Beach's Bits

LAHAINA, Maui - The Washington Huskies missed a golden opportunity Tuesday afternoon to fatten their resume and earn their first signature win of the 2010-2011 season. In the 74-67 loss to Kentucky in the semis of the EA Sports Maui Invitational, the Huskies' deficiencies were laid bare, as the Wildcats overwhelmed Washington on the glass.

The Husky bigs were ineffective under the hoop despite a perceived physical advantage, and it's become clear that this particular group of post players has a lot of work ahead of them.

Kentucky Coach John Calipari clearly took Washington's brilliant shooting performance against Virginia the day before to heart, limiting the Huskies to just 3 of 13 shooting from three-point range. With the Huskies biggest early season weapon neutralized, Washington still managed to hold their own against the athletic Wildcats, scratching and clawing for baskets and penetrating the lane for hard fought lay-ins and fouls.

But the Huskies need to rebound from this loss quickly and put the game behind them, because as tough as losing was, they still have one more game to go - a marquee match-up against No. 2 ranked Michigan State awaiting them tomorrow to determine who takes home third place in the Maui Invitational.

And Washington needs to make a statement.

The Spartans lost a nail-biter against the Connecticut Huskies, and though they don't play pretty, they're extremely effective at winning ugly. And now, they've got something to prove, which isn't exactly the way you want to enter a game against a team already perceived to be one of the best in the country.

The Spartans feature a deep roster, that includes guard Durrell Summers, a Sporting News preseason All American, and Big-10 pre-season Player of the Year Kalin Lucas. To say that their star-studded back court won't be intimidated by the Huskies guard rotation is an understatement. Much like Washington's effort against Kentucky, the Spartan guards had a similar run of poor shooting, but they're still a potent offense. They're especially effective at finding gaps in the defense and attacking the basket, though they haven't shared the ball particularly well so far this season.

Michigan State isn't very big, nor are they especially athletic relative to what the Huskies faced against UK, but they are a scrappy, experienced bunch. They have been hampered by injury during the offseason but slowly returning to full strength. They don't make many mistakes. Washington will pressure, pressure, pressure, and this figures to be an ugly contest, since both teams pride themselves on making their opponent look bad.

The Huskies will have do a much better job under the hoop, though Aziz N'Daiye is proving to be a monster of a shot-blocker. His rebounding is still a work in progress, and he isn't getting much help from Matthew Bryan-Amaming, who has struggled to find any rhythm two games into the tournament.

As was the case with Kentucky, the play of Washington's big men will be vitally important against the Spartans physically imposing front court. Though he's only 6-foot-7, Draymond Green is mountain of a forward. He's listed at 230 pounds, but that's probably about 25 pounds shy of being accurate. He's incredibly mobile for a player of his girth and will even bring the ball up the floor from time to time. He's also a quality three-point shooter and plays a similar role to that of Kentucky's Terrence Jones. Tom Izzo also utilizes forward Delvon Roe in a likewise fashion, and the two of them together can be dominating on the glass at times, which isn't good news for the Huskies.

The Spartans don't shoot many three-pointers, so the Huskies won't have to contend with a constant barrage from outside, but they don't miss very often when they do.

Where Kentucky wasn't a must-win game, this one is. There won't be any opportunities for signature wins during conference play giving the current state of the Pac-10, and wins over Texas A&M, Texas Tech or Nevada aren't going to impress the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee come March.

So the Huskies need a big win, badly. Judging by their performances so far this season, The Spartans still have yet to click, presenting the Huskies with a perfect opportunity to knock off one of college basketball's truly legendary programs. It may be the end of November, but the Huskies have already reached a critical juncture in their 2010-2011 season.


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