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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Arizona men’s basketball opens Maui Invitational with Missouri

Arizona men’s basketball is spending the week in Hawaii, but it’s not a vacation.

The No. 2 Wildcats (3-0) begin the championship round of the EA Sports Maui Invitational with Missouri (2-1) today at 3 p.m. MST on ESPN2. Regardless of the outcome, the UA will play three games in three days.

“On a neutral court in this tournament, it is so much about us, making sure we’re ready to go and playing our style, playing hard and together, that’s way more important than even our opponent,” UA head coach Sean Miller said at a press conference last week. “But you’re playing against an SEC opponent and a program that certainly has a great tradition, so we know we’re going to be in for a big test.”

Missouri opened the season by losing to UMKC 69-61 in the opening round of the Maui Invitational at home before beating Valparaiso and Oral Roberts.

The Wildcats have won 30 consecutive regular-season nonconference games, the longest streak in the nation.

The UA has won exempt tournaments like this the last two seasons, taking the 2012 Diamond Head Classic and 2013 NIT Season Tip-Off crowns. Miller is 15-4 in regular-season tournaments and 23-13 overall at neutral sites.

“Being able to play three games in three days on a neutral court or two games in three days and play against great competition and teams that are really good, that really tests you,” Miller said. “We’re always going to be in these events because I think it makes your team better, and I don’t want anyone to ever be able to point to our program or team and say, ‘You didn’t challenge yourselves in your nonconference schedule, therefore this is what has happened to you in March.’”

The 2012 Diamond Head Classic was also in Hawaii, and Arizona beat San Diego State 68-67 in the championship game.

The UA has played Missouri twice, one of which was in Hawaii, a 76-73 Tiger win at Pearl Harbor in 1984. Arizona avenged the loss in the 1994 NCAA tournament by winning 92-72 behind 27 points by current UA assistant coach Damon Stoudamire.

Mizzou freshman guard Montaque Gill-Caesar played for Canada in the 2014 FIBA Americas Championship where Miller was an assistant coach for USA. Gill-Caesar leads the Tigers in scoring with 16.3 points per game, and Missouri sophomore guard Wes Clark has three-straight double-digit scoring games.

“He’s certainly one of the best freshman in the country,” Miller said.

USA beat Canada 113-79 in the championship game and UA forward Stanley Johnson won the tournament’s MVP award.

If the Wildcats win, they play the winner of the Purdue (3-0) and Kansas State (2-1) game. If they lose, they play the loser of that game. The loser’s bracket game is Tuesday at noon MST, and the winner’s bracket game is Tuesday at 5:30 p.m.

The championship game is Wednesday at 8 p.m.

On the other side of the bracket is the tournament host, Division II Chaminade (2-0), Pittsburgh (2-1), BYU (3-0) and No. 16 San Diego State.

Former Wildcat forward Angelo Chol plays for SDSU. He is averaging 7.3 points per game and 4.7 rebounds a game.

Miller played point guard at Pitt from 1987-1988 to 1991-1992.

“I’m just going to say what I should say: that it starts and stops with Missouri,” Miller said. “Everyone in the tournament has a purpose, and we’re all going there to learn a lot about our team, and only one of us will leave with two wins.”

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Follow James Kelley on Twitter.

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