If all else fails, Aloha's physical presence will be felt one way or the other.
Even if the shot making runs dry, the finishes rim out and the bunnies bounce off the rim, the Warriors will be tough on the boards, gritty and defensively exacting.
Sprague got the better of Aloha in the Warriors' final non-league game of the year, a 68-51 decision that got away in the fourth quarter. Winners of five of its last six games and competitive in all three of its losses, Aloha (8-4) uncharacteristically came out flat in the first half and could never fully climb back into the clash. Still, if ever there was a time for self-evaluation and reflection, it's now, just before the dawn of the Metro League. Aloha vowed to learn and grow from the rocky beginning, starting with an early 6 a.m. workout the day after the Olympian loss.
"This brought us back to reality," Aloha senior Cobi Wilson said. "Tonight was rough. We've had better games with more progress. We started off slow with a lack of energy from a lot of us and didn't execute on offense. But we have to get back in the gym tomorrow morning and get back to work."
Yet, going hard and playing at full speed is a badge of honor for the Warriors. Shooting comes and goes, but if Aloha can ugly up games and make Metro foes match its physicality, the Warriors will be heard from as league play begins in earnest. Wilson is a well-versed Metro veteran with two years of league starting experience under his belt. The senior knows Aloha can make its mark with its rugged brand of basketball that's mandatory in a conference that's chippy on a night-to-night basis.
"We're undersized, so we have to scrap, especially in Metro," Wilson said. "Metro has some really nice hoopers. It has a lot of guys that can ball. I'm friends with some of those kids, but when we're on the court it's a different story. I don't know you, I'm just here for my team, for Aloha. We'll win and I'll see you after the game. But when I'm on the court, it's a war."
Wilson, Caleb Turner, Zack Williams, Regan Wilson, Timmy Dennis and Tanner Volk play a hard-hitting, uncompromising style of game, crashing the offensive boards, grappling on the ground for loose rebounds, scrapping under the rim for 50-50 balls and challenging anything that comes their way defensively. Aloha's never been a club to back down from a challenge or a physical confrontation. It's an edge that stems from being perennially passed over both in the league polls and overall perception of its program.
"Being from Aloha, we're slept on," Wilson said. "We're different from other schools. We're not looked at as a team that's always going to come out here and dominate. We're here to prove ourselves. We come out here every night and try our hardest and that's what we have to do to win our games."
Wilson and Regan Wilson, his younger brother, spearhead a Warrior defense that can morph into a number of attacks but is rooted in effort and emotion. Cobi Wilson is one of the best on-ball defenders in Metro, a Swiss Army knife 6-foot-4 guard who's asked to check point guards, posts and everything in-between. In an era of point explosions, rule changes that favor the offense and free-flowing movement, Wilson prides himself on taking his opponent out the contest.
"My biggest pet peeve in basketball is when somebody scores on me," Wilson said. "That's really frustrating. Growing up I was always like 'Let me lock this dude up. If he can't score on me, then there I go'. The buckets will come on offense, but defensively I just hope to lock them up."
Aloha actually led 9-5 early in the first quarter, but Sprague responded with a 16-0 run that began midway through the first quarter and ran through the five-minute mark of the second. Still, the Warriors kept battling. Regan Wilson willed his way to the rim for a putback. And Turner went on a personal eight-point tear that included two three-pointers to bring Aloha within 32-23 at the half. Perhaps Aloha's best stretch of the game came in the third. Cobi Wilson buried a three, then Turner came out of nowhere to swat away a Sprague paint attempt. Williams corralled the defensive board, pushed the ball into the open floor, came to a jump stop and swished a teardrop to cut Sprague's lead to 37-30. Then, Regan Wilson sprung out his helpside stance and swatted away another Olympian look.
However, Sprague's outside shooting proved to be the decider. The Olympians hit consecutive threes to push their lead out to a comfortable 50-35 margin and sank three more in the fourth. Aloha senior Travis Helm made a pair of jumpers including a three from the right wing off a pass from Regan Wilson and Williams scored six straight points in the fourth, but Sprague was able to keep Aloha at bay. Regan Wilson finished with six points and three blocks for Aloha. Williams had a team-high 12 points and five boards. Turner scored all 10 of his points in the first half.
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