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Nationally No. 1-ranked Incarnate Word pulls away from ‘Iolani, 67-34

Saturday, December 10, 2022

Written By: Wes Nakama

Incarnate Word (St. Louis), the No. 1-ranked girls basketball team in the nation according to MaxPreps, used its height advantage and hot 3-point shooting Friday night to pull away from three-time defending state champion ‘Iolani, 67-34, in the ‘Iolani Prep Classic semifinals.

An excited and vocal crowd of about 650 at ‘Iolani Gym watched Natalie Potts score a game-high 18 points and grab six rebounds as the Red Knights (4-0) pulled away from a 15-10 lead after one period. Hailey-Anne Ohta scored 15 points to lead the 4-1 Raiders, who will face Bay Area power Carondolet (Concord, Calif.) in Saturday’s 3:30 p.m. third-place game.

Incarnate Word will play South Medford (Ore.) in the championship game at 7:30 p.m.

“We’ve never won this tournament, so we’d like to win it,” said Red Knights coach Dan Rolfes, whose team is making the school’s third appearance in the Classic. “(‘Iolani) is smaller, so they have to put a lot of pressure on the ball and they spread things out, so it’s just a little bit different style. They do a great job. But we were just able to take advantage of our size. We were trying to do that in the first half, but just didn’t get the opportunities. But I thought we made a better effort to get the ball inside and get some easy baskets (in the second half).”

Incarnate Word jumped out to a 13-4 lead in the first six minutes, although the Raiders helped by missing three open 3-point attempts. But then Ohta and Callie Pieper hit back-to-back 3-pointers from the right corner to help close it to 15-10 at the end of the first period. In the second period, however, the Raiders went cold again, with only one field goal through the first seven-plus minutes, and the Red Knights heated up with a mixture of fast-break layups and 3-pointers.

The result was a 17-3 run that pushed the lead to 32-13 before Pieper swished another 3-pointer from the same spot to close it to 32-16 at halftime.

“We got looks that we wanted, we just weren’t making them,” ‘Iolani coach Dean Young said. “Honestly, we gotta be better. We made them work for their shots, but we couldn’t finish the possession. They’re just too big. They have like 6-foot guards out there, there’s no slow post, they’re all skilled and they all can shoot. It’s a huge challenge, but it’s fun, it’s what you want.”

Incarnate Word quickly opened the second half with a 7-0 run to extend the lead to 39-16, but Ohta sparked a mini run with a short running floater off the glass and the Raiders pretty much played the Red Knights even the rest of the period, which ended with the score at 50-28. But Incarnate Word opened the fourth period with an 11-1 surge to make it 61-29 three minutes in.

“At halftime, I told them, ‘Don’t worry about the score, we’re just going to try and win the next quarter. We’re going to improve, learn, grow and get something out of this.’ We lost the third quarter by six, so I was happy with that. But in the fourth quarter, we got tired and it got out of control. I just asked them to have fun and compete. We’re gonna make mistakes, we’re gonna have adversity against this team, but we’re gonna get better and it’s only going to help us for the (regular) season.

Ohta said the vocal “Raider Nation” student section was a factor in helping ‘Iolani feel loose and confident in the early going.

“We wanted to have fun, and I think the crowd actually helped us,” Ohta said. “This was a good opportunity for everyone. This was the best of the best, and I feel like this will only help our team get better.”