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Wildcats Sports

Honolulu Star Bulletin Looking Ahead

Posted Sunday, March 01, 2009 by Bobbie Awa

Konawaena, Molokai set up for repeat runs

By Paul Honda

POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Mar 01, 2009

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In Konawaena's guard-oriented attack, it's easy for a low-post player to blend into the scenery.

Kim Brown did that for a good part of her two years on the varsity squad. She turned the corner as a senior and played maybe the best game of her life when a state crown was on the line.

Brown scored six key points in the second quarter to help the Wildcats take a three-point halftime lead against Punahou in Friday's Division I final of the Hawaiian Airlines/HHSAA Girls Basketball State Championships. The senior hit three more shots and finished with 13 points, answering all questions about Konawaena's interior game as the 'Cats won their third state title with a 54-50 double-overtime win.

"I've been trying to find my shot. I struggled against Baldwin," she said of her team's first foe in the tourney. "Tonight, I just kept shooting."

Brown drew two key charging calls off Punahou's offensive force, Janelle Nomura. Anuhea Wall, Konawaena's other key post, also stepped in and took a charge from Nomura.

"At halftime, Coach Bobbie (Awa) said we have to take away that middle when she's driving in the lane," Brown said.

One of the other seniors, guard Kara Hanato-Smith, provided the glue to a Wildcat squad that had eight underclassmen.

"We've bonded a lot more as a team," she said.

Konawaena (28-2 overall) made two early-season off-island trips that set the tone for their championship run. Those visits to Oahu and Maui netted wins over 'Iolani and Lahainaluna, but the most valuable outing was probably a 55-44 loss to Punahou (18-4).

"We're a lot better on defense now," freshman Lia Galdeira said the night before the state final. "The last time we played them, it was our defense that hurt us. But we're ready. We're quicker and we talk out there, more than before."

She finished with 23 points, nine caroms and four steals to earn most outstanding player honors at the state tourney. Galdeira's status as a phenom is well documented, but what may be more tantalizing about her play is defense. When she defends on the low post or on the wing, Galdeira plays off the pressure caused by teammates like Dawnyelle Awa, whose long, rangy arms and quick hands were a nuisance to every team at the state tourney.

That made the path to hoop happiness difficult for Punahou's go-to performer, Nomura, who still managed to score 20 points on 7-for-21 shooting. She was 6-for-7 at the foul line and led a rally that eliminated an 11-point deficit in the final quarter. Nomura finished the tourney with a 22-point average.

"I feel drained. It was a rough three games," said Nomura, who has signed with Cal State Northridge. "We were down big, but we fought back to force two extra periods. I'm really proud."

Nomura knew the Wildcats had improved.

"We were expecting a war. Oh man, they crash the boards and they play super-smart defense," Nomura said. "After all those charges, I never had an easy shot."

For Awa, there's no way to really compare this title to the ones from 2004 and '07.

"Every title is special. This team had more fun," she said, recalling the childish tendencies of her young players on those off-island trips. "They grew up just enough, just in time."

The Wildcats aren't done, of course. Galdeira and Dawnyelle Awa are just freshmen, as is Makayla Awa. Wall, post Misilosa Uulopa and backup guard Thea Hanato-Smith are just sophomores. All are rangy and fit well in their coach's mix of fullcourt and halfcourt high-pressure defense.

As young as they were, their ability to challenge in the passing lanes and scramble for loose balls gave seasoned teams like Farrington and Punahou fits. As long as defense remains Konawaena's priority, more championships could be in store.

Galdeira, who thrived on a diet of mostly pancakes and Cocoa Puffs (eight bowls at a sitting) during the week, also fed off the fans in green.

"Our crowd is the most important thing," she said of the 300 or so Wildcats fans who traveled to the tourney. "They get us pumped. We feel like we're at home."

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