Defense first


POSTED: Tuesday, February 24, 2009

There is, as always, a trail that leads back to yesterday.





        Punahou has held five opponents to fewer than 30 points this season:




Jan. 12Sacred HeartsW, 61-23 
Jan. 26Sacred HeartsW, 55-24 
Dec. 3WaiakeaW, 57-27
Feb. 11Sacred HeartsW, 44-28
Jan. 22'IolaniW, 58-29



When the year of pure parity began, Punahou was an almost unrecognizable defending champion. Konawaena was nearly devoid of the familiar, familial names that had lifted the small school to a pair of state championships in recent seasons. Farrington had potential and promise, led by a super sophomore. Lahainaluna was possibly the team with the fewest question marks, and a former All-State player had just returned to the Valley Isle.

All four Division I teams won their respective leagues and earned first-round byes for the Hawaiian Airlines/Hawaii High School Athletic Association Girls Basketball State Championships, which tip off today. Sunday's pre-tourney war room at the HHSAA gave committee members a chance to wrangle. Turns out they may have simply ceded to common sense in seeding.

        Division I first round: Kalani vs. Aiea, 5 p.m.; Roosevelt vs. Waiakea, 7 p.m.; games at Farrington. Baldwin vs. Moanalua, 5 p.m.; 'Iolani vs. Kailua, 7 p.m.; games at Kaimuki.

Punahou (11-1) fared best in the limited matchups among the top four teams. The Buffanblu are 2-0 against the Big 4: a 53-47 win over Farrington on Dec. 4, and a 55-44 victory over Konawaena on Dec. 12 at the 'Iolani Classic.




Girls Division I States

        Seeds: 1. Punahou; 2. Konawaena; 3. Farrington; 4. Lahainaluna


        At Farrington High gym

        Game 1: Kalani vs. Aiea, 5 p.m.

        2: Roosevelt vs. Waiakea, 7 p.m.

        At Kaimuki High gym

        3: Baldwin vs. Moanalua, 5 p.m.

        4: 'Iolani vs. Kailua, 7 p.m.


        At Farrington High gym

        5: Losers Games 1 and 2, 3 p.m.

        6. Lahainaluna vs. Winner Game 2, 5 p.m.

        7: Punahou vs. Winner Game 1, 7 p.m.

        At Kaimuki High gym

        8: Losers Games 3 and 4, 3 p.m.

        9: Konawaena vs. Winner Game 3, 5 p.m.

        10: Farrington vs. Winner Game 4, 7 p.m.


        At Blaisdell Arena

        11: Consolation final: Winners Game 5 and 8, 11 a.m.

        At Farrington High gym

        12: Losers Games 6 and 7, 1 p.m.

        14: Winners Game 6 and 7 , 5 p.m.

        At Kaimuki High gym

        13: Losers Game 9 and 10, 3 p.m.

        15: Winners Games 9 and 10, 7 p.m.


        At Blaisdell Arena

        16: Fifth place: Winners Games 12 and 13, 1 p.m.

        17: Third place: Losers Games 14 and 15, 3 p.m.

        18: Championship: Winners Games 14 and 15 , 7 p.m.

Two of Punahou's three losses were against mainland powers Sacred Heart Cathedral (Calif.) and Westlake (Ga.). Refined in the furnace of hoops known as the ILH, the Buffanblu were 11-1 against top-10 teams, with the lone loss coming to 'Iolani, which secured the league's second and final state berth over the weekend.

Konawaena had one notable returnee in sharpshooting guard Kara Hanato-Smith, but the addition of fab freshmen Lia Galdeira and Dawnyelle Awa created plenty of anticipation statewide. The two age-group (Kona Stingrays) teammates brought their chemistry to the high school hardwood and sparked the Wildcats to a 12-0 season in the Big Island Interscholastic Federation.

Early in the season, they were undaunted by older, bigger teams, racking up a 3-1 mark against top-10 teams in nonconference play. Two were by double-digit margins over 'Iolani, and a win at Lahainaluna gave the 'Cats momentum for the BIIF season.

The only loss, though, came against Punahou. That probably cost Konawaena, which went 4-0 against ranked teams in league play, a No. 1 seed.

