After a 3-0 start to preseason, Kailua lost both of its road games against ILH powerhouses this week. Even in defeat, their improvement from one night to another has been drastic, and coach Mandy Llamedo knows it.
“We played three solid quarters of basketball. They went on a run in the fourth quarter. It’s tough when a team that shoots that well turns it up,” she said. “They’re going to hit eventually. If we had taken care of the ball early, it would’ve been a different game.”
A 65-49 loss at ‘Iolani was much, much closer than the final score indicated.
The Surfriders were really out of sorts early on against ‘Iolani’s fullcourt press, but over time, they settled in and began to run their pressbreaker with some effectiveness. It was enough to turn a potential blowout into a 32-all game in the third quarter. By then, Tau Williams had finally begun to play like a potential all-state swingman and post scorer Patria Vaimaona was doing well, getting plenty of touches in the paint.
“When they started to realize that they could get through the press and they didn’t put pressure on themselves, they got good results. If we can do that consistently, we’ll be all right,” said Llamedo, a former HPU guard.
Vaimaona’s ability to score on the low post and made free throws — she’s arguably Kailua’s best all-around shooter — had ‘Iolani reeling. But the Surfriders suited up just eight players, and fatigue eventually caught up with them. None of the three missing Surfriders start, but they’re going to be important to the effort this season.
“They definitely would’ve helped,” Llamedo said.
Overall, though, it was a great improvement from their loss on Wednesday at Maryknoll.
Vaimaona finished with a team-high 23 points and Williams tallied 16. When I get a chance to watch the game video, I’m pretty sure Vaimaona will have 8 to 12 boards, and Williams will have somewhere around eight or nine boards.
“We played together as a team. That’s something better,” Vaimaona said.
Williams is a three-sport athlete, so it’s understandable why she sometimes has trouble against tight, tight on-ball pressure — more so when the double-team comes. But when she’s aggressive and attacks, there aren’t may defenders statewide capable of staying with the swift junior. She’s got the athleticism to become a tremendous college basketball player, but if she loves volleyball more, more power to her. Bright futures for both Kailua standouts.
Tara Takata is one of Kailua’s best shooters, but she didn’t get many shots off tonight. I thought Takata (four points) would get a few jumpers or floaters going in the paint, but she didn’t look very comfortable with that mid-range game when she got past ‘Iolani defenders. I think that’s going to be crucial for the Surfriders this season. Defenses know about Williams and Vaimaona, and if they don’t fear Takata on her drive, they’ll dare her to score from mid-range and short range rather than leave the Williams and Vaimaona to help. If she punishes defenses, they’ll have to rotate to her when she penetrates, and it’ll be dime city for easy layups to her teammates. We’ll see.
Two losses, but two very valuable early-season experiences for one of the OIA’s top teams.
“We haven’t had a lot of practice in between Moanalua (tournament) and Maryknoll, so there’s a lot to fix,” Llamedo said.
Vaimaona will get a chance to rest a sore ankle. The Surfriders are idle until they travel to Konawaena’s tournament on Dec. 4. Assistant coach Mana Hopkins was a Konawaena standout a few years back. She’s excited about visiting home, though the Surfriders are scheduled to face the powerhouse hosts, Konawaena.
“There’s no fear if we just play as a team,” Vaimaona said.