HONOLULU — This year’s Konawaena girls basketball team may be less talented than recent squads that, behind Lia Galdeira and Dawnyelle Awa, appeared in four straight state title game appearances and won back-to-back championships. But the top-seeded Wildcats are once again in the state championship game, though this time they’re playing some gritty, balanced and underappreciated basketball as they plow through the Hawaii High School Athletic Association Division I state tournament.
“Heart, determination, perseverance, never giving up,” senior Courtney Kaupu said. “That pretty much sets us apart from the other teams we’ve been on. We don’t really have anyone to rely on. Everyone just trusts each other.”
And with a workmanlike 47-37 win over Iolani in the state semifinals on Thursday at Neal Blaisdell Center, top-seeded Konawaena will make its fifth straight championship game appearance.
The Wildcats (12-0) have won nine straight games in the state tournament dating back to 2010. They will defend their title as the state’s best against Interscholastic League of Honolulu champ and second-seeded Kamehameha-Oahu (14-0) today. Tipoff is 7 p.m. at Neal Blaisdell Center.
Thursday’s semifinal win was not the team’s prettiest game of the year. It was not a dramatic victory like Wednesday’s last-second win over Mililani. It was simply an exhibition of Konawaena excelling at a lot of the intangibles — taking advantage of fast-break opportunities, playing unselfishl on offense and making the extra pass, hitting timely baskets and frustrating the opponent with solid defense.
“They still know how to play the game,” said Iolani head coach Eddie Maruyama, whose teams have lost to Konawaena in the state tournament the past three seasons. “They have four key players that know how to play, and they know their role.”
Freshman Chanelle Molina, who exploded for a game-high 18 points against Mililani, finished with a team-high 12 points but scored only one point after halftime. She got a lot of help from teammates, with Kaupu (11 points), Ihi Victor (10 points) and Hoku Liftee (10 points) all helping to carry the scoring load.
Molina is Konawaena’s go-to scorer, yet while she mustered a lone free throw in the second half, the Wildcats essentially put the game away after halftime, not allowing Iolani to get any closer than eight points in the fourth quarter.
As the Wildcats pulled away, the Red Raiders couldn’t keep up with them offensively because Konawaena’s defense, which switched from man-to-man to a 2-3 zone, smothered enough passes and took advantage of lazy ballhandling to get in the open court and score some layups.
Iolani (11-4) committed 20 turnovers and shot just 35 percent (15-of-43) from the field. In the second half, the Red Raiders only grabbed two offensive rebounds. Senior Abrianna Johnson-Edwards, who scorched Konawaena for 14 points off the bench in last year’s title game, mustered just four points on Thursday. Alex Masaquel had a game-high 17 points in Wednesday’s rout over Lahainaluna but managed seven points in the loss to the Wildcats.
It was a hard-fought defensive effort from the Wildcats that, coupled with just four second-half turnovers and 9-of-15 fourth-quarter shooting from the free-throw line, turned Thursday’s game into a Konawaena win.
“I guess hard work does pay off after all,” Kaupu said with a smile.
Konawaena will be playing for history on Friday. No girls basketball team has won three straight titles since Kamehameha-Oahu’s four-year reign from 1990-93. It would also give the Wildcats their sixth state title, all under coach Bobbie Awa and all since 2004. If Konawaena wins, Awa will be the first coach in Hawaii girls basketball history to win six titles.
But just making yet another title game is a feat that has left the coach in awe.
“It’s pretty amazing,” Awa said. “I think this team has come a long way. I’m very, very proud of them.”
Iolani 9 8 11 9 — 37
Konawaena 14 10 9 14 — 47
c Kamehameha-Oahu 58, Hilo 50: Tiare Kanoa scored 15 points, leading a balanced scoring attack for the Warriors, who jumped out to a 21-7 lead after one quarter.
Lilia Maio added 14 points, and Kealani Ryder had 10.
Junior Aliyah Pana scored a game-high 17 points for the Vikings (13-2), who will play Iolani at 3 p.m. today at Neal Blaisdell Center in the state tournament’s third-place game. Freshman Sharlei Graham-Bernisto added nine points.
Hilo 7 10 16 17 — 50
KS-Oahu 21 13 10 14 — 58