The Maui Invitational holds a. In recent decades, even as football has grown ever more popular — late November becoming as synonymous with family time and turkey as it is with pigskin — college basketball's ties to the week of Thanksgiving have endured. Maui's tournament (held the Monday/Tuesday/Wednesday before Thanksgiving) is the reason why college hoops has a place in the sports discourse this week at a time when the NFL's playoff race starts to take shape and college football's regular season is wrapping up with some of its biggest rivalry games.
2023 marks the 40th staging of this feel-good festival of basketball. With six of the eight teams ranked in this year's bracket, the 2023 Maui Invitational can be called the best collection of teams in any regular-season multi-team event in college basketball history, a fitting culmination to celebrate 40 years in paradise. It's how Maui made its mythology: regularly providing highly ranked matchups and offering up the occasional classic battle between Final Four contenders, carving contours for the regular season.
Here's a chronological look at 20 of Maui's most memorable games over its first four decades.
1988 semifinals: No. 4 Oklahoma 83, No. 8 UNLV 81
A top-10 matchup in the nascent days, and a game that served as a concrete foundation for growing the event into the early '90s. Oklahoma held on after UNLV's Anderson Hunt missed a close-range underhand attempt in the closing seconds. Jerry Tarkanian was ejected in this game and Sooners coach Billy Tubbs picked up a T as well in front of a dominating Runnin' Rebels traveling party that took over the gym. The teams met again later that season in Vegas, and Oklahoma again would win by two points.
1989 quarterfinals: No. 7 North Carolina 80, James Madison 79
For as amazing as Maui has been, game-winning buzzer-beaters are rare. In '89, UNC's King Rice hit the winner as time expired to save the Tar Heels and cap a 10-0 run (with critical buckets from Rick Fox and Hubert Davis) in the closing minute. It only happened because a would-be JMU steal with four seconds to go was negated by William Davis stepping out of bounds. Adding to the Dukes' misery, they missed three straight 1-and-1 chances in the closing minute, opening the window for Carolina's comeback. Dean Smith (barely) beat his old ACC coaching buddy, Lefty Driesell, who went to JMU after Maryland.
1990 championship: No. 13 Syracuse 77, No. 8 Indiana 74.
A line from the Associated Press' game recap began: "This one was good enough to have been played in March." Those were the words of the late, great Jim O'Connell, who was the authority for 30-plus years on all things Maui. The seventh iteration of the Maui tourney brought its first title game classic. Syracuse's Billy Owens went off for 28 points and 13 rebounds. Getting the likes of Jim Boeheim and Bob Knight to travel to the middle of the Pacific Ocean for this tournament, and to have them face off in a tremendous title game clash, meant the Invitational was here to stay.
1991 quarterfinals: Chaminade 111, Providence 108 (OT)
The Silverswords' 1982 upset of No. 1 Virginia is sometimes mistakenly affiliated with the Maui Invitational when in fact it was that upset that prompted the existence of even having a tournament in Maui. Appropriately enough, in the first year of the event, Chaminade won a game (over Davidson). However, no Silverswords performance was as entertaining as this one. In Chaminade's second ever Invitational W, George Gilmore had 37 points and the winning basket in OT against a Rick Barnes-coached PC squad. The Silverswords overcame a 55-40 second half hole; two free throws with 2.3 left in regulation by Chaminade's Gary Skinner got it to bonus basketball. This win validated Chaminade as a viable participant and ensured them of another two-plus decades of inclusion.
1992 seventh-place game: Chaminade 71, Stanford 63 (2OT)
Loser's bracket play counts too! Almost 10 years to the day after Chaminade's world-rattling 77-72 upset of No. 1 Virginia in 1982, the Silverswords commemorated the anniversary with a double-OT chop of the Cardinal. Stanford would have avoided embarrassment if Kenny Hicks' runner had fallen when time expired in regulation. The win improved Chaminade to 3-20 in the event. (Like the Lions on Thanksgiving, Chaminade should always play in Maui.)
1992 championship: No. 5 Kentucky 93, No. 12 Arizona 92
Basketball fans associate Maui with Thanksgiving week, but in its earlier days the tournament took place just before Christmas — what a present this title game was. Rick Pitino's Kentucky club won when Jeff Brassow's buzzer put-back fell in. This after Khalid Reeves (game-best 31 points) made two foul shots to give Arizona its final lead. It was Zona's first loss of the season. A young point guard named Damon Stoudamire added 28 points for Arizona. For Kentucky, its best player in Maui was Travis Ford, who was named tourney MVP after scoring 25 points in the finale.
