Waiakea G Kelsie Imai: ‘I learned a lot from Coach Alika’

Waiakea's Kelsie Imai (1) looked to the basket as Iolani's Jovi Wahinekapu Lefotu pursued on Friday. Cindy Ellen Russell / Star-Advertiser

There will be no All-Big Island girls basketball state final, but the Waiakea Warriors sure gave it a shot.

With the second-seeded Konawaena Wildcats seated and looking on with the rest of the crowd of 886 at Blaisdell Arena, Waiakea pushed top-seeded ‘Iolani from the opening tip.

Trailing 22-16 at the half, Waiakea got within two points of the defending state champions. Then ‘Iolani got a pair of 3-point bombs from Alexis Huntimer to open a 37-27 lead with 1:15 left in the third quarter. Waiakea’s tough man-to-man defense won in many ways, limiting the Raiders to 38-percent field-goal shooting (15-for-40), including 4-for-18 from the arc.

Kelsie Imai led Waiakea with 14 points, seven rebounds and three assists. Keeli-Jade Smith added 10 points.

‘Iolani was the stronger team going to the basket and finished 23-for-29 at the foul line. Waiakea was just 3-for-5, and turned the ball over 16 times. All the Warriors wanted was one more shot at Konawaena. When the teams tangled for the BIIF title last week, Konawaena pulled out a 43-42 win at Afook-Chinen Hilo Civic Auditorium.

All in all, the Warriors have been successful with a 19-4 record. There’s a third-place game with Kahuku on Saturday afternoon. Since winning the state title in 1985 and ’86, the Warriors haven’t finished third or higher since ’98.

“I guess so, yeah,” Imai said, reflecting on a Waiakea’s success. “We wanted to win BIIFs. Coach Alika (Smith) did a good job in the limited time we had. I learned a lot from him. I wish he could’ve come earlier.”

Like Smith, Imai is going to play college basketball at Hawaii. The Warriors won the BIIF title last year, but lost in the state quarterfinals. They made a dent in the dynasty of Konawaena.

“We’re pretty close on and off the court,” Imai said. “It makes a difference.”