All looked lost well into the second half as Kadena High School’s girls basketball team fell behind Nishihara, the island’s top-rated Japanese team, by 19 points in Saturday’s Martin Luther King Invitational Basketball Tournament champions bracket final.
Given the Panthers’ rally for a 28-27 victory, coming on Eisiah Lawson’s baseline jumper from the left side as time expired, Kadena seems to be making a habit of winning one-point victories over tough Japanese opponents. Lawson hit a shot with 13 seconds left almost a year ago to the day, Jan. 22, 2012, as Kadena won the Okinawa-American Shootout 55-54 over Naha Shogyo, last year’s Okinawa big dog.
“We didn’t play Kadena basketball at all” in a first half in which the Panthers fell behind 17-5, coach Willie Ware said. “Terrible. We didn’t do anything. Playing against the No. 1 team on the island, we got too excited, we didn’t settle down and play ball.”
Being a fly on the wall at halftime might have revealed the following: Get it together. Just like halftime of last year’s Far East final, you look defeated. Go out and play Kadena ball in the second half.
“And that’s what we did,” Ware said, adding that the big deficit was the “wake-up call” needed by a Panthers team that so far this season had yet to be challenged. “This was the closest game we’ve played all season. It showed what we’re made of.”
Kadena reached Sunday’s final with the victory, and had to await the outcome of two knockout stage games to find out who their opponent would be.