Of the four league champs, Farrington was probably best positioned to claim the top spot going into the postseason playoffs. The Governors were sitting on top of the rankings at 13-0 when they slipped against a rejuvenated Roosevelt squad. The Govs fought back with five wins in a row to win the OIA title, toppling Roosevelt twice in three days. But without the steep trenches that Punahou endured, the OIA champions suffered for that lone loss and fell behind Punahou and Konawaena in the seeding process.

Lahainaluna could be wondering what it would take to get anything higher than a fourth seed after going 22-1. If the Lady Lunas had beaten Konawaena back on Dec. 20—the visiting Wildcats won 46-42—what would the seeding committee have done? The Lunas were the only Maui Interscholastic League squad to be ranked all season. That immense lack of quality wins probably played a role in the committee's decision.

Here's a closer look at the Division I seeded teams and opening-round matchups.


Punahou (11-1)

Quarterfinal foe: Kalani or Aiea.

On paper: The Buffanblu have won four of the last six state titles under coach Mike Taylor, including three since 2005 with the Kuehu twins (Shawna-Lei and Shaena-Lyn). Guard Janelle Nomura, a two-time Star-Bulletin All-State Fab 15 selection, has been steady and nurturing as a senior among a bevy of inexperienced underclassmen.

Guard Rebecca Lau and center Tressa Torres are key components in Taylor's scheme. Punahou uses its depth—sometimes 10 or even 12 players factor into the rotation—to suffocate and pin its opponents. The Buffanblu did not allow more than 42 points to any ILH foe and are riding a 10-game win streak.

The skinny: Nomura's scoring average dipped as she became more of a distributor, but she's still the engine that drives Punahou. The Buffanblu will run at every opportunity, but can be deliberate against zone defenses. No other team is as physical or as willing to collect bruises to get its hands on a loose ball.

At Punahou, there's a lot of blue collar in the Buffanblu name.

X factor: No team won as many high-pressure games as Punahou did. The Buffs win against big teams and smaller teams, and they got better in their second and third meetings with ILH opponents. They haven't had a single-digit margin of victory since Jan. 24.


Konawaena (12-0)

Quarterfinal foe: Baldwin or Moanalua.

On paper: The BIIF switched to divisional play this season, eliminating many of the D-I/D-II crossover wipeouts that prevailed for many years. Konawaena didn't seem to get the message, though, and shellacked Hilo 65-39 and Waiakea 66-25 in the playoffs.

While Hanato-Smith, Galdeira and Awa have often scored in double figures before sitting for stretches in blowout games, Konawaena has seen key development elsewhere. Makayla Awa blossomed and is a legitimate scoring threat now.

The skinny: Coach Bobbie Awa gave her young team opportunities to gain experience early with trips to the 'Iolani Classic and Lady Luna Classic. The 'Cats went 5-1 in those off-island games, even as their coach rolled her eyes with every hint of immaturity.

There may be no starting five as athletic as Konawaena. Growing up, Galdeira was a Pop Warner football sensation and reads the court like a defensive back when Konawaena turns to its fullcourt press.

X factor: They're young, but after 27 games, the Wildcats are seasoned. Roughly half of the team plays club basketball, so tougher competition isn't going to intimidate them. However, Galdeira and Awa are 5-foot-7, and Hanato-Smith is 5-5. How will they handle playing bigger teams—Farrington looms ahead—under the spotlight?


Farrington (18-1)

Quarterfinal foe: 'Iolani or Kailua.

On paper: State champions usually have a go-to scorer. For the Govs, that would be sharpshooter Brydgette Tatupu-Leopoldo, who has averaged 19.3 points in her last three games. Natalie Mata (17 points in the OIA final) and Valerie Lesu add scoring punch in the backcourt, while Kirsten Liana, Lusina Otineru and Sofia Folaumahina anchor a talented front line.

The skinny: Coach Caroline Tatupu insists on season-long conditioning for good reason. Few teams have run the floor as well as Farrington. Mata and Lesu are very athletic with a penchant for steals, but Folaumahina is nearly as quick from the backside when the Govs go to their array of pressure defenses.

Smart defenses have gone to a box-and-one against the Govs, singling out the sophomore, Tatupu-Leopoldo. Farrington has countered well, though. As long as their low posts are hitting shots—Liana has tremendous footwork and shoots with either hand—opponents have to pick their poison. Tatupu-Leopoldo hit five 3-pointers in a playoff win over Kalani. What to do?

