Kahuku holds off De La Salle, 56-51

Kahuku's Samuta Avea defends a shot attempt by De La Salle's Eric Headley. Greg Yamamoto | SL

Kahuku continued its strong run in the 32nd Iolani Prep Basketball Classic as it defeated its second straight out-of-state opponent to be the first Hawaii team since 2006 to make it to the tournament's final four.

Senior point guard Jessiya Villa dropped 26 points to lead the Red Raiders to a 56-51 win over visiting De La Salle (Concord, Calif.) in the last quarterfinal game at Iolani's Lower Gymnasium Monday night.

Kahuku, ranked No. 2 in the ScoringLive/Hawaiian Electric Boys Basketball Power Rankings, will take on Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.), the second-ranked team in the country according to the USA Today Super 25 Computer Power Rankings, Tuesday in an 8 p.m. semifinal.

Villa was playing in his second Iolani Classic quarterfinal game of his career, but was playing in his first one as a Red Raider. The 6-foot senior was a member of the Martinsburg (W. Va.) team that lost to eventual 2015 tournament champion Sierra Canyon (Los Angeles), 67-27. He made sure his team wouldn't suffer a similar fate this time around.

"There isn't a time where I don't reflect back to last year's loss, last year's slaughter, so I just had to work hard this past year," said Villa, who is the son of former Kamehameha standout Kahi Villa. "I'm accompanied by a wonderful basketball team and wonderful club, and we were able to execute this victory and move on to the big final four."

While Villa provided the offense early on with 17 first half points, it was the Kahuku defense that ultimately gave the Red Raiders the edge against the Spartans. With 6-foot-6 University of Hawaii signee Samuta Avea, 6-foot-8 New Zealand transfer Daniel Fotu and 6-foot-4 Taimoana Wright defending the post, and guards Kesi Ah-Hoy and Codie Sauvao locking down the perimeter, Kahuku was able to take a 25-16 lead at the half.

"We've preached that all year," Kahuku coach Brandyn Akana said on his team's defense. "We got some pieces and some of those guys really get after it and keep people out of the paint. Offensively we can score and we got guys that can do many different things, but ultimately it comes down to defense, and we pride ourselves in it."

The Spartans were 6-for-31 shooting (19.4 percent) in the first half and finished the contest going 15-for-59 from the field.

"Whenever you shoot like that you're going to struggle to win," said De La Salle coach Justin Argenal. "I think Kahuku is a really tough, physical team. We struggled to score early on, couldn't convert on a few shots, wasn't finishing inside. I thought it was our fault and Kahuku's length kinda bothered us and stuff so it was kind of two-fold on that."

Avea, Fotu, Wright and Ah-Hoy all registered a blocked shot in the contest. Avea also had a double-double of 12 points and 10 boards and Fotu added 10 points and seven boards in his second game in a Kahuku uniform to round out the Red Raiders scoring in double digits.

The Spartans did, however, make it an exciting second half. A corner triple by Kevin Sadarani cut into the Kahuku lead, 29-27 late in the third quarter. Fotu then made two free throws to push the lead back to four, but Savarani also knocked down a pair seconds later to keep it at a one possession game.

The Red Raiders answered with a corner trey from Avea, which was then followed by two free throws by Connor O'Dea. Wright knocked down a free throw jumper in the third stanza's final minute and Villa knocked down a 25-foot 3-pointer at the buzzer to give Kahuku a 39-31 lead heading into the final period of play.

Kahuku maintained its lead throughout most of the fourth quarter, leading by as many as 10, 45-35, with under three minutes to play, and nine, 49-40, with 1:15 left in the game, but had to grind it out as slip-ups aided De La Salle's rally.

A handful of missed free throws on 1-and-1 situations gave the Spartans life as the deficit between seven and nine points hovered until there was under 20 seconds to play. Ah-Hoy got called for a shooting foul on De La Salle's Colby Orr and Avea took exception, which resulted in a technical foul.

Orr, who finished with 17 points, knocked down four straight free throws after the fouls were assessed to make it a 54-49 game with 17.5 on the clock. The Spartans still maintained possession and was able to get a bucket from Orr to cut Kahuku's lead down to three, 54-51, with 4.4 remaining. Ah-Hoy was fouled before the inbounds pass was made and knocked down a pair for the final points as the Red Raiders held on for the win.

It was a little too close for Akana's liking, but he was glad that his team got an invaluable lesson on how to close out games before league play starts up.

"We had to battle so that teaches them toughness and grit, and that kind of makes you a better team when you do that," he said. "I'm happy, not happy that it was close, but I'm happy that we had some resistance and had to work to win."

Both the semifinals, dunk contest and championship game of the Iolani Classic will be streamed on ScoringLive.com.