Maui Preview, Part 2: Washington edition

In a state far, far away, yet somehow still part of this nation, UK will play Washington in the second round of the Maui Invitational after both teams won last night. Here’s four things to know/watch for in this game (9:30 p.m., ESPN/

1. The revenge factor: Neither team is acknowledging the obvious storyline: that this game means just a little bit more than it normally would. That’s because UK ended up with two recruits originally set to go to Washington in Enes Kanter and Terrence Jones. Watching Jones play spectacularly in a Cats uniform must be even more difficult for the Huskies due to the Jones recruitment: he picked Washington’s hat on a televised signing event, only to decommit hours later and choose UK. For Jones, this is his second “more than a game” game, along with his homecoming game against Portland last Friday.

Washington guard Isaiah Thomas talked to Sports Illustrated over the summer after feeling spurned by Jones.

“It was the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen in recruiting, because everything he did made it seem like he was coming to Washington. I wouldn’t have anything to do with a school if I wasn’t going there, but (Jones), on the day before he signed with Kentucky, came up to campus for the whole day.

“If we play them, I’ll be talking mess the whole game,” Thomas said.

Whether the feelings have simply settled down or whether it’s because the game is actually hear and coaches are talking coach-speak, that sentiment wasn’t evident in the past couple of days.

“If I really wanted to do the media a favor, I could make up a story that we hate Kentucky,” head coach Lorenzo Romar said in the post-game press conference. “Sorry. If it wasn’t Kentucky, it would be the next opponent. Terrence Jones is a fantastic player. We aren’t coming out there with any animosity or rivalry. We are coming out there because they are the next opponent and we hope we come in as dialed in as we were tonight.”

Jones, commenting after the UK – Oklahoma game (and before he knew who UK would play), played down the rivalry angle.

“I’m ready to play whoever wins, but I do have a lot of friends on (Washington),” Jones said. “Me and coach Romar are friends, and he’s a great coach. But I’m respecting either opponent.”

He may respect both opponents, but he gets to play Washington. I’m sure he wouldn’t be averse to dropping another game like he did against Oklahoma (29 points, 13 rebounds). This should be fun.

2. Washington is good, and guard play will be crucial — The No.11/13 Huskies (3-0) trampled Virginia 106-63, despite the Cavaliers trying to slow the game down. They hit a school-record 17 3-pointers. They average 108 points per game. They play intense defense and have the depth to maintain it throughout a game.

So far, Brandon Knight and Doron Lamb have yet to encounter guards that are close to their abilities. Oklahoma’s Cade Davis was the closest, and he scored 23 points last night. Washington has 5-foot-9 dynamo Isaiah Thomas, who is scoring 14.7 points per game and is shooting 67 percent on 3-point attempts, and Abdul Gaddy, averaging 11.7 points on 65.2 percent shooting from the floor to go along with 5.6 assists per game. Thomas was one of the best players for Washington last year, and Gaddy was one of the top recruits two years ago, although he didn’t play very well his freshman year.

Still, Knight and Lamb will encounter two solid guards on a team that likes to push the tempo. UK struggled against Oklahoma’s defense in the second half (the Sooners outscored UK by two points that half, the first time that happened all year). Washington likes to apply even more pressure on defense. UK’s backcourt needs to respond.

3. Depth — Washington’s bench scored 50 points against Virginia, and that number, while high, wasn’t an anomaly. C.J. Wilcox scored 17 off the bench, and is averaging 12.7 points off the bench on the year while shooting over 50 percent from three. Freshman Terrence Ross, who hasn’t quite matched the other Terrence in performance, is making contributions. He shot 4-for-4 from 3-point land against Virginia. The Huskies have two other players averaging eight and nine points, respectively. They have a bench that UK might have trouble keeping up with, especially if the game turns into a frenzied pace, as it well could given the team’s preferred style of play. Still, UK hasn’t shown a problem with fatigue yet this year despite playing with (essentially) a 7-man rotation. Perhaps this means Jon Hood gets more minutes this game.

4. Three-point shooting: Lots of interesting stats regarding both teams’ performances from outside. Washington is making over 50 percent of their shots from the floor and 47 percent of their 3-point shots. The Huskies have made at least 12 3-pointers every game this year. 3-pointers account for 39 percent of UW’s offense.

UK, for comparison, is making over 50 percent of their shots from the floor and is hitting 44 percent of its threes.

Both teams like to shoot from outside. This could be a shootout, if both teams are hitting shots.

Overall: This game will be the first “true” test for UK. The test-level has been escalating, from exhibition games, to mid-major games that count, to big-conference opponents, and now to a team ranked approximately equal with UK nationally. Washington has talent, and experience, and depth. UK gets to see what it can do this early in the season.


For more, check out ESPN SEC blogger Eamon Brennan’s breakdown of the two Maui semifinals here.