X factor: An aggressive low-post scorer can give Farrington problems defensively, but the Govs have depth there. Farrington's physical defense racks up fouls, which is good news for teams that can hit free throws. Miss foul shots and the Govs will run you out of the gym.


Lahainaluna (14-0)

Quaterfinal foe: Roosevelt or Waiakea.

On paper: Coach Todd Rickard has his most balanced team with scoring punch everywhere on the floor en route to a sixth MIL championship. Center Milika Taufa got help underneath with the return of Ofa Namoa, and the backcourt of Maiki Viela and Rachael Rickard became one of the best in the state.

Viela, the point guard, is a strong penetrator who won't hesitate to go to the left. Taufa is a better offensive player than her cousin, former Luna great Fatai Hala'api'api, and Namoa can step out to shoot the 3. Rickard, however, is the swingman who has an arsenal of skills. She has a season high of 33 points, but isn't necessarily the first scoring option or even the second.

The skinny: As a starting unit, Lahainaluna can match up with any opponent. Taufa, at nearly 6 feet, and Namoa combined for 39 points in an early-season win over Marist (Ga.). The MIL season, though, was far from challenging.

This is where a loss to a good team—like Farrington's to Roosevelt—could have sharpened the Lunas. They haven't really been pushed in more than two months, amassing wins with scores like 57-19, 70-15 and 69-18 along the way—through no fault of their own.

X factor: Namoa barely played basketball for two years after transferring to Kentucky after her sophomore season. If she's at the top of her game, the Lunas could be in the running for their first state title.


Opening-round matchups

Kalani vs. Aiea

The Falcons are committed to a run-and-gun tempo, aiming for 80 or more shot attempts per game. They were promising, if experimental, early in the year. The return of shot-blocking forward Violet Alama was huge. The Falcons won six of seven at one point to reach the playoffs and qualify for the state tourney despite a 1-3 start to league play.

Guards Ashlyn Onaga and Jamie Higa have benefited most from coach George Weeks' conversion to up-tempo ball. Onaga hit four treys in Kalani's 80-72 loss to Farrington last week.

Aiea has one of the state's top guards in Natasha Helsham. The lone Red West team in the OIA to qualify for states, Na Alii have done well against smaller teams (McKinley, Moanalua), but struggled against taller teams (Kalani, Farrington), including a 24-point loss to Lahainaluna in December.

Coach Mike Yen has extracted 11 wins in OIA play out of a relatively small unit, but the mountain remains tall. Aiea lost to Kalani 71-51 in the playoffs 12 days ago.

Roosevelt vs. Waiakea

The Rough Riders (11-7) played their best basketball during the OIA playoffs, handing then-No. 1 Farrington its only league loss. They have scorers inside with Mikela Thoemmes, Tasia Kamakawiwoole and Joshy Noga, and stellar defenders on the perimeter.

It's a very tough matchup for Waiakea (8-4), a skilled, but erratic team. Transfer Kanisha Bello (committed to Idaho) has kept the Warriors competitive while returning point guard Kamie Imai missed games for various reasons.

Baldwin vs. Moanalua

Na Menehune (6-11) lived up to their mascot/nickname to some extent by qualifying for the state tourney with one of the smallest teams in the OIA. Sophomore Joanna Nicolas is one of the finest passers in the state and senior Hoku Dela Cruz is steady in the clutch for two-sport coach Kristie Morikawa.

Baldwin was 9-5 in the MIL, including three losses to Lahainaluna. The Bears' habit of turning the ball over must change to get past the quick, swarming Menehune.

'Iolani vs. Kailua

The Raiders (13-10, 9-5 ILH) began the season as a team with new pieces to a puzzle, but emerging players like Georgette Lopes-Liutolo made the difference. Lopes-Liutolo can play the post on defense, yet is one of the best 3-point shooters in the ILH in her first season as a starter. First-year coach Marlene Zeug led 'Iolani to a 9-5 mark against top-10 teams.

Kailua (8-9) has been resilient, overcoming the loss of leading scorer Ashley Jacobs (hand injury) to qualify for states.