By KIM BAXTER
HONOLULU — Konawaena freshmen Chantelle Molina and Ihi Victor both admitted to being “pretty nervous” in Wednesday’s Hawaii High School Athletic Association Division I state quarterfinal game. Senior forward Courtney Kaupu said she would have to “apologize” to her team for the foul trouble that kept her on the beach for most of the game.
But when the game mattered, as the team rallied to make up an eight-point deficit in the fourth quarter, Kaupu, Molina and Victor helped the Wildcats pull out a thrilling 40-38 victory over Mililani (13-2), a team that had beaten the Wildcats (11-0) in a preseason game last November.
But the two-time defending state champions were just too talented, too gritty and too stubborn to lose their opener in this year’s state tournament.
“I don’t want doubts,” coach Bobbie Awa said. “Every time we step on the floor, every season, we’re on top. And we feel like we should be the champs. We’re not cocky, but we feel like we’ve got to come in with the confidence.”
And Konawaena’s freshmen played with confidence, especially in crunch time. With the team facing a four-point deficit with just 2 minutes to play, Molina made a hard drive to the basket to earn two free throws, which she nailed.
Then, after Konawaena’s defense forced a bad Mililani turnover, Awa called timeout with 30 seconds left to set up a play to put the ball in Molina’s hands. With 11 seconds to go, the freshman drove into the lane, drew three defenders and found Victor wide open on the weak side. Victor’s layup with 2.4 seconds to play secured the win and kept Konawaena’s three-peat championship hopes alive.
Molina finished with a game-high 18 points as she was the team’s only offense for the bulk of the game.
“Chanelle’s an awesome player,” Awa said. “If I’ve got to count on her, I’ve got to count on her. She’s so young, but she’s a scorer. She wants the ball in her hands. She’ll demand it, and she’ll look for her shot.”
Victor was the only other Wildcats scorer in double figures with 10 points.
Kaupu, one of the two seniors in the starting lineup, spent most of the game from the bench watching Molina work. Saddled with three first-half fouls and a fourth foul early in the third quarter, she played just seven of the first 24 minutes.
But she was the difference-maker in the fourth quarter, gambling in a scrambling man-to-man defense that forced nine Mililani turnovers in its 14 possessions. Kaupu came up with four fourth-quarter takeaways, including a steal and fast-break layup with 1 minute remaining to tie the game at 38-all.
“So frustrating,” Kaupu said after the game of her foul trouble. “I apologize to my teammates. So sorry. But I’m not losing my senior year.”
With the victory, Konawaena advances to today’s semifinals, where it will play Interscholastic League of Honolulu runner-up Iolani (11-3), which upset fourth-seeded Lahainaluna 60-39. The two will play at Neal Blaisdell Center. Tipoff is 5 p.m.
Konawaena and Iolani have met in the past two state tournaments, with the Wildcats winning both times. Two years ago, the Wildcats powered to a 60-29 win in the semifinals. Last season, Konawaena had to overcome a double-digit deficit in the first half of the state final to pull away with a 56-45 win.
Konawaena 5 10 9 16 — 40
Mililani 8 13 8 9 — 38