It was more than a first big test.
For the No. 11 Washington men’s basketball team, yesterday’s Maui Invitational semifinal game against the eighth-ranked Kentucky Wildcats was an absolute battle. In front of the entire country on national television, the Huskies proved that they can compete with anybody.
But by the time the final buzzer sounded, poor 3-point shooting from a UW team that lives-and-dies from 3-point land and a lack of size on the boards ultimately hurt the Huskies down the stretch, as the Wildcats squeezed by with a 74-67 win.
Kentucky (4-0) faces Connecticut in tomorrow’s championship, while the Huskies (3-1) will play No. 2 Michigan State tomorrow at 2 p.m in the third-place game.
It was a game that looked like it should have been played in March – not November – from the get go, with both teams exhibiting high intensity on both sides of the ball.
But it was Kentucky who came out hot right from the tip and the Wildcats almost blew the game open. They used an 18-0 run to take an early 20-6 lead, and it looked like it was going to be a long night for the Huskies.
But this UW team showed that it’s got more than just speed, quickness and athleticism: These Huskies have fight.
Down 14, the UW used a 24-10 run that kept them alive. There was one huge play during the run that made a statement about the athleticism that this UW team possesses. On one end, sophomore Aziz N’Diaye had a massive block, which led to an absolute monster of a dunk from senior Matthew Bryan-Amaning that had the purple-clad UW section on its feet.
That brought the Huskies within six, and after a 3-pointer from junior Darnell Gant – his second of the game, and third of his career – the UW miraculously took the 33-32 lead and entered halftime ahead 35-34. Gant led the Huskies with a career-high 10 points at the half.
The two teams traded blows in the second half as the intensity picked up even more. An Isaiah Thomas layup brought the Huskies within three at 68-65 with just two minutes to play, but the junior couldn’t connect on a 3-pointer shortly after. On the ensuing Kentucky possession, Wildcat freshman forward Terrence Jones snagged a huge offensive rebound, making one free throw that essentially put the game away.
Jones is notorious in Husky land for announcing he would attend the UW in a press conference last April, but later committed to Kentucky after a phone conversation with Wildcat head coach John Calipari.
The 6-foot-8 freshman from Portland, Ore. has been dominating so far this season, and was a big factor last night in Maui. Jones only had 15 points, but it was his stifling defense and 17 rebounds that helped the Wildcats come out with the victory.
For the Huskies, it ended up being three-point shooting and rebounds that kept them from playing in today’s championship. After tying a school-record against Virginia with 17 three-pointers, the UW was just 3-for-13 from the arc, mainly due to tough perimeter defense from the Wildcats.
The Wildcats outrebounded the Huskies 45-32 and had a number of offensive rebounds in the final moments of the game that had the UW playing defense for two or three-straight possessions.
Thomas, the UW’s main offensive threat, was virtually non-existent yesterday. The junior was 4-for-14 from the field and was just 5-for-10 from the free throw line.
Defensively, the Huskies were strong, holding Kentucky to 39-percent from the field. N’Diaye had five blocks and sophomore Abdul Gaddy led the UW with three steals.
The Huskies will play Michigan State tomorrow and then head home for Thanksgiving before hosting Long Beach State on Nov. 30.
Reach Sports Editor Taylor Soper at email@example.com.
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