“I’m ready,” Isaiah Thomas said when asked how he felt playing in the Maui Invitational.
He wasn’t talking about Kentucky in particular, but he knew No. 13 Washington plays the the eighth-ranked Wildcats at 6:30 p.m. in a much-anticipated semifinal that has many overlapping story lines.
Most of the game’s intrigue involves UK freshman Terrence Jones, who put on a dazzling performance in Kentucky’s first game. If Jones was just a run-of-the mill player, then no one would make a fuss about him backing out of a verbal commitment to Washington this summer.
But Jones isn’t a run-of-the-mill player. He’s got star potential. He’s being mentioned as a Freshman of the Year and Player of the Year candidate. Some say he’s a NBA lottery pick next summer. And many UW fans believed he was the missing piece to championship puzzle.
Coach Lorenzo Romar, however, tried to quell some of the hype.
Photo credit: AP Photo – Eugene Tanner
“If I really wanted to do the media a favor, I could just makeup a wild story that we hate Kentucky and all that. But that’s not the case. Sorry. Kentucky is the next opponent. If it wasn’t Kentucky and if it was Oklahoma, then we’d have animosity towards them because they’re the next opponent.
“We respect Kentucky’s program and the job that they do. Terrence Jones is a fantastic basketball player. But we’re going out there (Tuesday) not concentrating on any time of rivalry. We’re coming out there because this is the next opponent and we respect them and we know that we have to play at a high level. So hopefully we can be dialed in (Tuesday) the same way we were (Monday).”
Many Huskies adopted Romar’s next-opponent mantra.
Justin Holiday (above) said: “I’m ready. It’s just like we were playing anybody else. It’s the next game. … I want to win. Whoever is in our way, we got to take care of them. It’s Kentucky and they got something coming for them.”
It’s almost too bad the focus on Kentucky has taken away the spotlight from an amazing 106-63 win over Virginia, but then that’s tournament life.
With a game in less than 24 hours, there’s hardly any time to dwell after wins or losses.
Still, we’ll recap some of the highlights.
— You just knew that after a relatively quiet start to the season, Thomas would step up in a major way on Maui’s big stage. He might have scored 30 if the game was a little more competitive. Still, he finished with 18 points, three three-pointers, six rebounds, four assists and a steal. Pretty impressive and clearly he was UW’s MVP tonight.
— Holiday was Washington’s other star. He dominated on the defensive end, collecting a career-high six steals, which is three shy of UW’s record. Holiday also had nine rebounds, two steals and a block. He was matched against Cavalier point guard Mustapha Farrakhan and held him to 1-for-8 shooting, four points and two turnovers.
— Redshirt freshman C.J. Wilcox padded his stats in the second half when the game was a rout, but he was a catalyst in the one-sided victory. Wilcox drained consecutive three-pointers in the first half that took the starch out of the Cavaliers. He finished with a career-high 17 points, including four treys and four assists.
— Abdul Gaddy was UW’s other star. He didn’t shoot the 3-ball very well – missed both attempts – but he found his spots on the floor and was 6 for 7 inside the arc against the smaller Virginia guards. Everyone focuses on Gaddy’s shot selection and points (12), but what goes unnoticed is he finished with a game-high six assists.
— Solid, but unspectacular game for Matthew Bryan-Amaning and Darnell Gant, who combined for 15 points. Still, Gant made it a memorable game for knocking down his first three-pointer. They did their best work on defense and limited Mike Scott, Virginia’s leading scorer, to 11 points on 12 attempts. They also kept Scott off the glass. He had four rebounds.
— Venoy Overton and Aziz N’Diaye were somewhat muted, but with the game in control the Huskies didn’t have to play them more than 16 minutes.
— Scott Suggs and Terrence Ross were overshadowed by Wilcox, but they had nice games. Suggs collected four rebounds in the first half, while Ross drained four three-pointers. On other teams, they might be the stars, but on this team, they’re role players.
— Antoine Hosley got into the record books and knocked down a three-pointer. Brendan Sherrer is the only Husky who has not scored this season.