it takes experience — and pain — to spark improvement in strategy and tactics.
Whether Konawaena goes zone again is up for debate, but my hunch is no. ‘Iolani has a lot of effective offensive weapons, but doesn’t have slashers like last year (Kylie Maeda, Saphyre Rezentes). Abrianna Johnson-Edwards is a tremendous penetrator and finisher, but after that, it’s mostly pull-up shooters or spot 3-point shooters.
There’s no simple formula to beat Konawaena. They’re just going to hang around until your offense gets wobbly, and then one bad pass turns into a string of turnovers, and that’s all the Wildcats need.
X factor: The Raiders go deep, using 10 to 12 players regularly. If reserves can hit a few 3 balls, it could change the complexion of the game. Konawaena does not want to double the low post, but if that’s a problem, well, ‘Iolani’s long-range bombers could play a big role. They have been rather cold from the arc with the exception of starting guard Sheyla Pua Kahalehoe, but the opportunities will be there.
Kamehameha (17-0) vs. Hilo (17-2)
Seed: Kamehameha is seeded second despite a perfect record — a prime example of the HHSAA seeding committee’s reliance on past history rather than current results. This worked against Konawaena some years back, but now that the Wildcats are five-time state champs, they get the benefit of the doubt.
Hilo is unseeded, having lost to Konawaena twice, including a 45-30 loss in the BIIF final.
Ranking: Kamehameha is tied at No. 1 with Konawaena. Hilo is No. 10, though after two big wins at the state tourney so far, they’re bound to finish in the Top 5 in next week’s final poll.
On paper: The Warriors are balanced and have talent at every position — not a given in today’s game. Coach Darold Imanaka saw his team roll to a 14-point halftime lead against Maui last night en route to a 65-40 rout. That was not a surprise. But it did give him a chance to give minutes to his reserves more than usual.
Alohi Robins-Hardy would be a 25-point scorer every night in a different scenario, but here, her multi-position skill set are a great value. Hilo is quick, if small, but there’s magic in this young team. Aliyah Pana had 18 points last night in a 66-40 wipeout of OIA champion Leilehua.
Genes do matter. Pana’s dad, Ben, the head coach, was part of some of Hilo’s greatest teams in the 1990s under the late Larry Manliguis and his veteran staff. The trickle-down effect is clearly in play. Hilo sports guru Josh Pacheco points to Chailey Cabalis and Shaylyn Guthier, who had 15 and 10 points, respectively, in last night’s win.
The skinny: This is a battle of David versus Goliath. Hilo has played two games in two nights. Can they handle a third?
Kamehameha has seen its share of smaller competition, but if Hilo is up to its usual energy level, this could be a fascinating matchup to watch. And the Warriors won’t be afraid to run, not on Imanaka’s watch. Their bigs, including reliable post scorer Lilia Maio, all run the floor well.
X factor: Kamehameha guard Tiare Kanoa is arguably the best pull-up jump shooter in the state, but against a smaller team, that might not be a plus. Robins-Hardy, at 6-foot-1, could be too quick for Hilo’s bigs in the post, and too good a passer to contain. We shall see.
Paul Honda, Star-Advertiser