The baseline, the short corner, the pocket.
Whatever it is called across the basketball universe, the Kalani Falcons put that location to use after a harrowingly close first half against unranked Kaiser on Thursday night.
No. 5-ranked Kalani attacked Kaiser’s sticky 2-3 matchup zone by going Tar Heels, using that soft spot along the baseline in 1970s-Matt Dougherty fashion, getting a huge third quarter from center Kandyce Woods for an 82-57 win over the Cougars.
“We always have slow starts for some reason. We let them play through it. Kaiser’s a really well-coached team. They were disciplined, they played with more intensity than we did. Every loose ball, they were getting,” Kalani coach Chi Mok said. “We weren’t crashing the boards, so we went with a bigger team in the second half. Kandyce had a good game so that helped us out.”
The win lifted Kalani into sole possession of second place in the OIA East Division I standings at 6-1 (14-6 overall), breaking a stalemate with Kaiser (11-8, 5-2). First-place Kahuku visits Kaiser on Saturday. First and second in the East matter; first-round playoff byes are allotted to the top two teams. The remaining teams from third to sixth place are in elimination mode in the opening round.
“We knew they were going to come out hard because this is a rivalry,” Woods said. “Kaiser, Kalani, everybody’s going to ask later down the line as we get older, ‘Did you beat Kaiser?’ We knew they were going to come out strong. They’re a tough team to beat. They came out with more intensity.”
After Trinidee Kahunahana drove for a layup to begin the third quarter, the visiting Cougars led 30-29. From there, the Falcons fed Woods in the paint, using the short-corner passer to lure Kaiser’s powerful center, Taeya Blakeney, out of the paint, and hit Woods for bucket after bucket.
“Coach said to box out, get our intensity up. The short corner was always open and once the dive hits, it opened a bunch of other things like outside shots,” said Woods, a senior. “Taeya is really strong. She comes out when we hit the short corner and the dive is there.”
Woods finished with 11 points, and those nine in the third fueled a 24-4 run. The Falcons’ smooth passing game involved Kalena Halunajan, Heidi Kishaba, Shelby McDaniel and Kamalu Kamakawiwo‘ole. Kalani also used its 2-2-1 press to slow the Cougars and open a 53-34 lead, but that focus on pounding the ball inside was quite a flip for a team that has a propensity for launching the 3-ball.
“We were hitting it tonight, but it’s like Coach Jesse (Victorino, assistant coach), if our shots on the outside aren’t falling, then we’re nothing if we can’t drive and attack,” Kamakawiwo‘ole said.
Kamakawiwo‘ole, making her return since suffering a nose injury at the Konaweana Invitational a month ago, led all scorers with 30 points. The 5-foot-11 senior connected on three treys and got extended playing time as Mok gave her a chance to shake off any rust. It was a long four weeks, Kamakawiwo‘ole said.
“It’s kind of hard. I couldn’t do anything but encourage them from the side. I couldn’t be out there to help them physically in game situations,” said Kamakawiwo‘ole, who eschewed a nose-guard mask. “It’s at home. My mom is pretty mad I’m not wearing it. The doctor said I don’t have to wear it.”
Halunajan, a freshman point guard, added 13 points and Kishaba tallied eight points.
Blakeney led Kaiser with 20 points, including 12 in the final quarter. Kahunahana added 13 points, but her foul trouble proved to be a key factor. The Cougars missed her ballhandling skills while Kalani unleashed its press.
“Trinadee is the orchestrator. We took care of the ball better in the first half,” Kaiser coach Brianna Lagat-Ramos said.
Ivane Aholelei added eight points.
The first half was a marvel for the Lady Cougars, who opened the lead to 13-5 after wing 3 by Macy Hill and a tough drive for a bucket by Blakeney.
Kalani rallied with eight points in a row, tying it on a 3 by Kamakawiwo‘ole, but Kaiser would not relent. The Cougars got a trey from Jodie Otani on a feed from Kahunahana top stretch the lead to 23-18 midway through the second quarter.
The Falcons got within one point an NBA-range 3 by Alayna Akiona, and after Kamakawiwo‘ole connected on her second 3-pointer, Kalani led 27-26 with 1:13 to go in the second quarter. Kalani led 29-28 at intermission.
The the lack of depth became a factor for Kaiser, which suited up seven players. Two players did not play, including key rebounder Stephanie Canon, who is on a mainland trip.
Lagat-Ramos saw opportunity for her team, but it wasn’t meant to be after halftime. The Cougars will build on the strong first half.
“But we need to acknowledge the second half. That 2-2-1, we could have got layups all day, but we didn’t want to run,” she said. “We couldn’t convert on our end.”
Kalani will visit Roosevelt on Saturday.
Kaiser (11-8, 5-2) 15 13 9 20 — 57
Kalani (14-6, 6-1) 13 16 26 27 — 82
Kaiser: Jodie Otani 3, Dacee Tsue 3, Kylee Mahiko 4, Macy Hill 6, Ivane Aholelei 8, Trinidee Kahunahana 13, Taeya Blakeney 20.
Kalani: Kamalu Kamakawiwo‘ole 30, Mandi Haraga 0, Daesha Viela 2, Lile Oyama 4, Alayna Akiona 6, AIya Somphilavong 0, Hallie Birdsong 2, Kalena Halunajan 13, Heidi Kishaba 8, Shelby McDaniel 6, Kandyce Woods 11, Kira Niemi 0.
3-point goals—Kaiser 4 (Otani, Hill, Aholeilei, Kahunahana), Kalani 9 (Kamakawiwo‘ole 4, Akiona 2, Kishaba 2, Halunajan).