I loved it so much, the fans, our players, the bench, it was crazy and chaotic. —Liki Makaui
Highland’s Liki Makaui sure has a knack for the dramatic.
He first made a name for himself last season when he drained a 35-foot game-winner at the buzzer to beat Timpview in the first round of the state tournament. Fast forward to Friday’s raucous Region 6 opener against rival East, and Makaui was at it again.
Makaui caught full-court inbounds pass from Christian Rich with four seconds remaining, made a quick move toward the paint and then banked a right-handed floater as time expired to lift Highland to the thrilling 59-57 victory over East.
“We have a play where one of our bigs flashes to bring his guy running and then I just took off running. That’s how I got the ball in my hands and I just had to make a play,” said Makaui, who led Highland with 21 points.
On the play before East’s Mikey Frazier tied the game on a straightaway 3-pointer after a teammate’s initial missed 3-point attempt bounced straight to Frazier behind the arc. Highland quickly called a timeout as coach Jim Boyce tried to draw up a full-court play with four seconds left on the clock.
“You call something and then they get out there and usually after the first second it goes hay wire some way,” said Boyce. “But a great pass and a great catch by Liki and a great finish.”
Boyce said it was the “funnest” game I’ve ever been a part of. Both student sections were packed before tip off and they created a great atmosphere throughout.
“I loved it so much, the fans, our players, the bench, it was crazy and chaotic,” said Makaui.
The game was tight throughout, with neither team leading by more than seven. Highland didn’t take its first lead until the midway point of the third quarter, but after that there were eight lead changes.
Highland had a chance to try and ice the game at the free throw line with 29 seconds remaining leading 57-54, but it missed the front end of 1-and-1 situation. After missing its first two shots in that final possession, East eventually tied it on Frazier’s third 3-pointer of the game. The senior finished with a season 28 points.
“He’s a load. He can shoot outside, he can have his way with you inside, he’s a load to guard. We certainly didn’t have an answer for him,” said Boyce.
He scored 11 of East’s 15 points in the third quarter, but Highland had an answer nearly ever time.
Early in the fourth quarter Makaui hit a big 3-pointer to cut East’s lead to 49-48, and then Elijah Shelton hit a 3-pointer of his own with 4:57 remaining to put the Rams in front 53-51.
“The kids just made plays and kind of took it over in the second half. That’s what you want as a coach, just the kids to take over, and they did,” said Boyce.
East regained the lead on a Andre Mulibea lay-up with under three minutes remaining, but Highland’s Richard Tialavea answered back on a jumper with 2:30 remaining for the 55-54 lead. Rich stretched the lead to 57-54 on two free throws at the 1:52 mark.
Leading by three and with possession, Makaui and Oscar Maxfield helped Highland waste roughly a minute off the clock as they dribbled through defenders before East eventually had to foul with 29 seconds remaining.
That free throw miss set up a pair of dramatic shots, and already the countdown is on for the rivalry rematch on Feb. 2 at East.