Tonight, the Punahou Boys Varsity Basketball team will be playing Kahuku for the state championship. The teams are rated #1 and #2 respectively and the game is sure to be a good one. Takes me back to another state championship tournament that I followed some 38 years ago.
When the seedings came out on March 6, 1974 for the Hawaii High School State Basketball Tournament, undefeated Punahou was the team to beat. Ranked right behind the Buffnblu were Farrington at #2, Radford #3, and Kailua #4.
But seedings are one thing, results are another. Punahou had been ranked #1 for the 1973 tournament but it was Leilehua, the OIA West runnerup to Radford, that took the title. Punahou had won its first State basketball championship ever in 1970. Was it too soon for a repeat?
The first team to beat was Waimea (Kauai) on March 7. The starters took a 18-4 lead in the first quarter and, with a 24-0 run in the third, it was all downhill for Waimea from there. Punahou ended up overwhelming the Menehunes 74-40 and played the bench. Reid Casey, a second stringer, led Punahou with 13 points while Jim Kaimikua, Duane Akina and Keith Uperesa each netted 10.
Next up in the tournament was Radford. The Rams would prove a tougher opponent outscoring Punahou 13-8 in the final quarter; a good showing but not enough to upset to the 44-33 lead that Punahou held at the end of the third. Radford’s cold shooting, including missing three easy layups, and 19 turnovers were too much while Punahou was hitting 13 of 24 from the floor in the first half. With Akina scoring 22, Ia Saipaia 9, and Kaimikaua 13, Punahou went on to take the game 52-46.
Would Punahou hold on in the final game against Kailua? Hilo Coach Al Manliguis and other coaches thought that the Surfriders could do the job. He was impressed with the size and strength of Kailua players Jesse Wills (6-3), Fred Person (6-4), and Fred Weaver (6-5) but concluded that, “Kailua has the material to beat Punahou but somehow I don’t feel they will.”
A large crowd of 7,481 fans filled the H.I.C. the night of March 9 to watch the final night of the tournament. Upset fever was in the air when, in the opening game Radford bested second seed Farrington 45-39 to take the third spot in the tournament. Would Punahou’s heretofore stellar season suffer the same end?
The first quarter started tight but Punahou soon proved too much to handle. Kaimikaua scored eight straight points opening up a 19-10 lead. The quarter would end with Punahou ahead 21-13. By the end of the night Punahou would win 73-56 and the headline “Puns paste Kailua for State title” would run in the Sunday Honolulu Advertiser. The Honolulu Star-Bulletin would declare “Punahou Was Too Loose for Kailua” when they ran their coverage on March 11.
The game was ragged overall. Kailua Coach Harry Murai apologized saying “it wasn’t a good championship game … I’d hoped for a better showing but it was a very, very sloppy game with a lot of unnecessary physical contact.”
Punahou’s speed forced 27 Kailua turnovers. They scored 22 out of 37 free throws while the Surfriders were able to hit only nine of 24 from the line.
But the biggest player in the game was the number of fouls that were called. By the time it was over there were 61 whistle blows: 33 against Kailua–including two technicals in the second half–and 28 against Punahou. The game would last more than two hours. Wills and Pearson fouled out in the third quarter and Weaver followed in the fourth. Uperesa fouled out for the first time of the season with 7:02 left on the clock and was followed by Saipaia at 5:20.
Coach Bud Scott thought defense was the key to the game: “Uperesa did a good job on stopping Wills and on the boards. The press was effective in causing turnovers and also I think the press forced them to hurry the shots once they did break it. Our gurards (Kaimikaua and Mosi Tatupu) had two great games back to back against Radford and Kailua. They played aggressive defense without the fouls … in the past they had a tendency to reach in but they didn’t in the tournament.”
The Punahou team’s dominance was recognized when Kaimikua (5-8), Tatupu (6-0), and Akina (6-3) were named to the all tournament team. Kaimikua was named the outstanding player of the tournament by both the Honolulu Advertiser and the Honolulu Star-Bulletin for his quickness, drive, and ball handling.
Coach Scott’s overall assessment of the team was: “This team is the best all-around team we’ve ever had. We’re better balanced, especially on defense.” Interesting assessment given that Punahou, with Saipaia, Casey, and Kevin Uperesa on board, would go on to return to the state tournament 1975. Interestingly, the final game would be a repeat of the Punahou-Kailua matchup; this time, Punahou would win 77-70 in a high scoring barn burner. In the game, Ia Saipaia would score 38 points: a state tournament record that still stands despite the advent of the three point line.
The 1974 Hawaii High School State Basketball State Champion Team (and their scoring in the final game):
Jim Kaimikua (19), Duane Akina (7), Mosi Tatupu (12), Ia Saipaia (14), Keith Uperesa (6), Keith Kam (4), Kevin Velasco (2), John Corbelli (2), Karl Oberholzer (2), Neal Ane (0), Reid Casey (3), Mike Hansen (0), Jeff Lum (0), J.D. Dennis (1).