KAPALAMA HEIGHTS — One season after helping Kamehameha to the state championship, Kevin Velasco returned to the Kapalama Heights campus — this time as the head coach of the opposing team.
Led by Tyra Moe's 17-point effort, Punahou upended host Kamehameha Wednesday night, 50-42, in an Interscholastic League of Honolulu game before a crowd of about 250 fans at Kekuhaupio Gym.
"That was a tough game, but it feels really good because I did it for my team," said Moe, who shot 5 of 11 from the field and 7 of 8 from the free-throw line. "We all did it together. It was a team win."
The Buffanblu, who are the No. 8 team in the ScoringLive/OC16 Girls Basketball Power Rankings, never trailed in the game and won their fourth straight to improve to 4-1 in the ILH Division I standings. The third-ranked Warriors saw their two-game win streak snapped and fell to 3-2.
"This was big for our kids to get that win up here," said Velasco, who served as an assistant to Darold Imanaka at Kamehameha last year. "I made so many great friendships with the girls and the coaches here and that's always tough because you always want them to succeed no matter where they are. It's just tough that I'm on the other end of it now."
Punahou closed out the first quarter on an 8-1 run to take a 16-8 lead into the second. The Buffanblu outscored the Warriors, 15-11, in the stanza to stretch it to a 12-point halftime advantage. Things look bleak for Kamehameha when it failed to score for more than six minutes to open the third quarter and fell behind, 36-19. However, the reigning state champion Warriors used a 20-4 run to pull within 41-39 on Alohi Robins-Hardy's 15-foot jumper with one minute and 54 seconds left in the game.
"We just told our players that we had to settle and do what we do," Velasco said. "They were starting to get a little bit glassy-eyed because Kamehameha was coming back and we just had to settle down. We even kind of stopped playing defense for a while. We got hesistant, but once they started playing again they started to get that feel back to push the ball, get it up and look inside."
After Robins-Hardy cut it to a one-possession game, Keau Fey putback her own miss on the other end to stretch Punahou's lead back to four before her teammates iced it at the free-throw line going 7 of 8 in the final 56 seconds.
"We just knew we had to push through and get out of this place with a win," said Moe, who made her final four free-throw attempts after missing her first six shots from the field to start the fourth quarter. She made five of her first-half field goals and had 12 points by halftime. She was held to just one point in the third quarter.
"We were trying to get our guards to look inside and get her the ball, but to Kamehameha's credit, they were playing tough defense so we didn't have the easy looks that we thought we could get," Velasco said. "They changed their defense on us to help on her with backside help and that was pretty tough on her, but she stayed composed and hit those big free throws down the stretch that was huge for us."
Robins-Hardy led Kamehameha with 16 points on 7-of-13 shooting from the field, but fouled out in the game's final minute. The Warriors shot 38.5 percent (15 of 39) from the field for the game and committed 18 turnovers to 10 for the Buffanblu.
"I give Kamehameha all the credit because they came back, they fought — which is what I thought they would do — and we had to really work and buckle down," Velasco said.
Punahou shot a blistering 62.5 percent from the field in the first half and finished at 42.5 percent (17 of 40) for the game.
"It feels so good," said Moe, who also grabbed six rebounds and had three blocks. "t's nice that we could pull through for coach."
Elle Uyeda and Fey scored seven points apiece and Kamaile Kandiah added six. Fey also had six rebounds for Punahou, which
visits second-ranked Maryknoll at 6:30 p.m. Saturday in another crucial league game. Kamehameha hosts Sacred Hearts Saturday at 4:30 p.m.
The Buffanblu and Warriors will play again at Punahou's Hemmeter Fieldhouse in the final game of the ILH's second round on Jan. 23.
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