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Maui invitational: Cats say aloha to Kansas

Chris Coduto/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Junior center Kirk Walters grabs a rebound over a group of players during the first half of Arizona's 104-81 exhibition win over Team Georgia on Wednesday in McKale Center. The Wildcats meet Kansas tonight in a first-round matchup of the EA Sports Maui Invitational.
By Roman Veytsman
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday, November 21, 2005
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UA begins season tonight in Hawaii

There may not be a better place to open any season than Hawaii, where the No. 10 Arizona men's basketball team will begin its 2005-06 campaign tonight at 7 when it faces Kansas in the first round of the EA Sports Maui Invitational.

Arizona left Tucson on Saturday morning at 6, after defeating Team Georgia 104-81 in its final exhibition game Wednesday night, and will make its fourth appearance in the preseason tournament, having won it upon its last entry in 2000.

"(Playing in the Maui Invitational) is a great tourney and atmosphere," said senior guard Hassan Adams. "That's why you come to Arizona, because you can play great teams like that. We just want to go out (this) week and play our game, and not worry about anything like rankings."

Adams and the rest of the Wildcats will have to play better defensively if they want to avoid an upset. Arizona head coach Lute Olson said he was unhappy with the team's defensive pressure in Wednesday's second half, when Arizona gave up 51 points.

"This team needs to do a much better job converting from offense to defense," Olson said. "There were too many times when someone would put a shot up and admire it, then not get back to guard their man."

Kansas comes into Maui fresh off of a 90-66 home win Friday against Idaho State, led by sophomore center Sasha Kaun's 25-point, 16-rebound performance.

While Kaun had a breakout performance, Arizona assistant coach Josh Pastner said he expects sophomore C.J. Giles to be Kansas' go-to player.

"C.J.'s the best prospect in our program right now," said Kansas head coach Bill Self in a teleconference. "And he's come a long way in a short amount of time. But certainly he has a chance to be our leading scorer and leading rebounder this year."

Kansas will be without forward Darnell Jackson for the first nine games of the season. Jackson, who averaged two points per game last season, was suspended by the NCAA for receiving improper benefits from a booster and cannot travel with the team to Hawaii under NCAA rules.

First round
Arizona-14, Washington-38

Arizona (0-0) vs. Kansas (1-0)
When: 7 p.m. on ESPN
Where: Lahaina, Hawaii

The Jayhawks were already young and inexperienced before losing Jackson, and figure to feature at least three of their four freshmen in prominent roles.

First-year guards Brandon Rush and Mario Chalmers and forward Julian Wright all played double-digit minutes in Friday's win.

Arizona freshman guard J.P. Prince is familiar with both Chalmers and Rush from his high school days. Prince, who admitted to being close with Chalmers, said he talked a little bit of trash during the week with both of them.

"I don't want to lose, because I know they're going to talk stuff if they beat us," Prince said.

Rush is the brother of former UCLA star JaRon Rush and current Charlotte Bobcat Kareem Rush. He scored 12 points and grabbed seven rebounds in 25 minutes against Idaho in his first career game.

"He's an athletic highlight reel waiting to happen," Prince said. "If you let him get in the lane, he'll kill us."

"We're real pleased with him," Self said of Rush. "And as he gets more and more comfortable, which will take some time, he can become a guy that could get you 15, 16 points a game if he gets comfortable."

Chalmers, a point guard, came off the bench to score 15 points and dish out three assists.

"He's a scoring point guard who can pull up, shoot, and he can pass, too," Prince said.

For the Wildcats, senior guard Chris Rodgers, who led the team in scoring (20.5 points per game) during exhibition play, will play an integral role.

"I think we're ready. We keep getting better," Rodgers said. "We still have a lot to improve on, but we're heading in the right direction."

Freshman forward Marcus Williams, who scored 15 against Team Georgia, said he thinks the key to the game will be the level of intensity behind Arizona's full-court pressure.

"We need to get the game tempo into our favor with running and pressing," he said. "It creates easy baskets for us, which help win games."

Arizona will start Rodgers and junior point guard Mustafa Shakur in the backcourt, along with junior forward Ivan Radenovic and Adams in the frontcourt.

The fifth starting position is still up for grabs and might go to sophomore forward Bret Brielmaier, a former walk-on who grabbed 11 rebounds against Team Georgia in only 14 minutes.

The last meeting between the two teams was a memorable one. Kansas defeated Arizona 78-75 in the NCAA Regional Final in 2003, as former Wildcat guard Jason Gardner missed two potential tying 3-pointers late in the game.

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