The shirt says “No excuses” on the back and was designed for the Konawaena girls’ successful state basketball title run two years ago.
Lately, boys coach Donny Awa has found the motto fitting for his team as well. None more so than when Brandon Awa, not the strongest free-throw shooter all season, walked to the line in the closing minute Saturday night to secure the Big Island Interscholastic Federation Division I championship for the Wildcats, who edged Waiakea 57-54.
“Very stressful,” Donny Awa said. “He came through. Once he starts hitting them, I believe in him.”
The Warriors were regarded as one of the preseason favorites at the beginning of the season, but for the second consecutive year Konawaena was the last team standing and got to cut down the nets at Hilo’s Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium.
“I think this one means more,” said senior forward Jonah Bredeson, who scored a game-high 21 points and came up with a huge steal late. “We didn’t have much height on our team this year. Last year, we had a lot of height.
“This year, we just had chemistry.”
Awa scored 17 points, going 4 for 4 from the line in the final minute, and he also forced a key turnover. The first two of his clutch free throws gave the Wildcats the lead for good at 54-52 with 58.9 seconds left in the game.
“My teammates, when they saw me get fouled, I’m sure they were nervous because I’ve been missing all year,” Awa said. “They tried to calm me down with a couple of jokes.
“Coaches have been telling me to get my free throws in after practice. I’m glad it paid off.”
In their final game of the regular season Feb. 8, the Wildcats (11-2) missed on a chance at clinching an automatic berth to the Hawaii High School Athletic Association tournament with a one-point loss at home to Hawaii Preparatory Academy. For BIIFs, Donny Awa dusted off his “No excuses” shirt. The Wildcats whipped Hilo 68-42 in the semifinals to reach the state tournament in Honolulu.
“I hadn’t worn this shirt all year,” he said. “I busted it out (Friday) and we played the best game of the year. So I took it home, didn’t wash it but I brought it back today.
“That is the message that I wanted to give to the boys. No excuses, already. You’re going to get it done, or you’re going to hate yourself when you go home tonight if you didn’t play like you could.”
Awa said he’d be sure to wash the shirt ahead of the state tournament. After a bye, Konawaena will play either Campbell or Leilehua of the Oahu Interscholastic Association at 5 p.m. Thursday in the quarterfinals at McKinley High. Waiakea (10-3), which had a seven-game winning steak snapped Saturday night, draws Mililani (14-2) of the OIA at 5 p.m. Wednesday at Radford High.
Donny Awa and Waiakea coach Paul Lee agreed the BIIF final was called closely by the referees. The Warriors were whistled for 35 fouls, three players fouled out, and three more players were saddled with four fouls.
“It was hard to get in the flow of the game both offensively and defensively,” Lee said. “There wasn’t much I could tell the kids after the game.
“I think we’re peaking heading to states, but it was hard to tell when the game had no flow.”
Senior Maikai Gahan finished with 12 points and senior Dillon Rellez scored 10 for Waiakea, which made two big turnovers when it had a chances to either take the lead or tie the game down the stretch. With 90 seconds to go in a tie game, Waiakea was holding for the last shot, but Bredeson stepped in a passing lane for a steal. On the ensuing possession, Awa was fouled and made his go-ahead free throws.
“We didn’t want them to make the decision on how the game was going to result,” Brandon Awa said. “So we got up on them and our defense won the game for us.”
Then the senior applied pressure at mid-court on Gahan, who dribbled the ball off his foot for a turnover. Gahan missed a 3-pointer with 5.1 seconds left that could have tied the game.
“We had our chances and opportunities,” Lee said.
Waiakea started strong out of the gates, with Gahan’s second 3-pointer giving the Warriors a 23-14 lead midway through the second quarter. Bredeson responded by scoring seven points to fuel an 8-0 Konawaena run.
Ahead 32-29 at halftime, the Warriors’ offense bogged down in the third quarter, generating only six points. Meanwhile, Chase Takaki nailed a 3-pointer to open the half and Bredeson made two shots to give Konawaena the lead.
“We were letting Waiakea control the pace,” Brandon Awa said. “We had to get back into our transition game and get everybody involved, and it worked.”
Rellez’s 3-pointer tied it at 43 midway through the fourth, but Kevin Medeiros answered right back with a 3-pointer of his own. Konawaena owned a five-point lead with under three minutes to go, but Lucas St. George grabbed a missed free throw and converted a three-point play to tie the game at 52.
The championship, as it turned out, was in Awa’s hands after that.
“I’m glad we’ve been shooting free throws in practice,” Bredeson said. “This is the kind of game that happens and that we expected, and we were prepared for it.”
Waiakea 15 17 6 16 — 54
Konawaena 10 19 12 16 — 57