- The Maui Invitational starts Monday with four quarterfinals matchups, and top-10 teams Duke, Auburn and Gonzaga are all in action.
Zion Williamson played just seven minutes in the first half of Duke's Maui Invitational quarterfinal matchup with San Diego State, scoring five points and going 1 for 5 from the floor. Two quick fouls relegated the Blue Devils' star to the bench for much of the opening stanza, which in theory should have given the Aztecs an advantage.
It wasn't from lack of trying, but SDSU got little relief whether Williamson was on the floor or not. Duke made six of its first seven three-point attempts, R.J. Barrett scored 16 points and dished out four assists in the first 20 minutes alone and the Blue Devils entered halftime up by 17. They then were able to coast in the second half, handing out playing time to several typical role or even bench players en route to a 90–64 final margin. The Aztecs had four starters in double figures, including Jalen McDaniels, but got little production from their bench and had no answer to the waves of Duke's offensive firepower.
Williamson, for his part, didn't let the early foul trouble ruin his day. He finished with 13 points, six rebounds and five steals, the fourth of which led to a powerful windmill dunk that brought the crowd in Lahaina into delirium.
But consider this: while Williamson, Barrett and Cam Reddish combined for 49, it was perhaps more important that others showed what they're capable of as well. Point guard Tre Jones hit double figures for the first time this season, scoring 14 and missing just one of his seven attempts from the floor. Jack White continued his invaluable play off the bench, adding 12 points and eight rebounds, including hitting a pair of threes. Javin DeLaurier had six boards, including three offensive ones, and even 7-foot center Antonio Vrankovic grabbed three offensive rebounds.
As good as the trio of Williamson, Barrett and Reddish is, Duke's going to need to be able to overcome nights when one or multiple of them inevitably get into foul trouble or have off games. The Blue Devils' non-freshman pieces are often an afterthought, but they're going to be called on at times, even in big games.
One of those big games is now on the horizon. Duke will get No. 8 Auburn in Tuesday's semifinal, its biggest test since the opener against Kentucky. The Tigers like to play fast and shoot the three, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see this one turn into a shootout. The Blue Devils' most direct path to success will come from forcing Auburn into tough shots from the perimeter, limiting the Tigers' second chances and containing the guard duo of Jared Harper and Bryce Brown. Easier said than done, though the same can be said for the Tigers' chances at slowing down Duke's talented stars. —Molly Geary
Auburn 88, Xavier 79 (OT)
Though it looked like the inferior team for most of the game, Xavier found a way to hang with No. 8 Auburn for nearly 44 minutes in the Maui Invitational opener. The Musketeers stayed within striking distance for all of regulation, then went on a late run to send the game to overtime.
That’s when Jared Harper finally decided he had had enough. Halfway through the extra period, Auburn’s star guard got a high ball screen, drove to his right and launched his 5’ 11” body into the air for a filthy poster dunk. Two possessions later, he drove left and nailed a tough floater to put the Tigers up four.
Harper scored 25, Bryce Brown led all scorers with 26, and Auburn pulled out a hard-fought 88–79 victory to kick off the four-game Monday slate in Lahaina. Harper and Brown scored 10 of Auburn’s 11 overtime points while a wiped-out Xavier team managed just a single basket. Grad transfer Ryan Welage led the Musketeers with 17 points, but they couldn’t overcome a dreadful game from lead guard Quentin Goodin (3-for-19 shooting, seven turnovers).
It was a game worthy of March, especially in the second half. The pace was frenetic throughout, but neither team could seem to buy a basket in the first 20 minutes. After the break, shots started to fall for both teams and it became a fantastic, back-and-forth matchup. Auburn went up by double-digits twice; both times, Xavier immediately went on a run to get back in the game. And every time Xavier got close, Auburn had an answer to pull away.
Auburn shot just 31% from three, but forced 22 turnovers on the game, converting many of them into easy offense on the other end. These Tigers are a top-10 team because of their two upperclassmen guards, but also because they play eight excellent athletes that will make you work hard to score the ball. That said, they gave up 49 points in a second half where Xavier went 18 for 18 at the free throw line. It was the second straight loss for the Musketeers, though they were much more impressive than they were in a home loss to Wisconsin last week. If Xavier can hold onto the ball and get better production from Goodin, Travis Steele’s team has the shooting ability and low-post presences to make noise.
Auburn’s win means it gets a chance to see how it matches up with the No. 1 team in the country on Tuesday. The Tigers will face Duke in the second round and will need to make two major improvements to have a chance at pulling the upset. First, they’ll need Harper, Brown and Chuma Okeke to get hot from three. Second, they need to crash the defensive glass. Auburn gave up 16 offensive rebounds to Xavier, which won’t cut it against Zion Williamson and company. —Will Ragatz
Gonzaga 84, Illinois 78
Survive and advance may be a March motto, but it was ever-true for No. 3 Gonzaga on Monday night.
