HILO – Kamehameha had more muscle than Konawaena, which countered with much better ball-handling, a valuable weapon to retain possessions for a late-stage comeback.
But the Warriors had enough perseverance, tough defense, and the golden services of Nalu Kahapea, a 6-foot-5 difference-maker and championship producer.
The Warriors, who were their own worst enemy with turnovers, prevailed over the Wildcats 56-51 for the BIIF Division I championship, their first title since 2012, when invaluable seniors Kahapea and Isaiah Nakoa-Oness were in the sixth grade.
Behind a slew of giveaways, Konawaena made a 13-4 run, capped by Aidrin Gadot’s 3-pointer with 3.0 on the clock, to get within 54-51.
But Kahapea was fouled and drained a pair of free throws for the final score with 2.3 seconds remaining for the final score.
The Wildcats (10-5) play in a HHSAA first-round elimination game Monday at Ellison Onizuka Gym. The Warriors (15-0) draw a first-round bye at states, slated for next week.
Kahapea scored 24 points on 8 of 15 shooting while freshman Kaupena Yasso added 11 points, and Nakoa-Oness had nine points for the Warriors, who shot 47 percent (18 of 38) from the field, including 4 of 11 from beyond the arc.
Austin Ewing scored 16 points on 5 of 14 shooting, Seau Amor had nine, and Hauoli Akau, Paka Cacoulidis, and Aidrin Gadot added eight points each for the Wildcats, who converted 33 percent (18 of 54) from the floor, including 4 of 19 from 3-point range.
The Warriors only outrebounded Konawaena, 37-30. The bigger stat was turnovers. Kamehameha had 15, including six in the fourth period, while the Wildcats had only eight giveaways, including five in the final period.
The last time Kamehameha and Konawaena met for the BIIF championship was 2015 when Ewing and Akau were the only freshmen starters.
In a defensive battle, Kamehameha took a 24-19 lead into halftime, behind Kahapea’s 14 points on 5 of 11 shooting, a display of big man post work.
When the 6-foot-5 senior forward wasn’t scoring buckets on drop steps, he was either at the receiving end on fast-break attacks or tagging fouls on Wildcats. Cacoulidis and freshman Bronson Rivera took turns guarding him and picked up one and three personal fouls, respectively.
The Wildcats missed about a half-dozen shots under the baskets and converted just 25 percent (5 of 20) from the floor. Apparently, their short-range jump shots didn’t catch the bus ride from Kealakekua, at least in the first half.
However, Konawaena was able to dribble-drive past Kamehameha’s man defense at will. The Wildcats shot 8 of 10 from the free throw line. Ewing made 3 of 4 free throws and scored seven points, playing all 16 minutes in the first half.
Overall, Kamehameha went 16 of 31 from the line while Konawaena sank 11 of 15 free throws.
At the start of the third period, Nakoa-Oness raced to the rim and handed off to Kahapea, who sank an easy bucket. He returned the favor one play later with another dribble-dish, and Nakoa-Oness sank another layup for a 31-23 lead with six minutes left.
The Wildcats finally got their dribble-dish offense going right before the buzzer for the fourth quarter. Akau dribble-penetrated and dished to Cacoulidis, who put in a layup. That was followed by Ewing’s two free throws to cut Kamehameha’s lead to 40-33 heading into the final eight minutes.
Kamehameha put its muscle to good use, twice scoring on offensive rebounds. Yasso scored off a Kahapea free throw miss, and Kahapea had a putback for a 49-36 lead halfway through the fourth period.
Akau sank consecutive layups to trim the lead to 50-42 with 2:53 left. But Kahapea muscled up a shot when two defenders grabbed the ball. He made the free throw for a 53-42 with 2:14 to go.
That was right in the middle of the furious rally by the Wildcats, who had a hard time stopping Kahapea, even from the free throw line. He went 7 of 9 and his last two sealed Kamehameha’s long-awaited championship.
Konawaena 5 14 14 18 — 51
Kamehameha 14 10 16 16 — 56