1995 championship: No. 3 Villanova 77, No. 20 North Carolina 75
Kerry Kittles —one of the era-defining college ballers of the 1990s — scored the clinching shot to set the tone for one of Villanova's best seasons of that decade. UNC's shot to tie fell false at the buzzer. Kitties and Eric Eberz combined for 34 points, while Dean Smith's final trip to Maui was punctuated by the play of one of his best freshmen ever: Antawn Jamison. This remains Villanova's only Maui Invitational trophy.
2000 championship: No. 1 Arizona 79, No. 8 Illinois 76
These two have a penchant for tremendous battles. Arizona's first two flights out to Hawaii finished with title game defeats. Not this year. A stacked Lute Olsen-led team that would go on to make the 2001 national championship game managed to win a Maui crown even without suspended center Loren Woods, an All-American that year. Here's a nugget: This was Bill Self's first loss at Illinois. His Illini rallied from 15 down with under four minutes remaining to put a scare into the Wildcats. The game dodged overtime thanks to two timely defensive swats by Luke Walton and Gilbert Arenas. But the tournament MVP: Arizona forward Michael Wright.
2001 quarterfinals: No. 1 Duke 80, Seton Hall 79
Coming off the program's third national title, Duke had never lost a Maui game (and wouldn't until many years later; you'll see that one below). But Mike Krzyzewski's team almost got sniped in its Monday opener against a Seton Hall squad that would win 12 games that season. Jason Williams' free throw with seven seconds left was the decider; Williams scored 21 of his 27 in the second half. A line from the game recap: "Williams drove to the lane with seven seconds left and Seton Hall's Andre Barrett was whistled for a questionable blocking foul." Even still, Williams clinched the game with a steal on Seton Hall's final possession.
2001 quarterfinals: Ball State 93, No. 7 Kansas 91
Cinderella in November! A brutally hot/sticky gym was the scene for a sport-shaking upset. Ball State's Patrick Johnson hit an acrobatic winner in the paint with 0.8 seconds left. Johnson beat KU's Aaron Miles off the dribble — Miles seized up earlier in the game due to cramps, aided no doubt by the fact that the Lahaina Civic Center gym did not have air conditioning at that time.
"The memory I have of how hot it used to get in there," ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas told me. "It would get so hot and humid in there that they would cramp up in the games. I believe it was Aaron Miles who was about to take a game-tying shot and cramped up, stiff as a board, and fell backward. Guys would get IVs at halftime and put them in the pool after the game."
Nick Collison also was sidelined because of reported dehydration. The Cardinals scored 55 on Kansas in the first half, something no opponent managed in four y seasons. Drew Gooden went for 31 points and 10 rebounds for Kansas, coached then by Roy Williams. Even better for Ball State: It beat No. 3 UCLA the next day.
100 YEARS OF BALL STATE HOOPS!— Ball State Men's Basketball (@BallStateMBB) December 28, 2020
Let's hear one of our all-timers Petie Jackson tell us about the 2001 @MauiInv. Courtesy of @BallStateOnline.
✅ Beat UCLA
✅ Beat Kansas
✅ Moved into the national rankings#CenturyCards pic.twitter.com/y0cNeRYqLM
2005 semifinals: No. 8 Gonzaga 109, No. 12 Michigan State 106 (3OT)
This list is in chronological order, but this is the best game of them all. There's never been a better Maui battle than Zags vs. Spartans 18 years ago. Gonzaga junior Adam Morrison put up a Maui-record 43 points, authoring the early chapters of his 2005-06 NPOY season. MSU's Maurice Ager had 36 points (including seven 3-pointers, one of them at the buzzer in regulation) despite lingering foul trouble. It's impossible to encapsulate this all-time epic in a few sentences; if you saw it in real time, you recognized what was unfolding. The lead for each team never extended more than three points for the final 23 minutes. They made 53 of 57 foul shots. There were 24 lead changes and 18 ties. The definition of a classic.
"That was the best one," Bilas told me. "Raf, McDonough and I were looking at each other saying, 'Can you believe we get to watch this?'"
