BIIF boys basketball: HPA rides momentum into clash at Honokaa

  • RICK OGATA photo
    Michael Hughes is coming off the bench to help Hawaii Prep this season.

On the basketball court, Hawaii Prep is a disciplined and tactical ballclub, playing to its strength and tempo while waiting for a defense to leave the door slightly open.

This season, there’s a lot of athleticism and length on the roster for Ka Makani coach Fred Wawner to work with, and he’s putting both skill-sets to good use.

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The height healthy Ka Makani can run but work best when they move the ball for open looks to maximize possessions. They’ve got enough versatility from three levels — post, mid-range, and perimeter — to score from any spot on the floor. They’re usually organized in their man defense. Communication on the floor is a big deal for Wawner, who also emphasizes concentration and competitiveness.

Hawaii Prep pulled out an impressive 54-52 overtime BIIF win over Hilo on Thursday night at the Vikings Gym, where that good vibe could prove helpful against an old rival.

“We learned a lot about fighting through adversity and pressure,” Wawner said. “We started off really slow and cannot afford to do that against Honokaa. We were able to execute some late-game situations, so hopefully, those experiences translate to later successes.”

On Saturday, it’s a reunion between BIIF Division II runner-up Ka Makani (3-2) and defending champion Honokaa (5-1) at the Honokaa county P&R gym with so much on the line.

At stake is the driver’s seat for the regular season title and the league’s first berth to the HHSAA tournament. The other state spot is available in the four-team BIIF playoffs, where crazy things can happen, especially for Division II.

HPA is Example A of the postseason’s unpredictability.

Last season, the Dragons pushed past Ka Makani 51-50 for their first BIIF title since 2001. HPA was going for its first since 2013. The way the game was won was something else.

With five seconds left, Honokaa inbounded the ball from down court, Kainalu Liu raced to the rim and was fouled with no time on the clock. He had two free throw attempts but only needed one to secure the BIIF title.

In 2016, St. Joseph eliminated HPA in the BIIF semifinals 42-41 on a last-second layup. If any Ka Makani fan thought that was heart-breaking, it was a tougher pill to swallow in 2015.

That year, HPA was the defending state champion but lost to Pahoa 36-26 in a turtle’s pace BIIF semifinal. Ka Makani not only stayed home from states in 2015 but also learned a few valuable lessons: take care of business, win the regular-season title and leave no doubt about states.

That’s why Saturday’s game will have a championship feel and all the intensity that comes with it, particularly from a boisterous Honokaa crowd and tenacious defensive pressure from the Dragons, who along with Hilo invented the BIIF’s run-and-gun style of play.

The schedule did Wawner’s Ka Makani a huge solid with the Hilo contest right before Honokaa. There could be no better preparation. The Dragons can run like the Vikings but have different personnel, especially with 6-foot-3 senior Kamuela Spencer Herring, who provides a solid post presence.

“We have to handle their relentless pressure and find a way to defend their big guy (Spencer Herring) while still closing out their shooters and managing the tempo,” Wawner said. “Playing on the road, you have to defend well, rebound well and take and make free throws.”

Before examining the details between HPA and Honokaa, let’s take a look at Hilo (3-3), which is in must-win mode and plays at Keaau (5-1) on Saturday. The Vikings have an uphill climb to reach the four-team playoffs.

One of the Vikings’ shortcomings, as coach Bruce Ferreira has attested to all season long, is their lack of height. Without a post offense, the other team’s bigs don’t have to worry about getting into foul trouble.

That’s a gigantic luxury and one reason Nalu Kahapea played with aggressive determination, scored 29 points and led Kamehameha to a 58-42 win over Hilo on Tuesday. It also helped the 6-5 Kahapea clean the glass for 14 rebounds and give his team second-chance shots.

If Hilo and Honokaa are playing style cousins, then Keaau and HPA would be related, too.

The Cougars play with the same type of precision pace. And what was once a weakness (zone offense) is no longer an issue. That’s because senior guard Rico Handy is a master zone buster with his ball-handling and dribble-penetration skills.

Also, Kamalu Akana, all of 5 feet 8, is an important big for Keaau. He doesn’t shoot over taller defenders. Instead, he has enough mobility to split a gap and get a shot off. And Keaau’s patience is helpful in feeding him down low.

Ferreira is a Viking old-timer from back in the day. The most valuable intangible he’s brought to his team is pure hustle. He’s preached that from the start, and that’s the main reason the underdog Viks hang with or beat heavy favorites (Konawaena 68-57, for example).

Against Hilo, Jonah Hurney — HPA’s Mr. Steady — scored 11 points, knocking down a pair of 3-pointers in overtime, to lift his crew to a 54-52 win. Michael Hughes and Kelson Jaye scored 10 points apiece, and Javan Perez added nine points.

“Hilo controlled the game the entire time. We were able to get some stops late and made some big shots in overtime,” Wawner said. “We really struggled much of the night. But we were able to regroup and hang around long enough to keep it close.

“It then became a one or two possession game at a pace that was more manageable for us. Hilo was the aggressor all night. Jonah hit two huge 3s in overtime, and Michael was able to keep us in the game with some inside scoring.”

Jojo Balagot scored 13 points while his running partners Kekaukahi Alameda added 11 points, and Guyson Ogata had 10 points for the Vikings, who led 35-25 at halftime.

“Hilo’s coach and kids did a great job,” Wawner said. “We hung around and got lucky.”

Matija Vitorovic, a 6-foot-4 junior guard, had just four points against Hilo. He’s a matchup nightmare on the perimeter with his length and could be a difference-maker against Honokaa if he gets hot.

In the meantime, other Ka Makani players have filled in to shoulder the scoring load.

“Our group is really tight and enjoy working together and for each other,” Wawner said. “Jonah’s job is to manage the game, and he’s doing well. We have seen good contributions from different folks on different nights. Javan Perez, KJ Walker, and Matija are our offensive focal point. Michael Hughes has come off the bench to ground us with some inside scoring.”

And what’s the best approach to a monster showdown? A tactical one, of course.

“It will be a fun basketball environment with two good teams who know each other well,” Wawner said. “We respect Honokaa and are looking forward to the challenge.”

Waiakea 58, Pahoa 31: Will Soares and Rekky Prudencio scored 10 points apiece as the host Warriors (5-2) cruised to their third victory in a row after leading 31-12 at the half.

Despite two more game efforts from Damon Romero (15 points) and Lansen Aranaydo (12), the Daggers (2-4) lost their third in a row, falling into a tie fourth place in D-II with Ka’u. The fourth seed in the six-team playoffs will get a home game in the first round. Pahoa and the Trojans meet Monday in Pahala.

Thursday

Kamehameha 63, Parker 40: Izayah Chartrand-Panera scored 15 points and Cyrus Veloria added 11 in Waimea as the Warriors surpassed the halfway point of the season undefeated.

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The Bulls (0-6) continue to be led by Conner Brown, who scored 25 points.

The Warriors led 38-17 at halftime.