Lahainaluna wins DI championship
• Photo gallery: Girls state basketball
By Wes Nakama
Advertiser Staff Writer
Lahainaluna became the first Maui Interscholastic League team to win a Hawaiian Airlines Division I Girls Basketball State Championship last night, rallying past and then holding off defending champ Konawaena, 47-45, in a thriller before a vocal crowd of about 2,300 at Blaisdell Arena.
The Lunas finished the regular and postseason 17-0.
"This is big for the program, big for the school, big for the community, big for our island," said Lunas coach Todd Rickard, who graduated from Lahainaluna in 1985 and has been coaching there for the past 15 years. "Look around and see all the people in red shirts who came out to support us ... We were hoping we wouldn't disappoint them, and we didn't."
Konawaena (12-1) had won its first two state tournament games in 30-point routs and looked to be in control last night, leading 22-15 at halftime and 37-26 with a minute remaining in the third period. But Milika Taufa, the Lunas' 6-foot-3 senior post, answered with a layup and then scored seven straight points early in the fourth quarter to help Lahainaluna tie it at 37-37 with 5:38 left in the game.
Taufa, who finished with a game-high 26 points, later scored six straight to put the Lunas ahead, 46-39, with 1:51 remaining.
"I felt the fire inside, and every time I turned to shoot, the basket looked super big," Taufa said.
Wildcats coach Bobbie Awa said Taufa was virtually unstoppable once she got the ball down low.
"Milika is such a tough player, she's so good around the basket," Awa said. "She creates space and is so strong ... We tried to put pressure up top, but other than that there's not much you can do."
Taufa, who was plagued by early foul trouble in last year's semifinal loss to Punahou and again in Thursday's semifinal victory over the Buffanblu, was whistled for her second foul with two minutes remaining in the first period last night. But she stayed out of danger the rest of the game.
"When I got my second foul, I wasn't really worried," Taufa said. "I usually start worrying when I get my third foul."
Rickard said Taufa answered the challenge.
"She had to make a decision if she wanted this bad enough, and she was huge for us tonight," Rickard said.
Konawaena post Anuhea Wall, who had 21 points, scored on back-to-back layups to close it to 46-45 with 1:10 left, but the Wildcats turned the ball over with 17 seconds remaining on a pass that skipped out of bounds.
Lahainaluna point guard Maiki Viela then sank one of two free throws with eight seconds left to make it 47-45, and Konawaena guard Lia Galdeira was fouled on the dribble near her own baseline with two ticks left. But since it was only the Lunas' third team foul, the Wildcats had to take the ball out of bounds, and an entry pass was fumbled and lost under the basket as time expired.
"We earned so much respect (with the victory)," Taufa said. "We wanted to win this for our fans, because whenever we were down, they cheered us up. We came close before but never did it. Tonight we did it."
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