Playing in the last quarterfinal of a long first day of the Maui Invitational, the Zags nearly blew a 13-point second-half lead to a spirited Illinois team before hanging on late to win an unexpected thriller, 84–78.
The Bulldogs and Illini went toe-to-toe for much of the first half before a pair of clutch shots in the final 66 seconds gave Gonzaga some breathing room, and it took a seven-point lead into the locker room.
That lead seemed secure until Trent Frazier spearheaded a late charge by Illinois, at one point scoring 10 straight Illini points to help cut the deficit down to two with 4:25 remaining. Then even after the Zags rebuilt a nine-point lead after a Rui Hachimura three, Frazier struck again, making a pair of free throws and then later hitting a three—while getting fouled—to cut it to 80–78 with a minute to play.
Illinois got the ball back after a Gonzaga turnover with 31 seconds remaining, but Frazier airballed a tough three-point attempt and Jeremy Jones made a pair of free throws on the other end to finally end the Illini upset bid.
Gonzaga was sloppy throughout the night, especially in the first half, when it turned it over 14 times while faced with Illinois’s active, in-your-face defense. It finished with 22 turnovers, an extremely uncharacteristic mark by a team that is usually reliable with the basketball. The biggest culprits were ball-handlers Josh Perkins and Geno Crandall, who combined for 12 giveaways, and that’s not an encouraging sign for the Bulldogs.
Frazier’s big night ended with 29 points on 8-of-19 shooting, and the sophomore guard also added five steals. Freshman big man Giorgi Bezhanishvili added 17 points for the underdogs, but turned it over five times.
The Zags were paced by Hachimura, who went 7 for 14 from the field and finished with a team-high 23 points. But it’s hard to overstate the performance of Jones, a senior forward who eclipsed his career-high in the first half alone with 12 points and later tacked on the game-sealing free throws. He also added 11 rebounds and was a perfect 5 for 5 from the field.
Gonzaga now heads to the semifinals to face Arizona, which beat Iowa State earlier in the night to drop the Cyclones into the loser’s side of the bracket against Illinois. The Zags will need to clean up their mistakes if they wish to make a run at the Maui crown; even if they get by the Wildcats, it’s hard to see them having success against Duke or Auburn in the final if they play this sloppy. But as Monday night showed, the nation’s No. 3 ranked team shouldn’t overlook anyone, especially in the crazed atmosphere of the Lahaina Civic Center. —Molly Geary
Arizona 71, Iowa State 66
In a game where neither team can seem to separate itself, one player getting hot down the stretch can make all the difference. That was the case with Arizona’s Justin Coleman in the Wildcats’ 71-66 victory over Iowa State in the Maui Invitational quarterfinals. Coleman scored 15 of his team-leading 18 points in the second half, including a personal 9-4 run that turned a 56-54 deficit into a 63-60 lead Arizona wouldn’t relinquish. The grad transfer guard from Samford—who started his career at Alabama—carried the Wildcats to a comeback win in a game that Iowa State controlled from late in the first half to late in the second.
The Cyclones used a strong advantage in paint scoring to pull ahead during a first half where neither team could hit a shot from outside. Virginia transfer Marial Shayok led the way with 19 points and 14 rebounds on the game, with 13 and eight of those coming in the first half. Freshman Talen Horton-Tucker and Nebraska transfer Michael Jacobson added 16 points apiece, overwhelming Arizona with strength near the basket.
Thirty minutes into the game, Iowa State led 54-44. Then Coleman took over, and the Cyclones fell apart. It was an impressive second-half performance from a completely rebuilt Arizona team. The Wildcats lost all five starters from the team that won the Pac-12 and was shocked by Buffalo in the first round in March, highlighted by No. 1 overall pick DeAndre Ayton. Newcomers Ryan Luther (Pitt transfer), Chase Jeter (Duke), and Brandon Williams (freshman) joined Coleman and sophomore Brandon Randolph in scoring in double-figures.
The difference in the game was Arizona hitting eight threes, six in the second half. Coleman’s four threes were as many as Iowa State made as a team. Arizona also turned the ball over four fewer times than the Cyclones.
Arizona earns the right to—in all likelihood—face a terrifying Gonzaga team in the semifinals. After losing the battle on the glass and in the paint to Iowa State, the Wildcats figure to have an impossible task defending the Bulldogs’ frontcourt of Brandon Clarke and Rui Hachimura. Neither Arizona nor Iowa State provided much reason to believe it will be an NCAA Tournament team this year, but their first round matchup was a whole lot of fun. —Will Ragatz