Kahuku rallies past Maryknoll to reach second straight final
CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM
Kahuku’s Ruanui Winitana (10) passed the ball under Maryknoll’s Isiah Gelacio (3) during the second half of the Division I HHSAA Boys Basketball State Championship semifinals on Thursday.
It’s safe to say, finally, that Ruanui Winitana feels at home now.
The New Zealand native scored eight points during Kahuku’s game-closing 12-2 run as the unseeded Red Raiders stunned No. 1 seed Maryknoll 49-43 on Thursday night in the semifinal round of the Snapple/HHSAA Boys Basketball State Championships at Stan Sheriff Center.
Winitana finished with 15 points on 5-for-7 shooting, plus four assists, and Tolu Smith poured in 17 points, grabbed seven rebounds and added three blocks, three steals and two assists for Kahuku (27-4 overall including nonconference games), the OIA runner-up.
Payton Grant led ILH champion Maryknoll with 10 points.
“It’s surreal,” said Smith, a 6-foot-10 senior who negated many of Maryknoll’s normally sure points in the paint. “We kept encouraging each other. We worked so hard to get here. Rua had his best game. He’s had a lot of good games, but this was his best.”
Defending state champion Kahuku returns to the final with a lot of new blood, but the defensive toughness and uptempo game are the same.
“We’re lucky we got the stops when we needed them,” Red Raiders coach Brandyn Akana said. “It feels great. Not too many people thought we would be here.”
The game was close from the tip, with 13 lead changes. The ILH champion Spartans took a 38-37 lead on a straightaway 3 by Isiah Gelacio, and after Makoto Kamata swished a 3 from the top, Maryknoll led 41-37 with 3:51 to play.
The Red Raiders regrouped after Akana called time out. Smith beat a double-team with a spin move for an and-1 bucket. Winitana scored on a drive to give Kahuku a 42-41 lead with 2:22 left, and he drove by for another deuce with 1:03 to go for a three-point lead.
Winitana hit both ends of a 1-and-1 with 43.3 seconds left, and after the Spartans were called for traveling, Lokana Enos earned a trip to the charity stripe with 27.9 ticks remaining. He made one of the two shots for a 47-41 lead.
Maryknoll got a layup from Perez with 17.1 seconds to go, but that was all the Spartans could muster in the final three minutes. In that stretch, Kahuku shot 6-for-7 from the foul line.
For the game, the OIA runners-up were 10-for-12 from the charity stripe and shot 53 percent from the field (18-for-34). They were also resourceful at the arc, getting timely 3-pointers from Robbie Sauvao and Enos.
“Ruanui is our point guard and we want the ball in his hands. Free throws and 3s have been a couple of our weaknesses through the years,” Akana said. “But they’ve worked hard and the last two games, we hit a bunch.”
“We had a successful season,” Maryknoll coach Kelly Grant said. “We have nothing to be ashamed of. Tolu is just a beast. We had no answer for him. We beat their defense on drives, but he was always there.”