Kamehameha knew Keaau senior guard Rico Handy would get his lion’s share of points with layups, free throws, and 3-pointers but locked down on everything else, especially in half-court sets.
Behind tough man defense and Nalu Kahapea’s monster effort, the Warriors toppled the Cougars 67-58 in the BIIF Division I semifinals on Tuesday night at Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium, where two stars shined ever so brightly.
The Warriors (14-0) advanced to the championship and last pocketed the title in 2012. Following that year, they watched Waiakea and Konawaena rise to power. The public-school Warriors and Wildcats have combined to capture the last five BIIF crowns.
Now, Kamehameha has a chance to reign again, and the league’s most dominant big man or player, fresh off a double-double high, is riding a wave of momentum.
Kahapea scored 28 points on 11 of 16 shooting and grabbed 12 rebounds while Isaiah Nakoa-Oness added 14 points, and Izayah Chartrand-Penera had 12 points for Kamehameha, which shot 56 percent (22 of 39) from the field, including 5 of 11 from 3-point range.
The Cougars (10-6), who won play-in games against Hilo and Kealakehe (two teams that beat them earlier), not only saw their season conclude but also wave goodbye to Handy, the league’s top ball-handler, pick-pocket artist, and rim attacker.
Handy ice-staked for layups and scored 23 points on 7 of 16 shooting, including 3 of 9 from long range. He had four steals, seven assists to three turnovers and made 6 of 6 free throws. Isaiah Akana and Patrick Mears added nine points each for Keaau, which converted 36 percent (19 of 53) from the floor, including 7 of 25 from long distance.
“Most importantly, we had discipline in our half-court defense,” Kamehameha coach Mea Wong said. “We knew No. 10 (Handy) is one of the best ball-handlers and guards in the state. It was a team effort, and our defense was the key.”
In what was basically a sequel to Keaau’s 51-45 loss to Kamehameha during the regular season, the shorter Cougars had difficulty defending Kahapea. The 6-foot-5 senior forward is a tough matchup for a 2-3 zone because he expanded his game. He’ll draw out a defender from the perimeter, eat lunch in the paint and play bumper cars for rebounds.
Then he’ll do the same process over and over again, taxing post defenders. It’s no fun getting run over by a cement truck. And when the post defense starts leaking, that opens lanes for the Warriors to get to the rim or take uncontested jump shots.
“Our bigs had to be careful because if we drop step and run over them it’ll be a foul,” Wong said. “Our guards worked hard to find him, and Nalu worked hard. We’ll need another performance like that on Wednesday.”
In the first half, Kamehameha scored all of its points in the paint, except for triples by Kahapea, Nakoa-Oness and Koby Tabuyo-Kahale in the second quarter.
Kahapea and Nakoa-Oness, the bruise brothers who look like linebackers, staked the Warriors to a 32-19 halftime lead with 11 and nine points, respectively. The duo got to their spots and rained shots. Nakoa-Oness finished with seven boards, more than anyone else not named Nalu Kahapea.
In half-court sets, the Warriors reversed the ball and waited for soft spots against Keaau’s zone. They made nice entry passes to Kahapea and shot a red-hot 57 percent from the field in the first half.
Handy was Keaau’s main source of offense with 13 points in the first half. He burned the defense for rim attacks, drained a 3-ball and went 4 of 4 on free throws for 13 points.
In the third quarter, Nakoa-Oness and Kahapea swished back-to-back 3-pointers to spark a 15-3 run for a 47-22 cushion with 4:05 left.
The Cougars, who were outscored 18-7 in the period, only had a few highlights: Akana’s 3-ball, layup, and Handy’s two free throws and a block, which drew a roar from the Cougar faithful.
Kahapea went about his business and continued to dominate during another eight-minute work shift. He scored 13 points on 5 of 6 shooting. Kahapea splashed an off-the-dribble jump shot at the elbow to hand the Warriors a 50-26 cushion heading into the final eight minutes.
In the fourth quarter, the Warriors ran into some ball-handling issues, and Keaau capitalized with a 10-0 run off free gifts that cut the score to 58-41 with 4:20 to go. But Kahapea plugged the oil leak with a half-court layup with 3:31 to play.
For those who enjoy free throw shooting, there were a ton of fouls shots. The Warriors made 18 of 27 from the line while the Cougars were 13 of 17.
The fourth quarter was a little sloppy. Kamehameha had 12 turnovers and were outscored 32-17 in the final eight minutes with the backups in. The Warriors finished with 20 giveaways while the Cougars had 14 turnovers.
But Kamehameha had better scoring balance and, of course, defense, especially in half-court.
Keaau 9 10 7 32 — 58
Kamehameha 20 12 18 17 — 67