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Cats cap Maui Invitational with a mahalo — and a Thanksgiving meal

Arizona and its traveling party are staying in Maui for Thanksgiving.

LAHAINA, Hawaii — Because the Maui Invitational is back in its rightful place after two years of COVID-related diversions, inside a building just up a volcanic slope from the Pacific Ocean, coaches have that really hard decision to make again.

Do you leave Maui right after the tournament ends on Wednesday evening and race to the Kahului Airport for a red-eye flight that will get you home in time for Thanksgiving dinner and the rest of nonconference play?

Or do you stay and enjoy Thanksgiving in the islands, risking getting too comfy before heading into a next game that might be just a few days away?

Arizona has done it both ways. Lute Olson once took the Wildcats from their 2000 Maui Invitational championship into a game just three days later at Indianapolis against Purdue (the Wildcats, predictably, lost).

Arizona center Oumar Ballo front left, and guard Courtney Ramey celebrate after Arizona defeaed Creighton 81-79 in an NCAA college basketball game in the Maui Invitational on Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2022, in Lahaina, Hawaii. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)

Sean Miller, taking the Wildcats to Maui three times over his 12-year stint, did it both ways: Returning his guys right after the final game and keeping them over for the holiday.

It’s not hard to guess what second-year coach Tommy Lloyd decided to do, even before the Wildcats won the Maui Invitational by beating Cincinnati, No. 14 San Diego State and No. 10 Creighton in three days.

“We’ll hang out,” Lloyd said. “You know, spend Thanksgiving Day here and then travel back Friday afternoon. Anytime you get over to a place like this, why rush leaving?”

Having also cleared Arizona’s basketball calendar until a Dec. 1 game at Utah, Lloyd even invited all his staffers to bring along their families. Several players also have relatives tagging along. The athletic department’s traveling party numbers about 100.

Sunday night's show was just one of the things that makes the Maui Invitational unique. "Anytime you get over to a place like this," UA coach Tommy Lloyd says, "why rush leaving?"

A good time was planned, win or lose.

“There’s no set formula,” Lloyd says. “At the end of the day, Thanksgiving is a special holiday and a lot of players have family over here. So the best opportunity for them to spend Thanksgiving with their family, or their Arizona family, is to stay here.”

To make it an even bigger party, Arizona’s entire booster group of about 300 has also been extended invitations to a Thanksgiving dinner gathering Thursday. As listed on UA’s official itinerary, it is to include “all guests.”

Meanwhile, with basketball out of the way for the moment, the players were scheduled to bond further over a different sort of activity. At least those who are comfortable putting on a snorkeling mask and jumping in the ocean.

“I’ll probably be the only one who’s staying on the shore,” said UA guard Courtney Ramey, a native of landlocked St. Louis. “I’m not a big swimmer so I’m gonna stay away from the water.”

But even if Ramey doesn’t spent part of the holiday surrounded by tropical fish and sea turtles, he will be surrounded by family.

That part is required.

Contact sports reporter Bruce Pascoe at bpascoe@tucson.com. On Twitter: @brucepascoe


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