Maui Invitational ends on high note
Silverswords, Irish provide exciting wins in tournament filled with lopsided games, smaller crowds
LAHAINA — Steve Wojciechowski went out the door at the Lahaina Civic Center on Wednesday by making sure to get a final thought off his chest.
The Marquette coach had been asked the last question of his press conference following the Golden Eagles’ 94-84 win over LSU in the third-place game of the Maui Jim Maui Invitational.
He rose momentarily before sitting back down to give his thoughts about the tournament he has grown up at — he was the 1997 Most Valuable Player while leading the Blue Devils to the title and then came back as a Duke assistant coach three times.
“It’s an honor to be at this tournament,” Wojciechowski said. “Coach (Dave) Odom does a great job, and the organizers here. This is my fifth time at Maui, and there is no other tournament in the United States in the preconference that’s like this tournament. First-class people, well-run, great programs, and it was an honor for our basketball program to be a part of it.”
Odom, the tournament chairman, was pleased with the final day of action. Tournament host Chaminade, a Division II school from Honolulu, beat California by 24 points to begin the day — it was the Silverswords’ eighth win in 100 games at the 34-year-old event. Nine hours later, the championship game was a 67-66 thriller that Notre Dame, ranked 13th in The Associated Press poll, pulled out at the end against No. 6 Wichita State.
The Fighting Irish capped a comeback from a 16-point deficit with game-tying and winning free throws by Martinas Geben with 2.3 seconds to play.
“Tonight’s game was a March-like game played in November,” Odom said. “I’m not surprised. Maui magic intervened again, I mean, it did. Champions are born over here. You go back several years, the Kemba Walkers, those kinds of things, and I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to see both these teams playing deep into March. I really feel that.”
The championship game and Chaminade win helped put a cap on a week that saw smaller crowds than usual at the event and had only three of 12 games decided by single-digit margins. Four games were decided by at least 24 points.
Next year will see change. Chaminade will sit out the Maui portion of the event for the first time ever, starting a cycle of the Silverswords playing on the Valley Isle every two years. However, Chaminade gets the chance to play at Arizona and San Diego State, two teams that will also play here, along with Duke, Gonzaga, Auburn, Illinois, Iowa State and Xavier.
In the current AP rankings, the Blue Devils and Wildcats are 1-2, the Musketeers are No. 15 and the Zags No. 17.
“As far as the 2018 field, I really do think it’s star-studded, both from a coaching standpoint and a players standpoint,” Odom said. “It’ll also be star-studded from a fan standpoint — I expect it to maybe set some fan records next year.
“Attendance records I guess is a good way to put it and hopefully the Lahaina Civic Center can rise to the occasion — I bet it will. Our hope is next year’s tournament will be the best ever.”
Chaminade’s Dantley Walker and Austin Pope combined for 35 points and 12 assists against Cal — as seniors, they will not be back in the tournament, but they feel their team should be here next season.
“I can’t really say, but I know we always want to be in it,” said Walker, who will graduate in the spring with a degree in history. “We’ll be back in two years and we’ll be ready to go.”
Said Pope: “Wins like this is the reason why I feel like we should be in this tournament year in and year out. That’s all I got to say on that.”
Silverswords coach Eric Bovaird was a bit more diplomatic.
“Not being here next year will be a little bittersweet, but you know what? You take advantage of the situation you’re in,” he said. “That’s what the powers that be decided to do, so hey, we’re going to go to Arizona next year, we’re going to go to San Diego State and have experiences that will hopefully be incredibly memorable like this.”
* Robert Collias is at email@example.com.
Maui Jim Maui Invitational
Nov. 19-21 • At Lahaina Civic Center
Arizona, Auburn, Duke, Gonzaga, Illinois, Iowa State, San Diego State, Xavier.