As Waiakea coach Paul Lee knows, winning is the best medicine to cure all sorts of ailments, especially for a basketball team not functioning to its full capacity.
After a 3-2 start and sporadic play with an injury-plagued lineup, winning suddenly became contagious at the right time for the Warriors, who are riding a five-game Big Island Interscholastic Federation winning streak.
No. 2 seed Waiakea (9-2) is finally almost at full strength and takes on No. 3 Kamehameha (7-4) at 7:30 p.m. today at Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium in the BIIF Division I semifinals. In the other semifinal, it’s No. 1 Konawaena (9-2) vs. No. 4 Hilo (6-5) at 6 p.m.
The winners earn berths at the Hawaii High School Athletic Association state tournament, which begins Wednesday on Oahu. The losers are likely to be filled with disappointment and are done for the season.
During the regular season, Waiakea defeated Kamehameha 64-58 behind a monster game from center Lucas St. George, who scored 28 points Jan. 7 at home. Konawaena took down Hilo 65-49 on Jan. 16 at home. The one-two guard punch of Brandon Awa and Chase Takaki led the way with 21 and 19 points, respectively.
In the Division II semifinals, it’s No. 1 HPA (11-0) vs. No. 4 Honokaa (2-9) at 3 p.m., followed by No. 2 Kohala (8-3) vs. No. 3 Pahoa (4-7) at 4:30 p.m.
“They know what’s at stake, a state spot,” said Lee, who then talked about the blissful benefits of winning. “We’ve won six in a row and the ball is moving around more. Guys are making the extra pass. We’re executing better and guys are shooting at spots where their strength is.
“Before we were missing wide-open layups and free throws. We have seven losses (including preseason) and all are by less than 10 points. We’ve been in every game. Now, we have a sense of urgency. It’s win and go on, or lose and stay home. Winning heals a lot of things. When you win, guys work harder.”
Lee pointed to a 61-50 win over Kohala at Hisaoka Gym last month as his team’s defining defensive game. It was homecoming for the Cowboys, who had the crowd and enthusiasm on their side. But it was not enough.
“Our defense picked up at lot after our slow start,” he said. “Kohala is the toughest place on the whole island to play. But we were able to control things and won by 11 points.
“We were hampered so much with injuries. We couldn’t get a set rotation. All of our starters missed games this year. Two games ago, Bryson Ita’s shoulder popped out. Dillon Rellez and Kahinu Alapai had high ankle sprains and had no lift. But our guys are back and that has made us a lot better and been a difference with our depth.”
St. George is the anchor on both ends of the floor, but the Warriors have found another versatile weapon in freshman Calvin Mattos, the younger brother of former Waiakea standouts Chris and Jamie Mattos.
“We can use him in a lot of areas and he’s good in a lot of areas,” Lee said. “He can handle the ball, play defense, and slash and score. He can rebound. There are a lot of things he does to earn his playing time. He’ll take on the challenge of guarding the other team’s best player. He’s very valuable that way, saving Dillon and Maikai Gahan from not having to use their legs so much.”