Cats cautious about looking ahead to Maui



When reporters gathered around Jon Hood on Tuesday, he was asked if he was looking forward to UK’s upcoming trip. The sophomore guard said he was excited to head to Hawaii to play in the EA Sports Maui Invitational.

Of course he would be. The only problem is that the Cats must first travel to Oregon for a game against Portland.

“That’s real bad (to skip past Portland),” Hood said. “They have the kid who can really shoot the ball. We’re going to go up there, have some fun, try and get the win.”

The Pilots are led by senior guard Jared Stohl, a dead-eye shooter who’s averaging 16.7 points per game through Portland’s first three games. He’s also shooting more than 57 percent from 3-point range. Last year, he shot 47.8 percent from 3-point range, even though he shot 40 percent on 2-point attempts. Of his 255 shot attempts last year, 205 were from long range.

Portland has raced to a 3-0 start, winning every game by at least 14 points. UK head coach John Calipari cautioned that the Cats will be challenged in the upcoming road trip, which features four quality opponents. The team will travel directly from Portland to Hawaii before returning on Thanksgiving Day.

“This is a hard trip,” Calipari said. “This is a dangerous game … We’re on our way to Hawaii to play three teams that will be better than us, and this is going to be a learning experience.”

Calipari said because the team is still so young, there will be plenty of lessons to learn. They’re the kind of lessons that can only be learned by playing quality opponents early in the nonconference.

“There’s a lot of experiences these guys have to go through,” he said. “One of them is getting knocked down by a team that you should beat because you weren’t ready to play. And you think you can turn it on at halftime but it’s too late.”

Freshman forward Terrence Jones, from Washington, saw Portland play a few times last year and, along with Calipari, has been telling his teammates to be prepared. He often went to see the Pilots’ opponents, but usually saw a Portland win. Early last year, Portland beat Oregon, UCLA and Minnesota (then No. 16 in the country) playing at neutral sites.

Hood, realizing his mistake earlier, didn’t shortchange the Pilots again. He’s looking forward to the game as a chance to figure out what the Cats will have to improve.

Then they’ll get to Hawaii – for now, at least “the other” trip.

“I think it will (be a learning experience),” Hood said. “It tells us what we have to do, tells us how far we have to go and where we are right now.”