Mustangs In Good Spot For OIA East Basketball Playoffs

Kalaheo High School’s varsity basketball team may have already clinched a first-round bye for the OIA postseason tournament, but it’s approaching this week’s games with Roosevelt and Moanalua as if they both were playoff games in their own right.

“This is where you want to be, and our kids have put themselves in this situation by taking care of their business,” said Mustang head coach Alika Smith. “Now we have two tough games, and we have to go and get them.”

The Mustangs, who were the lone undefeated team remaining in the OIA East late last week at 8-0, were assured of at least the No. 2 seed and a bye for the first round entering last weekend. But they held only a one-game lead over Kahuku, which was 7-1.

Kalaheo beat the Red Raiders 62-56 at home Jan. 7, so the Mustangs own the head-to-head tie-breaker, should both teams finish the season this week with identical records.

In the Roosevelt and Moanalua teams, Kalaheo will face two of its bigger tests in the East. The Rough Riders were 4-4 at press time and in a fight for a playoff berth, while Moanalua was in third place at 5-3, behind both Kalaheo and Kahuku.

Roosevelt has been hitting its stride of late, posting a huge win over Moanalua before nearly taking down Farrington in a 63-59 defeat.

“It starts on the defensive end, especially against teams that are quick and can penetrate,” Smith said of Roosevelt. “If we aren’t focused defensively, teams can score easily. Roosevelt plays well together.”

Offensively, Kalaheo will have a big size advantage in the Roosevelt game. “They are not that big, so we have to make them play down low, especially with Kupaa (Harrison) posting up,” Smith said.

A versatile 6-foot-5 guard, Harrison is averaging 13.7 points per game. Kalaheo’s starting lineup of late also has included Kaleb Gilmore, Zach Marotte, and Kekai and Jalen Smith.

The roster also features Alec MacLeod, Andrew Kearney, Kekoa Thompson, Alex Layi, Ashton Arnold and Ja-Andre Lamar.

As was the case since preseason camp, the team emphasis has been on defensive play, according to Smith. Kalaheo’s best offense has been its defense at times this year.

“Our defense is still a work in progress,” Smith admitted. “We have some mental lapses out there, and we’re trying to work on it in practice. We point out their mistakes in either a soft voice or a loud voice. Some of our kids have played together for a long time, and some of them haven’t.

“That’s what happens when we’re going good,” he added. “We’re getting quick rebounds and quick outlets, guys are running and filling lanes and getting the ball up the floor. That (uptempo play) is something Kaleb brings to the table.”

Gilmore, who transferred from Maryknoll in the off-season, is currently Kalaheo’s leading scorer at 18 points per game. He also has converted 23 three-pointers, dating back to preseason.

Back-to-back losses to Kahuku and Roosevelt removed Moanalua from the mix for the East title, but Na Menehune bounced back from those setbacks with an impressive win over the Kalani Falcons last week for their fifth conference win.

“Moanalua is another team that plays hard,” Smith said. “They have some kids who can do some damage, and they play well together. They’re the type of team where all five guys can hurt you because they’re so unselfish and can find the open man.

“We’ll need to get (defensive) stops.”

Pairings for the OIA tourney, which begins Feb. 13, were to be finalized over the weekend. The Mustangs will likely host a quarterfinal matchup Feb. 14.

The top six finishers will earn the league’s berths for the Division I state basketball tournament Feb. 25-28.