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November 20, 2006Nice to know those four letters still mean something. With a powerful field in Maui featuring traditional-rich programs such as Kentucky, Memphis and Georgia Tech amongst others, the Bruins will face D-II Chaminade on Monday evening in the primetime opener of the best preseason tournament of them all.
The Maui Invitational has grown over the years from an event where a few solid teams would go and compete every year, having to spend their Thanksgiving flying back to the mainland, into the premier tournament of the regular season. Year after year, the field for the Maui Invitational has improved to where it is today; featuring nothing but heavy-hitters in the world of college basketball.
The host school gets to select the team they want to face, and you can't really blame them for wanting to give their kids the experience of playing the most tradition-rich program of them all, the UCLA Bruins.
But as we all know, the Silverswords don't just like showing up, they come to win, and the Bruins will have to match their energy or they may find themselves in a bit of a ballgame.
A season ago, Chaminade won the PacWest conference, finishing 19-9 overall and advancing into the 2nd round of the D-II NCAA tournament before being eliminated by Western Washington, 101-91. The Silverswords played three D-I opponents a season ago, losing by an average of 33 points to Michigan State, Maryland and Kansas.
Chaminade is led by senior point guard Zach Whiting who averaged 14 points and more than 8 assists per game a year ago. They will also feature 7-foot junior Marko Kolaric who along with junior small forward Stewart Kussler are the other two returning starters for 2nd year head coach, Matt Mahar.
The Swords feature seven players originally from the state of California and have a group of nine juniors to accompany Whiting and freshman Sean Caddell, a 6-foot-6 wing from upstate New York.
As for game analysis, the Bruins faced stiffer competition in their final exhibition game, a 30 point win over Humboldt State. Chaminade has had a few shining moments over the history of this tournament, including a victory over Villanova in 2003 and of course, most notably, perhaps college basketball's biggest upset ever, a stunning win over Ralph Sampson-led and top ranked Virginia in 1982.
That isn't going to happen here. UCLA should be able to open up a big lead early and cruise, enabling Ben Howland to rest his starters in the 2nd half in hopes of keeping them as fresh as possible for the back-to-back-to-back games the Bruins will have to endure while over in Maui.
Look for Russell Westbrook to get plenty of valuable minutes along with James Keefe and Michael Roll as the coaches want each of these players to get their confidence up before the Bruins take on the winner of the Kentucky/DePaul game which will take place just prior to UCLA's contest.