BIIF D-II girls basketball semifinals: Kamehameha, Honokaa ride defense into final

  • MATT GERHART/Tribune-Herald
    Kamehameha's Saydee Aganus leads the fast-break against Kohala on Wednesday at Hilo Civic.

As expected, the stars shined, defense ruled and Kamehameha and Honokaa dominated to kick off the girls basketball postseason, punching tickets for a long-awaited rematch.

Jordyn Mantz scored 16 points to fuel the No. 2 seed Warriors over No. 3 Kohala 43-21 in the BIIF Division II semifinals on Wednesday at Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium.

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In the other semifinal, Bella Fernandez scored 16 points as the No. 1 seed Dragons defeated No. 4 Hawaii Prep 36-24 but not before experiencing a little difficulty closing out the game.

Kamehameha (7-4) plays Honokaa (8-3) for a BIIF title threepeat at 6 p.m. Thursday at Hilo Civic.

The Warriors relied on their defense to topple the Cowgirls, who committed 31 turnovers and shot just 32 percent (8 of 25) on field goals, including 1 of 7 from beyond the arc.

The season is over for Kohala (5-6), which loses five seniors in Zaz Matsu, Maya Anderson, CJ Agbayani, Angel Ramos and Cheyenne Fuertes.

Mantz got into a good rhythm and drained 6 of 9, including 3 of 5 from long range. Taylor Sullivan added 10 points, and Saydee Aganus had six points for Kamehameha, which shot 38 percent (17 of 45), including only 5 of 18 from 3-point territory.

“It was a team effort, and the starting five (Mantz, Aganus, Sullivan, McKenzie Kalawaia, and Dominique Pacheco) played really strong,” Kamehameha coach Weston Willard said. “We executed what we wanted to do. Kohala makes you work hard, but we were disciplined, and we wore them down. I thought that was the difference.”

Kiana Kauka scored 10 points for the Cowgirls, who struggled against everything Kamehameha threw at them: man, zone, and a press defense.

The Warriors set an early tone in the first quarter with their ball pressure. They forced 11 turnovers and had a 9-0 run off those giveaways. Overall, they outscored Kohala 13-0 off free gifts.

In the second period, the scoring slowed down but not before Kamehameha had a 6-0 mini-run. Sullivan scored under the basket, Aganus hit a jump shot in the lane, and Mantz scored on a putback for a 20-2 cushion.

Angel Ramos scored for Kohala, and Agbayani followed with two free throws with 12.8 seconds left. Kauka scored the Cowgirls’ first basket with 4:07 remaining in the first quarter. There wasn’t much for the Kohala fans to cheer.

In the first half, the Warriors never let the Cowgirls get comfortable. Kohala couldn’t work the ball for clean shots, hit 3 of 5 on field goals (a really low shot total) and trailed 20-6 at halftime.

Kohala attacked the basket to open the third quarter. Kauka drained a shot, got fouled and sank the free throw. After that, the offense dried up.

It didn’t help that Kauka, Kohala’s top scorer, injured her leg with 5:14 and didn’t return until the end of the third period. Also, Agbayani fouled out with under two minutes.

The Warriors jumped on an 18-0 run, highlighted by excellent ball flow and defensive pressure. Pacheco was glued to a Cowgirl ball-handler, and Sullivan jumped the pass for a steal. That was Part 1 of the defense and offense working together.

Down the court, Mantz passed to Kalawaia and cut to the rim. Kalawaia fed Mantz, who banked in a layup for a 28-9 cushion with under five minutes left. That was Part 2 and a scene repeated over and over again.

Mantz followed with a 3-pointer, and Sullivan and Aganus scored layups off turnovers. Pomai Evans-Bautista scored to cap the run, which put the Warriors ahead 38-9 with 1:44 until the fourth quarter.

Kohala 2 4 3 12 — 21

Kamehameha 14 6 18 5 — 43

Honokaa 36, HPA 24: Fernandez scored 16 points on 7 of 12 shooting while Kayla Branco added eight points for the Dragons, who shot 36 percent (15 of 42) from the field.

The season is over for Ka Makani (3-8), who lose four senior starters in Emma Saito, Kiele Wise, Coco Shafer, and Payton Au.

Schafer scored 11 points for Ka Makani, who 29 percent (6 of 21) from the field and struggled against Honokaa’s ball-pressure with 24 turnovers.

In the first half, Fernandez attacked HPA’s 1-3-1 zone with dribble-penetration and sank five layups. But in the second half, Ka Makani switched to a man defense and made a 10-0 run that cut Honokaa’s lead to 33-22 with under two minutes.

From there, the Dragons went just 2 of 6 from the free throw line. They finished 4 of 12; HPA went 12 of 23 from the line.

HPA 4 2 6 12 — 24

Honokaa 10 8 11 7 — 36

Game preview: In the regular season, the Dragons played stall-ball, won the battle on the boards and edged the Warriors 29-28 at home.

The Warriors also found themselves in foul trouble. Hera Salmeron is usually the only key piece off the bench. Honokaa has athleticism and depth on its roster.

But for what it’s worth, Kamehameha has championship experience with the last two BIIF crowns and two HHSAA runner-up finishes. However, the last time the two met in a BIIF title tilt, the Dragons won and also took the state title in 2015. Back then Fernandez was a freshman.

One key is matching up against Fernandez, who was an off-the-dribble nightmare for HPA. But Willard thinks he has two answers in Aganus, who had five steals against Kohala, and Pacheco, another tough on-ball defender.

“We’ve got a high basketball IQ with our five seniors,” Willard said, referring to Aganus, Mantz, Sullivan, Kalawaia, and Salmeron. “We have to adjust our defense. We threw man, zone, and a press against Kohala. But Honokaa is pretty good at running their flex.”

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The Dragons do a good job cutting across the lane and setting pin-down screens. And when there’s a gap, that’s when Fernandez goes about her business.

It’s the same deal with Mantz, who shoots from different spots on the floor, but the results are the same, another reason the BIIF championship is a much-anticipated one.