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High school girls basketball: Mililani beats Hilo in opening round of state tourney

Updated: 
January 31, 2017 - 12:05am

For a half, Hilo played the type of basketball that Oahu schools use as a blueprint at the HHSAA tournament.

Against Mililani, a taller and more athletic foe, the Vikings showed patience in their shot selection, displayed tenacious help-side defense and battled for every inch on the floor.

But that discipline disappeared in the second half, which helped the Trojans pull away for a 43-34 victory over Hilo in the first round Monday at the Vikings Gym.

It was the first HHSAA game at the Vikings Gym, which opened last season and the final one for Hilo seniors Cherish Quiocho, Sharry Pagan, and Chenoa Rogers.

“The girls played well in the first half. In the second half, we played tough defense but Mililani hit shots,” Hilo first-year coach Cliff Kawaha said. “The girls played their hearts out. We had a great season, and I told them don’t hang your heads.”

Quiocho scored a team-high 10 points on 4 of 9 shooting while Mele Vaka added nine points, and Mandi Kawaha had seven points for Hilo (10-3).

Kalena Gibson scored 13 points on 6 of 14 shooting, and Dahlis Sablay added 11 points for Mililani (11-3), the OIA’s No. 3 team, which faces No. 3 seed Lahainaluna in the quarterfinals.

After the final buzzer sounded, the Trojans gave each Viking player a lei. It was a nice gesture by coach Patrick Basilio’s squad, which had 16 players in tow.

It was also a nice gesture on the Mililani coach’s part to bring over so many players to give them state experience.

Besides the Aloha spirit, Mililani also brought over a ton of athleticism, a length advantage across the board, and a team chemistry that kept the visitors in sync on offense and defense.

Down 21-17 at halftime, the Trojans picked up their defensive intensity and fed the ball to hot shooter Gibson, who scored eight points in the third quarter, including a bucket at the buzzer.

She’s listed at 5 feet 7 but looks taller. The sophomore forward made her scoring spree (putback, layup, baseline jumper, and buzzer-beater) seem like a piece of cake.

From the opening tip, it was obvious that Mililani’s game plan was to get the ball inside to 6-2 junior center Cheyenne Ardona, who finished with four points.

But it didn’t really work. Then the Trojans shifted gears in the second half.

Vaka, a 5-9 junior, muscled her and made Ardona uncomfortable. When the tallest Trojan got the ball in the post, Hilo’s defense collapsed on her.

Kawaha and her sister Mindy Kawaha guarded Mililani freshman point guard Sablay, who tallied four assists but also had five turnovers and had difficulty with entry passes.

The Viks forced 16 turnovers but held just an 8-2 scoring edge off free gifts. Hilo played with exceptional ball-control with eight assists and only seven turnovers; Mandi Kawaha had four assists and no giveaways.

Hilo shot 26 percent (11 of 42) from the field, including 1 of 10 from beyond the arc.

Mililani sank 44 percent (17 of 39) from the floor, including 2 of 4 from 3-point range.

If there’s one stat that sticks out like a sore thumb, it’s free throw shooting. Hilo went just 11 of 23 or 48 percent; Mililani was 7 of 18 or 39 percent.

Mililani’s size and athleticism advantages also showed up all over the place, too. The visitors outrebounded Hilo, 40-23, and Sablay’s speed allowed her easy access to driving floaters, a reason for her 4 of 8 shooting.

In the third quarter, the Trojans ripped off a 9-0 run in the third quarter to seize a 26-21 lead, playing with a hungry lion’s motivation.

Later, Mindy Kawaha completed a three-point play (a brilliant layup and free throw) for a 26-26 tie with 2:07 remaining in the third period.

Then Taysia Canon ran down the floor, squared up and answered with a 3-pointer. Mililani never surrendered the lead again.

Bright future

Hilo’s promise for next season starts with Mandi Kawaha, a 5-3 junior guard. Though she shot just 2 of 14 on field goals, her ball-handling and court savvy stood tallest among both teams.

Every time the Trojans trapped her, Kawaha either dribbled away from trouble or passed out of tight traffic jams. Her uncanny anticipation and quick hands grabbed four of Hilo’s eight steals.

Her freshman sister Mindy Kawaha had five points on 1 of 3 shooting, one assist and two turnovers but looked poised on both sides of the ball. She didn’t have any steals, but Mindy didn’t have any big-game butterflies impeding her play either.

“We learned a lot,” said Cliff Kawaha, uncle to the sisters. “We had only three losses, all to state teams: Konawaena twice and Mililani. They’ve played together for so many years.

“We’ve come a long way in the three months the team has been together. Mandi, Mele, Cherish, and Sharry have been with three different coaches in three years. I give them credit.”

The Hilo coach’s hope is that the Vikings play offseason ball together to build the type of chemistry state contenders count on as second nature.

“From where we came from, we did a good job, and we’re headed in the right direction,” he said.

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