'One team' delivers Iolani 5th title in row
|Iolani vs. Kaimuki photo gallery|
|||Iolani's super-subs spark 54-41 title-game victory|
By Wes Nakama
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Wes Nakama
The Iolani boys basketball team's "Drive for Five" in the Hawaiian Airlines/Hawai'i High School Athletic Association state tournament proved to be a smooth one after all.
The Raiders won their record fifth straight state championship last night by blitzing past Kaimuki, 54-41, before an energetic crowd of 5,437 at Stan Sheriff Center. Iolani finished a tougher-than-usual regular and postseason at 14-2. Kaimuki ended up 14-3.
"I can't say which (title) was the best, but I can say that this one was a lot different," said senior guard Vinny Nip, who scored 11 points and became the first player in Hawai'i history to win four state basketball championship medals. "There was no 'superstar' this year, so we just came out every night and did the job. This team really exemplified the 'One Team' motto."
The Raiders won their first two state tournament games by 21 points and 24 points. After leading 5-4 following a tight first period last night, Iolani built a 17-9 halftime lead and stretched it to 38-19 after three quarters.
The Raiders substituted five at a time, and the second unit usually includes only one senior ó either Kekai Kealoha or Kiran Kepo'o ó plus juniors Ryan Dung and Case Miyahira, sophomore Taylor Mounts and freshmen Liloa Nobriga and Kela Marciel. They provided a big spark in the first half, scoring 11 of Iolani's 17 points. Miyahira drained two 3-pointers, and Kealoha's 3 from the left wing put the Raiders up, 15-4, with 3:55 remaining.
By comparison, Kaimuki got zero points off the bench in the first half, and the Bulldogs trailed 17-9 at the break.
"Our kids got tired, and by resting their starters, (Iolani) could watch from the bench and see what we were doing," Kaimuki coach Kelly Grant said. "The only chance we had against them was if we had a couple days to prepare, and then it still wouldn't have been tough. They have such a great system, everybody knows every position. We've been going with one and a half guards the past month, and tonight we got exposed."
The Bulldogs struggled to get into their offense, committing 10 first-half turnovers and often forcing bad shots. Kaimuki was 4 of 15 from the floor in the first two periods, and was only 1 for 5 from the line.
Both teams played tight defense in the first period, which ended with Iolani leading, 5-4. The Raiders held their own on the boards against the Bulldogs' strong front line, outrebounding Kaimuki 15-12 in the first half.
"We started off struggling, and Kaimuki did a good job of setting the tempo in the first quarter," Iolani coach Mark Mugiishi said. "We finally got out on the fast break in the second quarter, and I think that was the turning point."
The Raiders started the second half with a 16-1 run using crisp passing and sharp shooting in an up-tempo attack. Nip scored seven points in the run, and his jumper made it 33-10 with 4:32 remaining.
"In the second half, we knew they were tired, and we were still fresh because we were subbing two units in and out," said Iolani senior forward Kawika Shoji, who had 10 points and grabbed seven rebounds en route to winning tournament Most Outstanding Player honors. "We wanted to keep the tempo at a fast pace."
The Bulldogs tried to rally in the fourth period behind their large and vocal fan base, but could get no closer than the final score.
"We lost and all, but we played our hearts out," said Kaimuki senior Shaun Dela Calzada, who led the team in a postgame cheer during the awards ceremony. "We went down with a bang."
Grant, who grew up in the Kaimuki area but played on Maryknoll's 1984 state championship team, said he's proud of his team for at least making the school's first state title game appearance since 1993.
"I wanted the kids to experience this, because I got to experience it myself," Grant said. "They'll cherish this for the rest of their lives."
Even Mugiishi was impressed with the Bulldogs' fan support, which cheered loudly until the final basket.
"What you saw over there was phenomenal," Mugiishi said. "They showed a lot of love and pride for their community, and it was great for high school basketball."
Meanwhile, Iolani will be hanging yet another banner, despite not having such standouts as Derrick Low and Kyle Pape, who combined to win the past four Advertiser State Player of the Year awards.
"What makes this group great is they really understand the concept of 'One Team,' " Mugiishi said. "We play 12, 13, 14 guys every game, and nobody complains about playing time. Some guys know they'll never shoot, but they're content to set screens. We started off the season struggling a bit, but they came together as a team."
Shoji said that was key to keeping up the Raiders' rich championship legacy, despite having win streaks of 105 straight games against Hawai'i opponents and 61 games in the Interscholastic League of Honolulu snapped during the season.
"A lot of people doubted us as a group, but we never lost confidence," Shoji said. "We didn't know what to expect when the season started, and we took some time to mesh. We believed in ourselves and knew we could do it if we worked hard and played as a team. That's our tradition, and no matter what individuals we have, we'll find a way.
"We didn't focus on the streaks, we focused on winning the state title. And it continued tonight."
Reach Wes Nakama at firstname.lastname@example.org.