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November 23, 2010
KENTUCKY 74, WASHINGTON 67
Nov. 23, 2010
Lahaina Civic Center; Lahaina, Maui.
LAHAINA, Maui - It's fair to surmise the Kentucky and Washington basketball programs won't be trading Christmas cards anytime soon, not after all that's transpired between them the past eight months.
That'll be just fine with the Cats.
UK (4-0) held off the Huskies 74-67 in the semifinals of the EA Sports Maui Invitational, riding Terrence Jones - the lightning rod for the discord - to a stunningly intense victory.
The atmosphere in the tiny gym was more befitting an Elite Eight game with tensions at peak levels. There were two intentional fouls and more pushes, shoves and verbal back and forths than there were made baskets.
Oh, and a second half earthquake on the island as well.
Kentucky came storming out of the gate for the second straight night, roaring out to a 20-6 lead on the strength of Brandon Knight's 12 points. Then the reality of life without its only true point guard came with Knight's second foul, forcing him to the bench for the final 9:35 of the first half. During that span the Huskies outscored the Cats 22-11 to claim a 35-34 lead at the break.
UK will face Connecticut in Wednesday's final at 10 p.m. eastern time.
"The beginning of the game, we knew this was two talented teams going at one another. You could not back down. If they push, you push back. Let them know it was going to be a hard game."
"They only had 15 turnovers so we weren't able to impose our will on them. We did okay defensively but without getting them to turn the basketball over we didn't get as many runouts or when we did didn't convert. We missed out on some opportunities." -- Washington coach Lorenzo Romar
FROM THE LOCKER ROOM
"The thing I'm happy about is 34 minutes. Last year I couldn't play 10 minutes. Coming through for my team when they needed me most, that's more than the rebounding to me." -- Josh Harrellson, on his performance
Brandon Knight had as difficult a half of basketball as you'll see in the opening game but wasted no time trying to make amends. Knight was on his way to a huge first half, scoring 12 points before heading to the bench for the final 9:35 after picking up his second foul on a charging call. When he returned after halftime - and after UK struggled mightily without him - he equaled those 12 points with 12 more in the second half, finishing with 24 on the night. There were warts, like eight turnovers and no assists, but Knight showed he can bounce back after a tough performance.
When Darius Miller missed a contested drive on a fast break and Washington got a dunk on the other end the four-point swing pulled the Huskies within two with 8:15 left and gave them a ton of momentum. The Cats didn't fold, as Knight hit a jumper and added a free throw for the three-point play, then sandwiched a driving lay-up and another free throw around a DeAndre Liggins drive to give the Cats a 62-54 lead it never lost over the final six minutes.
DID YOU NOTICE?
You certainly didn't feel the earthquake that hit Maui from your couch at home, but you may have known its severity before most of us in the arena. During a timeout with 6:33 remaining the Lahaina Civic Center floor shook, the baskets at each end swaying. Turns out there was a quake that registered 4.7 on the Richter Scale off the coast of Maui.
Yes, Terrence Jones had another night that belied his age, scoring 16 points and adding 17 rebounds against the team he jilted moments after verbally committing to play for them. Yes, Brandon Knight shook off a poor second half in the opening game and foul trouble in the first half of this one to finish with a game-high 24 points. But UK simply does not win this grudge match without the play of Josh Harrellson, who played with energy he has not shown before and continued to keep balls alive for teammates. This was easily the best game the senior forward has played in his career.
67 - Washington had been scoring at will its first three games, dropping an average of 107.3 points in those contests, with the least amount being 98. Kentucky was able to slow the Huskies' high-octane offense, holding them 40 points below their average. The Cats' defense isn't at optimal level yet but to hold a team that scores the way Washington does to that low of a total is promising for the rest of the season.
Win or lose Kentucky fans were treated to one fantastic basketball game during the semifinals of the Maui Invitational Tuesday in Lahaina, and the UK team grew up tremendously in its first test against a nationally ranked opponent. The 74-67 victory over Washington, an intense affair from start to finish worthy of March Madness, enabled the young Cats to prove to themselves they could make clutch baskets, win the physical fight for rebounds and loose balls and calmly drain critical free throws in the waning seconds of the game. All in all, coach John Calipari could not have drawn up a better scenario for learning. And winning was a nice side benefit, too.
November basketball games don't come any more intense than this one, two teams and fan bases filled with dislike of each other, all over a few recruiting battles. Whatever the reasons for the contempt it made for a throbbing scene and provided a way to judge the intestinal fortitude of both squads. Once again, Kentucky's group of freshmen showed they have a moxie that will serve them well as the season moves along in more hostile environments.
Kentucky (4-0) advanced to the championship game of the EA Sports Maui Invitational against Connecticut on Wednesday at 10 p.m. eastern time.
Matt May is the basketball beat reporter for The Cats' Pause. If you have questions or comments about the Cats e-mail him here. You can also follow "@TCPMAY" on Twitter for live updates.