Not so long ago, there were debates on the interwebs. I was there, going back and forth with basketball junkies, strung out of myriad hoop games during the preseason, regular season, playoffs and state tournaments.
One of the back-and-forths revolved around Oahu basketball and Big Island basketball. There was so much grief from Oahu-centric fans about how and why ILH and OIA teams could possibly lose to Neighbor Island teams. As if it were an affront to the roundball gods. As if, well, some country teams had no business being on the same court as Oahu teams.
Really. It was mostly good debate, a lot of good points. But now and then, there were some ridiculously asinine comments from an Oahu fan or two. So I did some digging. This was around 2006 or so, after Konawaena had asserted itself as a powerhouse, one to stay, not just a flickering flame in the wind.
In one of those seasons (the only one I bothered to check this on), the BIIF’s top four teams had a better record than the ILH’s top four teams and the OIA’s top four teams. It didn’t surprise me, but seeing the basic facts was almost mind-altering.
Fast-forward to 2013. We now have a BIIF team in the Division I final, Konawaena. No surprise. But what to make of Kamehameha-Hawaii and Honokaa in the D-II final. KS-Hawaii is a D-II title contender every year. But Honokaa?
The ripple effect of the recent recession plays in this. Really. In years past, some of the best talent from rural schools on the Big Island wound up at KS-Hawaii. It was happening with regularity, so much so that coaches and administrators of these country schools were complaining, grumbling behind closed doors, off the record.
Losing one really good athlete at a school like Kohala or Honokaa or Ka‘u is tough. That athlete often plays two or three or even four sports. That’s a major factor when a small school has a roster of eight players, with maybe three who have played a lot of basketball. Take away one key player and that’s a huge blow to their dreams.
At KS-Hawaii, it was no different than it would or should be at KS-Maui or KS-Kapalama. The norm is that young students from all across their respective islands aspire to pass the tests, meet the requirements to attend the school.
So, what’s going at Honokaa in 2013? I haven’t seen them yet, but I’m looking forward to watching some Dragons basketball. It’s been awhile since they had Kahea Schuckert driving the lane, scoring 30, 35, 40 points in BIIF play. Keisha Kanekoa was another gem, a playmaker with great court vision and scoring ability.
This year’s Dragons? They have a slugger’s chance against BIIF champ KS-Hawaii. But I wouldn’t expect a down game from Casey Poe.
Konawaena (18-1) vs. Kamehameha (18-0)
Seeding: Konawaena was seeded No. 1. Kamehameha seeded No. 2.
Ranking: The teams were tied at No. 1 this week in the Star-Advertiser Top 10.
On paper: Under coach Bobbie Awa, Konawaena has won five state championships since 2004, including three of the last four and the past two. Kamehameha has eight title trophies in its case at Kekuhaupi‘o Gym, but the most recent was back in 2002.
These teams have flip-flopped at the No. 1 spot all year, though Kamehameha’s tough schedule in the ILH is unmatched by Konawaena’s BIIF West slate, which included a lot of lopsided games against D-II teams.
But the lack of consistent competition is something Awa has always managed to overcome. The Wildcats zapped a peaking Hilo squad 45-30 in the BIIF final last week, the same Hilo team that ousted Leilehua and nearly rallied past Kamehameha this week.
Both teams are balanced, but Kamehameha is deeper on the post. Well, the Warriors are deeper than every foe on the post — in terms of bigs with ability and some experience.
The teams have not met at all this year. Konawaena’s lone loss was in preseason to Mililani, a team the Wildcats beat in the quarterfinal round on Wednesday.
Fouls have been an issue for Konawaena. Two posts, Courtney Kaupu and Ihi Victor, were in foul trouble early against Mililani.
The skinny: Konawaena’s patient, precise offense against man-to-man defense is probably its biggest weapon. Kaupu and Hoku Liftee, the top returning seniors, aren’t score-first players, though both are key contributors to the offense. Instead, the Wildcats rely on off-ball movement, screens and smart, crisp passing to get the most out of every possession.
Thing is, they did the same even with supremely talented players like Lia Galdeira and Dawnyelle Awa. Instead of going full-throttle, their strategy was always to get high-percentage shots, and Coach Awa always found a way to get her teams to buy in.
This year, she’s been flexible with defense. Instead of sticking with their man defense 100 percent of the time, they’ve switched to a 2-3 zone with great success. It’s a move that protects their bigs from foul trouble, and with mobile forwards who can close out on 3-point shooters, it’s a great tool for the ‘Cats. They limited ‘Iolani to 13-percent shooting from the arc (2-for-16) last night in a 47-37 win.
Where will all this lead to tonight? Kamehameha plays a rugged, handsy man defense, a great mesh of strength and athleticism. Coach Darold Imanaka will use as many as 10 players in the first half to keep that man coverage tight and fresh.
But what Hilo exposed yesterday, rallying from 19 points down to within 52-49 in the final minutes, is that Kamehameha is susceptible to fullcourt pressure. The Warriors handled all of Hilo’s pressure well for three quarters, but late in the game, they buckled just a bit. Point guard Tiare Kanoa is, arguably, the best one-on-one scorer in the backcourt statewide. But if she tires out against constant pressure —
Konawaena will pressure with its man defense and rarely uses a fullcourt trap — who will step up?
The Warriors have a lot of quality ballhandlers, including 6-foot-1 Alohi Robins-Hardy. But the Warriors got wobbly last night, which should help today. If anything, the Hilo game was a good reminder that taking care of the ball is essential, especially against a team like Konawaena that will wear you down on the other end of the court.
Kamehameha clearly has the antidote with a reliable low-post scorer, Lilia Maio. If she gets into a rhythm, it’ll be a huge challenge for Kaupu to stay out of foul trouble.
X factor: Victor, a lanky freshman, hit some key mid-range shots last night, showing no nerves whatsoever. Kamehameha already knows about Konawaena’s super freshman guard, Chanelle Molina, but if Victor continues to hit that baseline jumper, she’ll stretch out Kamehameha’s bigs, opening up more passing lanes for the Wildcat offense.
Paul Honda, Star-Advertiser