Clarion University hosted a quartet of PIAA basketball playoff games (three girls, Wash High boys) Saturday and it was tough finding someone at Tippin Gymnasium who wasn't talking about St. Mary's junior guard Kayla Ho'ohuli at some point.
Playing in the opening game, Ho'ohuli put on the most impressive individual display I've seen as St. Marys beat Hampton.
How does this sound? Ho'ohuli scored 52 points as St. Marys won, 64-55.
I hadn't heard of Ho'ohuli before catching the second half of that game, which preceded Washington's blowout win over Brookville, even though she leads in the PIAA in scoring a 29 points per game. After all, she plays in District 9 and facts are facts, the area is far from a basketball juggernaut.
Count me now among the masses of believers in St. Marys 5-8 guard.
During the third quarter, at first, I couldn't believe Ho'ohuli was shooting three-pointers from 30-33 feet. It was even harder to believe that she was making them. Has anyone in attendance ever seen a girls players with such range?
Not only did Ho'ohuli score at will, she blocked shots and made several steals. To be honest, I don't remember seeing another St. Marys players score in the second half.
Given her height, who knows what colleges will look at Ho'ohuli? It's hard to imagine some good Division I schools not finding a place for a player with her skills.
* How impressive was Ho'ohuli?
Minutes before Washington tipped off, Prexies head coach Mark Gaither was asking the Hampton scorekeeper how many points she scored. When he heard, "Fifty-two" he turned to me and said, "Maybe we should scrimmage them."
* Speaking of impressive, Washington looked good considering the Prexies hadn't played in 14 days.
As stated previously on this blog, Wash High looks most effective when Troy Wilson gets good looks. That's what happened Saturday against an overmatched Brookville.
* Here are five things I like about Washington heading into the second round against South Fayette:
1. Rebounding - When it's PIAA playoff time, that means Zach Barnes finishes with 10-plus rebounds. He had 11 against Brookville as Wash High dominated the glass.
2. Outside shooting - The Prexies have rarely had an outside threat. Sophomore Ethan Gordon is developing into one. Gordon comes off the bench and gives Washington a spot-up three-point shooter. Good defensive teams like to play zone against the Prexies. If Gordon can knock down the outside shot when he's in the game, it forces adjustments.
3. Aggressiveness - Washington settled for jumpers against North Catholic in the WPIAL playoffs. Against Brookville, Wash High made jumpers but it was the result of getting inside and making the extra pass.
4. Mood - The Prexies came to Clarion to win, and have fun in the process. The players chanted coming onto the court and during warm-ups, senior guard Marquis Brown had some good-natured fun with the Brookville student section.
The Brookville students were chanting Brown's name so, when Brown knocked down a three-pointer, he'd turn to the student section and have some fun.
"It was a good time," Brown said after the game.
Of course, big games are nothing new for most of the Prexies. They've won five of their past six PIAA playoff games and pulled off some big wins late in the football season.
5. Bench energy - Besides Gordon, the Prexies get significant contributions from forward J Jay Paskert, who has a knack for making energy plays. When the Prexies hit a lull during the hird quarter, Paskert came up with a couple of those energy plays and it woke up his teammates.
Whether it's a blocked shot, rebound or diving for a loose ball, Paskert understands his role on the basketball team and plays it perfectly.
* Here are five things I like about South Fayette heading into the second round against Washington:
1. Scoring depth - The Lions have four legitimate scorers in Mike Lamberti, Pat Zedreck, Tyler Henry and Mike Burroughs. Lamberti can hurt a defense in a number of ways. Zedreck finds open lanes to the basket. Henry is the jump shooter. Burroughs knows how to establish post position.
2. Experience - South Fayette has yet to make a deep run in the PIAA playoffs, but this group will play their fifth state tournament game together. If you keep getting the foot in the door, eventually it gets kicked in.
3. The Zedreck factor - Maybe it's because of South Fayette's offensive balance that Pat Zedreck doens't get much attention but there's no denying the junior point guard's importance. Whether South Fayette is up 20 or down 10, Zedreck wears the same expression and plays the same way.
4. Rebounding - With Burroughs and Lamberti, two big-time rebounders are in the starting lineup. South Fayette, unlike many teams, can bring great rebounders off the bench in Christian Brumbaugh and Tanner Courtad.
5. Attitude - South Fayette knew much was expected coming into the year. At least three publications, including the Observer-Reporter, tabbed the Lions as the WPIAL Class AA favorite entering the year. After seeing South Fayette outside the locker room following a district semifinal loss to North Catholic, it's evident this team desperately wants to make a postseason run.
* The looming Washington-South Fayette boys basketball game reminds me a little of a PIAA Class AAAA baseball quarterfinal between eventual state champion Canon-McMillan and just-crowned WPIAL champion Peters Township.
* Of the 16 teams remaining in the Boys Class AA bracket, seven are from the WPIAL. Washington, South Fayette, North Catholic, Rochester, Beaver Falls, Shady Side Academy and Greensburg Central Catholic were all winners. Jeannette was the lone WPIAL team to lose in the classification.