HHSAA Boys Basketball
Punahou races past Leilehua to set up all-ILH state final against Saint Louis


Fri, Feb 23, 2024 @ Punahou

Final 1 2 3 4  
Punahou (9-2, 23-6) 22 16161367
Leilehua (12-1, 22-5) 14 16 12 749
T. Wilson 17 pts  2 3pm  1/2 FTs
A. Uperesa-Thomas 17 pts  1 3pm  2/2 FTs
T. Wilson 7 tot  5 off  2 def
A. Uperesa-Thomas 9 tot  1 off  8 def
C. Wyatt 4 ast

For the first time since 2020, it will be an all-ILH state final.

No. 2 Punahou had the horsepower and firepower to pull away from second seed and No. 4 Leilehua, 67-49, in the HHSAA/Heide & Cook Division I Boys Basketball State Championships semifinal nightcap in front of their home crowd despite being the designated visitors.

"This crowd gave us a lot of energy, yesterday was kinda quiet. We were just focused they worked really hard for this moment and it's here. Final four anyone can win, anybody can lose. At this point leave it out on the floor, just play as hard as you can and play together. We did a good job of that today," Punahou coach Darren Matsuda said.

The Buffanblu make their first championship game appearance since 2019 and is seeking their first title since 2018 and will take on Saint Louis for the fourth time this season.

"I think it's a culmination of three years of hard work. They lost their freshman year and they have been grinding and grinding. You plant the seeds when they're young and it's coming to fruition and it's starting to blossom. So it's nice to see for these guys," Matsuda said.

"This game means a lot to me. We always wanted to be in this position. We're finally here so we're going to make the most of it. It's a quick turnaround so we have to watch film and game plan," Dillon Kellner said.

Tip off is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Blaisdell Center following the Division II title tilt between Kohala and Seabury Hall.

Four Buffanblu players scored in double figures led by Ayndra Uperesa-Thomas' 17 points and nine rebounds. James Taras added 15, Dillon Kellner hit three 3-pointers for 13 points and Evan Porter added 11.

Porter had the assignment to slow down Twain Wilson, who led the Mules with 17 points on 7-of-15 shooting. Brother Tyree Wilson added 12 as Leilehua dropped to the third place game to face Kalaheo at 1 p.m.

"Twain is a great player, he's a freak athlete. He's shown it all year, especially these last two games so my biggest thing when guarding a player like that is respecting them. He has a great shot, I have to make sure I knew the game plan," Porter said.

The Buffanblu and Mules went pace-for-pace in the first quarter until Punahou pulled away with consecutive 3s from Uperesa-Thomas and Porter. Leilehua pulled within three following Cobe Wyatt's layup, but Kekai Burnett accounted for five of his seven quarter points to give the Buffanblu a 22-14 lead going into the second.

"We were pretty deep team. Kekai, we can move anybody in. It's the next man up for us. We did that and Kekai did a good job filling when James (Taras) was out," Matsuda said.

"We knew we had to come out strong because the previous few games we've been starting off slow," Dillon Kellner said of the opening and quarterfinal round. "We're all trying to get going faster sooner than later so we're not playing catch up."

Twain Wilson dunked in transition and the teams traded baskets before Dash Watanabe put Punahou up 11, 32-21. Trystin Stephens scored in transition and Wilson drained a 3-pointer to get within six. Ui Muti finished with eight points and scored to get the Mules within six but Uperesa-Thomas hit a jumper and Watanabe scored off a steal.

"We wanted to play up and down and fast. That's how OIA teams like to play, but we know Saint Louis likes to play by possession. We will try to speed them up, we'll see how that game plays out, but I liked how we played tonight," Dillon Kellner said.

Tyree Wilson added a putback as Leilehua trailed, 38-30 at intermission.

Both teams shot 50 percent or better from the floor in the first half.

Punahou broke away with a 10-2 run to open the third quarter. Kellner hit two of his 3s during the run as the Buffanblu went up 16. Punahou led by as much as 18 with 2:22 to go but Leilehua put together a 8-2 run to get the deficit down to 12 heading into the fourth.

The Buffanblu starters scored the 13 fourth quarter points and led by as much as 19.

Leilehua shot 22 of 53 from the field and was 2 of 11 from 3.

Punahou won the glass, out rebounding Leilehua, 33 to 24.

It will be the first all-ILH state final since Maryknoll beat Kamehameha-Kapalama, 46-33 in Feb. 21, 2020.

The Mules beat the Buffanblu in the preseason at the Jim Alegre Invitational at Radford on Nov. 29.

Leilehua edged Kahuku, 58-57 in the quarterfinals and was seeking its first state title game appearance since 1983.

Reach Brandon Ching at [email protected].

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