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Punahou’s title win over Kahuku all about family

Image by jrth50 of Red Raider Soul

The years of frustration came to an end for Punahou.

At the same time, the clock struck midnight for Big Red. Punahou’s 64-37 win was possibly the best performance for a group of seniors who had worked four years to reach the mountain peak. The final of the Snapple/HHSAA Boys Basketball State Championships drew 2,902 spectators who sounded more like 6,000 roaring fans at Stan Sheriff Center.

The buzz in the arena lasted for just a few minutes. By the time Punahou (29-4) was done with the opening quarter, Kahuku already had seven turnovers, the Buffanblu had six players in the scoring column, and the Red Raiders were out of fuel.

Kahuku didn’t quit, not even close. Down 15-5 entering the second quarter, the OIA runner-up kept battling, but there was no cure for the giveaways — 12 by halftime — and not much help for cold shooting. With two key players having played the maximum 32 minutes in Thursday’s semifinal win over Maryknoll, the Red Raiders were truly tested by Punahou’s warp-speed ambitions.

Tolu Smith faced constant harassment by the double- and triple-teaming Buffanblu defense, but finished with 23 points (9-for-16 from the field), 14 rebounds and five blocks in another marathon, 32-minute effort. However, point guard Ruanui Winitana, who was superb in his 32 minutes against Maryknoll, was smothered by Punahou’s defense and finished with 2 points on 1-for-9 shooting.

The tough senior finished with 31 minutes played. Punahou’s swarming defense was the worst possible matchup for Kahuku’s fatigued unit. The Buffanblu never seemed to tire, even though they played out of the unseeded opening round like Kahuku did. Depth and constant on-ball pressure were clearly Punahou’s hallmarks in winning the state title for the first time since 2012.

“The whole season we’ve been working on it, our press and our defense. Coach always tells us we’re the best team in the state and we have to back it up. We get out here every day and work,” senior Zayne Chong said. “We felt good. After the first quarter, anything can happen. With a 6-10 guy (Smith), anything is possible.”

After losing in the finals in 2016 and ’17, the Buffanblu are relieved and stoked.

“It’s the best way to go out. After the last two years, to get here and finally get a title, it’s crazy,” Chong said.

Hunter Hosoda, a senior point guard, was a blur on offense and defense. Kahuku no solution for him as he swooped in and stole the ball from Smith a couple of times on double teams. Cole Arceneaux, like Chong, didn’t score in double figures like he normally does. They simply played team basketball on both ends, and Punahou finished with five players scoring at least nine points.

For Arceneaux, the long road back from an ACL injury last year has been rewarded.

“Our team is one family. I love them. There’s no just one individual who does all the work,” he said. “Coming back from the knee injury, I got a lot of love for Physio Therapy. The grind (of rehab) after surgery, all the tears, this is worth it.”

Team leadership from the multitude of seniors was a group effort.

“We’re brothers. We’re like a family. We learned all these life lessons through the years,” Arceneaux said. “I trust everyone from 1 to 15, practice hard, push each other to the limits.”

The title is Punahou’s 10th in boys basketball, and the second under coach Darren Matsuda.

Image by jrth50 of Red Raider Soul

Punahou’s title win over Kahuku all about family

#GalenToluSmithIII #RuanuiWinitana

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