By KIM BAXTER
Stephens Media correspondent
HONOLULU – This year’s Konawaena girls basketball team may be less talented than those that featured Lia Galdeira and Dawnyelle Awa, a duo that led the Wildcats to four straight title game appearances and back-to-back championships. But the top-seeded Wildcats are once again in the state championship game, though this time they’re playing some gritty, balanced and underappreciated basketball as they plow through the Hawaii High School Athletic Association tournament.
“Heart, determination, perseverance, never giving up,” senior Courtney Kaupu said. “That pretty much sets us apart from the other teams we’ve been on. We don’t really have anyone to rely on. Everyone just trusts each other.”
And with a workmanlike 47-37 win over ‘Iolani in the semifinals on Thursday at Blaisdell Center, Konawaena will be making its fifth straight championship game appearance. The Wildcats (12-0) have won nine straight games in the state tournament dating back to 2010. They will defend their reign as the state’s best today against Interscholastic League of Honolulu champ and second-seeded Kamehameha-Kapalama (14-0) . Tipoff is 7 p.m. at Blaisdell Center.
Thursday’s semifinal win was not the team’s prettiest game of the year. It was not a dramatic victory like Wednesday’s last-second buzzer-beater over Mililani. It was simply an exhibition of Konawaena excelling at a lot of the intangibles – taking advantage of fast-break opportunities, playing unselfish on offense, making the extra pass, hitting timely baskets and frustrating the opponent with solid defense.
“They still know how to play the game,” said Iolani head coach Eddie Maruyama, whose teams have lost to Konawaena in the state tournament the last three seasons. “They have four key players that know how to play and they know their role.”
Freshman Chanelle Molina, who exploded for a game-high 18 points against Mililani, finished with a team-high 12 points but scored only one point after halftime. She got a lot of help from teammates with Kaupu (11 points), Ihi Victor (10 points) and Hoku Liftee (10 points) all helping to carry the scoring load.
Molina is Konawaena’s go-to scorer, yet while she mustered a lone free throw in the second half, the Wildcats essentially put the game away after halftime, not allowing Iolani to get any closer than eight points in the fourth quarter.
As the Wildcats pulled away, the Red Raiders couldn’t keep up with them offensively because Konawaena’s defense, which switched from man-to-man to a 2-3 zone, smothered enough passes and took advantage of lazy ball-handling to get in the open court and make layups.
Iolani (11-4) committed 20 turnovers and was able to covert just 15 of its 43 field-goal attempts. In the second half, the Red Raiders only grabbed two offensive rebounds. Senior Abrianna Johnson-Edwards, who scorched Konawaena for 14 points off the bench in last year’s title game, mustered just four points Thursday. Alex Masaquel had a game-high 17 points in Wednesday’s rout over Lahainaluna but managed seven points in the loss to the Wildcats.
It was a hard-fought defensive effort that, coupled with just four second-half turnovers and 9-for-15 fourth-quarter shooting from the free-throw line, turned Thursday’s game into a Konawaena win.
“I guess hard work does pay off after all,” Kaupu said with a smile.
Konawaena will be playing for history today. No girls basketball team has won three straight titles since Kamehameha-Kapalama’s four-year reign from 1990-93. It would also give the Wildcats their sixth state title, all under coach Bobbi Awa and all since 2004. If Konawaena wins, Awa will be the first coach in Hawaii girls basketball history to win six titles.
But just making yet another title game is a feat that has left the coach in awe.
“It’s pretty amazing,” Awa said. “I think this team has come a long way. I’m very, very proud of them.”
Kamehameha-Kapalama 58, Hilo 50: Junior Tiare Kanoa scored 15 points and senior Lilia Maio added 14 at Blaisdell Arena as the second-seeded Warriors took control early to reach the final.
Hilo junior Aliyah Pana continued her stellar tournament with a game-high 17 points. Freshmen Alexis Pana and Sharlei Graham‐Bernisto added 14 and nine points, respectively, for the BIIF runner-up Vikings (13-2), who will try to match their best-ever finish at states in today’s 3 p.m. third-place game against Iolani.
In three games on Oahu, Aliyah Pana is averaging 19.3 points.
Junior Kealani Ryder chipped in with 10 points for Kamehameha-Kapalama, which is back in the final for the first time since winning states in 2002.
Hilo 7 10 16 17—50
Kamehameha-Kapalama 21 13 10 14—58
Division I glance
Hilo 47, Roosevelt 44
Mililani 69, Kaiser 47
Maui 46, Waianae 39
Iolani 69, Kaimuki 58
Hilo 66, No. 3 Leilehua 40
No. 1 Konawaena 40, Mililani 38
No. 2 Kam-Oahu 65, Maui 40
Iolani 60, No. 4 Lahainaluna 39
Kaimuki 50, Kaiser 48
Roosevelt 62, Waianae 51
At Blaisdell Arena
Konawaena 47, Iolani 37
Kamehameha-Kapalama 58, Hilo 50
Roosevelt 40, Kaimuki 35
Lahainaluna 52, Mililani 45
Maui 45, Leilehua 31
No. 1 Konawaena (12-0) vs. No. 2 Kamehameha-Kapalama (14-0), 7 p.m.
Iolani (11-4) vs. Hilo (13-2), 5 p.m.
Lahainaluna (13-1) vs. Leilehua (13-2), 1 p.m.