Kahuku keeps pace in rugged OIA East

Jan. 20—On a night when the OIA East race took a new turn, Kahuku came through with defense again.

The Red Raiders, ranked eighth in the Star-Advertiser Boys Basketball Top 10, went on a 9-0 run to start the second half, turning a three-point game into a 64-44 runaway win over Kaimuki on Friday night.

A polite, subdued gathering of about 200 fans watched at the Bulldogs' gym.

Kache Kaio led the way with 10 points and 12 rebounds, while Tiki Akina-Watson sparked the third-quarter run with seven points and a steal. Kahuku's balanced attack included nine points each by Kahler Vendiola and Jens Evans, seven points from Ronin Naihe and six by Rivers Evans.

"We had a talk during halftime that we needed to pick the energy up because it was dead in the first half. Third quarter we came back with the energy and that got us our lead," Akina-Watson said. "Coach always tells me before the game, defense before offense, and defense leads to offense. He told me to eat my defender up, so I went out and ate him up."

Kahuku coach Brandyn Akana saw his team shoot 9-for-29 from the field in the first half, committing just three turnovers. He wanted a little more fire.

"We fell asleep, kind of stagnant. Usually third quarters, we do well. We came out and we played hard," Akana said. "Energy, tough defense and that's going to lend itself to offense."

Kahuku's tall, long and rangy defenders caused problems for Kaimuki's slashers.

"Defense and even being patient with the ball. I thought we were kind of forcing shots early on," Akana said. "In the second half we did a much better job."

With a 61-45 loss by No. 2-ranked Kailua at Kalaheo on Friday, more weight has been added to the Kahuku-Kailua game next Friday. Kahuku is 8-0 in league play (17-3 overall), while Kalaheo (7-1) can get the inside track to one of the East's two first-round byes if Kahuku beats Kailua (7-1).

"Nothing is different. We're just going to keep working hard in practice," Vendiola said.

Harmon Sio had nine points and six rebounds, and Daysen Lupica finished with nine points for the Bulldogs.

Kaimuki, a title contender in Division II, kept it close in the first half with rugged defense in the paint from Iosefa Letuli and Harmon Sio. Kahuku jumped to a 12-2 lead after a slam dunk on a fast break by Rivers Evans.

A corner 3 by Sio on a feed from Lupica cut Kahuku's lead to 26-23 going into the half.

"Defensively, we played well. Offensively, we just couldn't get started because Kahuku's so tall and long," Kaimuki coach Greydon Espinda said. "Their length is incredible. They were contesting our shots, and that's a tribute to Kahuku's defense. If they didn't block the shot, they altered the shot or we would take shots we normally wouldn't take."

Akina-Watson's quickness was a key to Kahuku's elevated defensive pressure after intermission. Vendiola scored off a steal, Jens Evans hit a layup and Akina-Watson stroked a 12-foot jumper on a pass from Jens Evans. After Jens Evans scored in transition off Kaimuki's fourth turnover of the third quarter, Kahuku had a 32-20 cushion.