Mandi Kawaha’s ball-handling and Hilo’s tough man defense and composure under pressure proved pivotal against Waiakea, which is always in any game with the services of standout Kelsie Imai.
However, the Vikings committed fewer mistakes down the stretch and held off the Warriors 41-39 in a BIIF Division I crosstown rivalry clash on Friday night at the Vikings Gym, where senior night was celebrated.
Mandi Kawaha scored 11 points while Mindy Kawaha and Jamila Collins-Ebanez added nine points each for the Vikings (8-1), who shot 33 percent (13 of 39) from the field, including 4 of 17 from long distance. They made life tough on themselves with just 6 of 17 free throws.
Hilo’s seniors are Mandi Kawaha, Mele Vaka (two points, 10 rebounds) and backup Dabney Uchima.
Imai scored 13 points, and Keeli-Jade Smith added nine points for the Warriors (6-2), who converted 36 percent (12 of 33) from the floor and sank a wobbly 13 of 32 free throws. They hit only 2 of 16 from 3-point territory.
The Warriors had the ball with 7.6 seconds left but missed a last-second shot. With 23 seconds remaining, Mandi Kawaha dropped in a floater for a 40-39 lead. Waiakea followed with a turnover, and Mandy Kawaha buried one of two free throws after she was fouled.
Waiakea finished with 19 turnovers, including five in the fourth quarter, while Hilo had 17 giveaways, including six in the final eight minutes.
Hilo and Waiakea both lost to Konawaena. It’s more likely than not that the two will meet again in the BIIF semifinals on Wednesday, Jan. 24 at Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium. The winner will earn a state berth; the loser will stay home.
In the 12-12 first quarter, Mandi Kawaha scored seven points, hitting a 3-pointer and dropping in a pair of layups while Smith had six points, sinking a pair of elbow jump shots.
Waiakea came out careless in the second quarter, and Hilo capitalized with an 8-0 run, scoring two baskets off turnovers and another on a transition layup when the Warriors didn’t hustle back on defense.
The visitors answered with a 6-0 run, including four free throws and a putback by Smith, and Asia Castillo closed the period with a pair of free throws for a 22-18 halftime Hilo lead.
In the first half, Castillo did a defensive number on Imai, holding her two points, on a pair of free throws. Castillo played tough on-ball and off-ball defense, acting as a constant shadow on the athletic Imai.
On offense, Mandy Kawaha was again the engine as a darting dribbler, opening up shots for her shooters. There was no one who could front her, and she consistently created space for herself and her teammates.
In the first half, Waiakea didn’t look like a team that barely lost to Konawaena 38-35. The Vikings came out fired out and dominated the boards, which led to more shots, 24-14.
Hilo gave Waiakea a lot of chances to win the third quarter, committing six turnovers, but the Warriors couldn’t score off any of the free gifts. The Viks outscored them 10-5, aided by Mandi Kawaha’s 18-foot jump shot and her sister Mindy Kawaha’s 3 pointer.
The Vikings took a 32-23 heading into the fourth quarter, and that’s when Imai showed why she’s Waiakea’s most explosive player and top threat.
She repeatedly attacked the rim and got to the free throw line. However, she buried only 4 of 8 from the line in the second half. She hit 2 of 2 in the first half.
Despite her struggles there, her court savvy helped Waiakea take a 39-38 lead when she made a kickout pass to Claire Kaneshiro, who swished a 3-pointer with under two minutes left.
Waiakea 12 6 5 16 — 39
Hilo 12 10 10 9 — 41
Konawaena 64, Honokaa 24: Cherilyn Molina scored 26 points at Honokaa as win No. 112 in a row in conference play came much easier than the previous one for the Wildcats.
Mikalya Tablit and Caiyle Kaupu added 17 and 16 points respectively for Konawaena (8-0), which was coming of a three-point win Wednesday at home against Waiakea.
Led by Bella Fernandez’s eight points, Honokaa (5-3) behind Kamehamaha in second place in D-II, but their final two games of the regular season, Wednesday at Hawaii Prep and Jan. 21 at home against Pahoa, are against teams with losing records.
The Warriors finish with a much more challeging schedule: home games against Hilo and Konawaena.
The Wildcats can clinch the top seed in D-I with a win Monday at home against HPA and a win at Kamehameha would clinch an automatic state berth.
Keaau 51, Kealakehe 24: The Cougars (4-4) won at home to secure the last playoff spot in the Divsion I semifinals, eliminating the Waveriders (0-7).
HPA 35, Pahoa 22: Coco Shafer scored 12 points at the Daggers’ gym, and Ka Makani boosted its playoff hopes by moving a game and a half ahead of Pahoa for the No. 4 seed in Division II.
Payton Au made two 3-pointers and finished with eight points and Mikaela Chong and Kiele Wise each added seven for HPA (2-5), which won its second in a row to bolster its chances of reaching the postseason for the first time since 2014.
Kanoa Paio led way with 10 points for the Daggers (1-7), who trailed 11-3 after the first quarter and were outscored 18-10 in the second half.