There’s something to be said for a five-game win streak.
After all, not all humans have experienced this, whether it was youth league, professional sports or right here in high school. The Kalani Falcons had this. They arrived in Kahuku on a cloudy, cool evening ready to defend their place atop the OIA East girls basketball standings.
Kalani. In first place.
By 9 o’clock, the lofty perch was one to be shared. Kahuku’s young hoopsters opened a 16-point lead and hung on for dear life, edging Kalani 41-38 at Thomas Walker Gymnasium. It was a game of contrasts and anomalies.
>> Aggression in the clutch
With Heidi Kishaba in rehab, recovering from a Grade 2 PCL injury suffered during Kalani’s game against Farrington more than a week ago, the Falcons showed some moxie. After shooting 8-for-45 from the field through three quarters, including 2-for-20 from 3-point range, they kept attacking Kahuku’s 1-3-1 matchup zone, which fooled me early on into thinking it was man defense. (There was at least one play when a defender chased her man from one sideline to the other.) That turned into an 18-point fourth quarter and nearly dissolved Kahuku’s 37-21 lead.
Daesha Viela, one of the smallest players on the court, was part of the attack. She consistently penetrated into the paint, and with Alayna Akiona connecting on two 3-pointers in the final minutes, Kalani finally got some consistent momentum.
>> The future is now
Kahuku looked like an elite OIA team for 25 minutes and 32 seconds. That’s the amount of game time it took to build that 37-21 lead. Then, with legs getting wobbly in coach Latoya Wily’s tight rotation, Kalani began its comeback.
The reality is, the Lady Raiders are just figuring out how to close a game. They struggled in the late going in a close win at Roosevelt. The same happened tonight. There was not much they could’ve done about Akiona’s sensational step-back, NBA-range wing 3 with 25 seconds left, but the Lady Raiders committed 23 turnovers. That’s 23 giveaways and 15 field goals, and normally any team that has more turnovers than buckets loses. (Conversely, Kalani had 15 field goals and 10 turnovers).
Freshman Leiah Naeata continued to play like a boss. She finished with 16 points, four rebounds and two dimes, often finishing plays with tough layups or fueling the fastbreak with lead passes. What makes Kahuku profoundly unique is defense and rebounding. The edge on the boards was 48-23, even though Logan Luke had a double-double for Kalani (10 points, 10 boards).
• Sisi Kaufusi: 17 rebounds with 10 points.
• Ilaisaane Po‘oi: six rebounds, four points before fouling out.
• Tatianna Kamae: 11 rebounds with two points.
The x-factor was Kamae, a sharpshooting zone buster most nights who became a huge rebounding weapon. But there was another x-factor: junior guard Meleane Tonga. She had seven points and nine rebounds, providing key ballhandling against Kalani’s press, playing solid on-ball defense and providing a crucial energy player for Wily’s six-player rotation. (Naveah Pukahi entered the game in the final minute and hit a big free throw after Po‘oi fouled out.)
Even with the huge rebounding advantage, it wasn’t quite as good as Wily expected.
“We needed to box out a little better,” she said. “But our defense definitely helped us out. They definitely earned the win. Kalani’s No. 10 in the state and we had to do our part on defense.”
Kalani got the pace it wanted after halftime.
“It was a little too late,” Falcons coach Chi Mok said. “I take the blame for that. We should’ve adjusted way earlier. That’s our pace. It gets Kahuku’s bigs running.”
Kalani’s transition push goes hand-in-hand with fullcourt pressure, and that press wasn’t in operation until the second half.
>> First quarter: 16 field-goal attempts, 0 FT attempts, one offensive rebound, three turnovers, seven points. That’s 20 total possessions in just 8 minutes. Not bad. But the conversion rate, not great — .35 points per possession. One point per possession is generally good.
>> Second quarter: 16 FG attempts, 0 FT attempts, two offensive boards, one turnover, seven points. That’s 19 possessions, .37 points per possession.
>> Third quarter: 15 FG attempts, two trips to the foul line (2-for-4), four offensive boards, four turnovers, six points. That’s 25 possessions, .24 points per possession.
>> Fourth quarter: Here’s where it gets interesting. Nineteen FG attempts, two trips to the FT line (2-for-4 again), four offensive boards, two turnovers. That’s 27 possessions, 18 points, and .67 points per possession. That’s more of the Kalani formula, and even though .67 isn’t overly impressive, think of it this way: With a total of 64 possessions in the first three quarters, if Kalani had been able to push the ball and create more havoc, those 64 opportunities could have netted 42.9 points. In three quarters.
The caveat to this, of course, is that Kahuku’s six-man rotation was fresh in those first three quarters. Strong, bigger, more physical. That’s something that isn’t exactly measurable. While Kalani shot 17.8 percent from the field in the first 24 minutes, how much of that had to do with Kahuku’s determination on defense?
In the end, Kalani is capable of outlasting most opponents in a high-pace game. Those 27 possessions in the final quarter? There are NBA teams that sometimes don’t get that number in a 12-minute pro quarter. Can the Lady Falcons replicate that pace for four entire quarters? If replicated tonight’s fourth quarter, which was more modest than prolific, this is what the numbers would look like: 28-for-76 from the field (36.8 percent), 8-for-16 at the foul line, 16 offensive rebounds, just eight turnovers. And 72 total points. That wins most games.
Plausible, not very possible on a regular basis, right? We shall soon find out.
For Kahuku, much like the St. Francis boys basketball team’s penchant for dipping in the third quarter due to normal fatigue, the key will be maintaining leads after halftime despite the short rotation. It’s a good problem to have. The JV team scorched Kalani 63-18 tonight. Of course, there’s talent and speed and players with endurance on that squad. Who knows if coach Wily is exploring the possibilities?
It’s a long road to the big dance, and good decisions are rarely rushed decisions. Even after a contributing player moves to another state (5-10 sophomore Liana Holani) in midseason.
Most points-per-possession equations I’ve seen will minus offensive rebounds rather than count them as extra possessions, which seems ludicrous. When Maryknoll played Kamehameha two weeks ago, the teams had nearly identical PPP, and the biggest difference was that Isabella Cravens grabbed eight offensive boards, giving her team eight more possessions. In a game her team won by eight points. If she doesn’t grab those eight offensive caroms and has zero instead, there’s a very good chance the game goes into overtime or Maryknoll loses.
In Kahuku’s case, there were 41 field-goal attempts. That’s a modest number we see more in high-stakes, slow-down ILH games. Then there are the two disparate stats: 13 offensive rebounds and 23 turnovers.
>> In other words, the Lady Raiders’ 41 points came on 54 possessions that resulted in a shot attempt. There were nine more possessions that led to either 1-and-1 or two-shot trips to the foul line. That’s now 63 possessions. In this game, when Kahuku didn’t turn the ball over, the PPP rate is .65. Modest, but decent. Throw in the 23 giveaways, now we have a splattering of perfectly fine meals onto the floor, a PPP rate of .48.
Imagine the day when they are so efficient that they average 1 point per possession. On 86 possessions. That’s massive.
Whatever the numbers, statistics or formulas, the numbers that really matter are simple. At 5-1 in the OIA East, Kahuku’s future is not two years from now and it isn’t next year. The future is now.