Next to being in the championship, co-hosts Waiakea and Keaau were in the best possible matchup at their combined tournament, playing each other in the third-place game and measuring one another for future reference.
The two-time defending BIIF Division I champion Warriors displayed their resolve and held off the Cougars 54-48 for third place at the Waiakea-Keaau boys basketball tournament on Saturday night, sinking just enough free throws down the stretch.
In the championship, the OIA’s Roosevelt defeated the ILH’s Mid-Pacific Institute 54-44.
Jerek Prudencio scored 16 points while Kia’i Apele and William Soares each added 14 points for the Warriors, who shot 40 percent from the floor, including 4 of 18 from beyond the arc.
For the most part, Waiakea had much better ball flow, reversing the ball and challenging Keaau’s man defense to create good looks.
Isaiah Akana and Patrick Mears each scored 10 points to lead the Cougars, who couldn’t find a rhythm at their gym, struggled against Waiakea’s 2-3 zone and converted 34 percent on field goals, including 5 of 20 from 3-point range.
Last season, Keaau was good enough to secure the No. 4 seed to the BIIF Division I four-team playoffs but fell to Konawaena in the semifinals 63-53.
If the Cougars are to reach the HHSAA tournament for the first time since 2009, they’ll need to tighten a few things to knock off the traditional contenders: Waiakea, Konawaena, or Kamehameha.
It didn’t help that Keaau only made 8 of 20 from the free throw line; Waiakea went 10 of 15 from the line.
Also, the Warriors outscored the Cougars 12-4 off turnovers. Keaau had 15 turnovers, one more than Waiakea, but it seemed that every giveaway was a harmful one.
Keaau trailed 41-32 entering the final eight minutes, and the ball movement improved when Rico Handy entered late in the third quarter. He was at a BIIF soccer game.
The senior point guard is a stellar zone buster with his ability to dribble-drive to the rim, jump stop and put up a shot or dish to a teammate. That opens the floor for midrange shooter Branden Pagala, who had four points, and 3-point bomber Mears.
The Cougars bolted to an 8-0 run to open the fourth quarter and get within 41-40. The last play was Akana’s layup off a Handy assist. But that was as close as Keaau would get.
“We have the players and the skills, but we need to focus on the basic fundamentals, like boxing out, moving the ball, and being smart about the ball,” Keaau coach Jun Pagala said. “Nobody is going to give you the game. You’ve got to go out and earn it.
“We’ve got enough players to fill Rico’s position. We can’t depend on one person. All 16 of them have to fill the gap when Rico’s not here.”
Akana and Gabe Bergin, another junior guard, have stepped up on both ends of the floor. Both are tough on-ball defenders, solid shooters and athletic enough to soar to the rim.
“On defense, Gabe is very smart as far as talking and communicating. He’s getting better with his vision on the court and finding the open man,” Pagala said. “Isaiah is defensive-minded. He’s quick, and we’ll use him to guard the other team’s point guard. He’s versatile, and his 3-point shot is getting better.”
Handy is carrying a heavy workload as a two-sport standout. When he gets on the hardwood, a lot of attention is focused on him to make plays. But Handy is always ready to make something happen with a dish.
“We need to move the ball around a lot. When my teammates are open, I need to get the ball to them. That’s how we have to work things this year,” said Handy, who echoed his coach about the team’s prospects. “We can take it all the way. We have the talent and the hard work.”
Handy scored five points, had one assist and stabilized the Cougars with his floor presence. The influence on his team didn’t escape Waiakea coach Paul Lee’s eyes.
“Without Rico, they’re a totally different team,” Lee said.
Pagala is hoping the loss will be a good lesson for the future.
“We kept fighting,” he said. “We just came up short. Hopefully, the next time we see them we’ll do better.”
Kaiser 67, Hawaii Prep 39: Cyrus Singelman scored 18 points and Jaymin Kahnsmith 16 to lead the Cougars of the OIA in the fifth-place game.
Javan Perez led Ka Makani with 15 points, and Michael Hughes added eight points.