2005 third-place game: No. 12 Michigan State 74, No. 9 Arizona 71 (OT)
A great one that's sometimes overlooked because of what happened the day before. He's the full scope: Michigan State flew to Hawaii early that year, lost to the University of Hawaii by 22 (!) in its season-opener. The Gonzaga epic happened, then Sparty wrapped it up with one more great Maui affair — a scramble of a win over ranked Arizona. The Wildcats peeled off a 16-point second-half run to get back into the game against an MSU team barely 18 hours removed from a triple-OT defeat. After the win, Tom Izzo admitted, "There was stupidity in the scheduling, but we survived it."
2005 championship: No. 3 UConn 65, No. 8 Gonzaga 63
The '05 bracket has a case for best year. Four of eight teams ranked in the top 12, four games decided by three points or fewer. In the title game, Connecticut won despite being shorthanded (point guard Marcus Williams didn't play), setting up a monstrous regular season for the Huskies. This was the group that would get a 1-seed and enter the NCAA Tournament expecting to win it all — before George Mason pulled off one of the all-time tourney upsets. In Maui, UConn's Denham Brown (who would miss the buzzer-beater vs. Mason) sank a mid-range shot with 1.1 seconds to go. J.P. Batista had 19, while UConn held Adam Morrison to 18. Morrison still won Maui MVP. It was UConn's first regular-season tournament title at a neutral event in five decades.
2008 semifinals: No. 8 Notre Dame 81, No. 6 Texas 80
Another example of that charmed gym in Lahaina bringing out the best in teams. A monstrous performance by Notre Dame's Luke Harangody (29 points, 13 rebounds) was almost eradicated when Texas guard A.J. Abrams barely missed a half-court prayer as time expired. While it's commonplace for teams to get 3-ball-happy in this era, to see two college clubs combine for 49 3-point attempts in 2008 was an aberration. The most ridiculous shot came from Harangody, who hit a desperation heave from about 40 feet out as the shot clock expired with 7 minutes and change remaining. Notre Dame had UT on its heels for almost all of the second half; it never trailed after going up 47-45.
2012 quarterfinals: Butler 72, Marquette 71
Oh, it is most definitely time to remember some College Basketball Guys. Here's who played in this game: Vander Blue. Roosevelt Jones. Junior Cadougan. Andrew Smith. Khyle Marshall. But the biggest name was the guy who hit the running 3-pointer as time expired: Rotnei Clarke. Marquette led for most of the final 10 minutes of the game, but Brad Stevens' team (in what would be his final season in college basketball) had just enough to stay close and pull off the best of feelings: a Monday afternoon Maui thriller on the week of Thanksgiving. These types of endings are why we love this time of the year.
2017 championship: No. 13 Notre Dame 67, No. 6 Wichita State 66
The one where Mike Brey took off his shirt. To be fair, he did it in the locker room, as opposed to on the court in celebration of Notre Dame's lone Maui title. Bare-chested Brey is the most remembered thing from that year, but this is one of the best comeback victories in a Maui final ever. The Fighting Irish rallied from 16 down against shorthanded WSU, clinching a win with two foul shots from Martinas Geben with 2.3 seconds remaining. A did you know: A key play that allowed Notre Dame's win came from a sophomore named Austin Reeves (who nobody foresaw becoming an Important Los Angeles Laker). Reeves missed a 1-and-1 in a one-point game with 13 ticks to go. Rare is the Maui winner that doesn't go on to make the NCAAs, but injuries set the Irish back and they wound up going to the NIT.
2018 championship: No. 3 Gonzaga 89, No. 1 Duke 87
The only game Duke has lost in Maui competition — and the only time it led in this one was at 2-0. It was the year of Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett, Cam Reddish and Tre Jones at Duke. Gonzaga had Rui Hachimura, Corey Kispert and Brandon Clarke. All seven of those players have carved out NBA careers. The hype surrounding Duke and Zion was reaching lofty levels, even at this stage of the season. Gonzaga made a huge statement, opening the game by making 18 of its first 25 shots. The Zags led by 16 in the second half — and then Duke made a signature Duke run. Gonzaga almost gave it away at the foul line late, but a no-call on Barrett's drive led to a win in semi-surprising style. This was the first instance of ESPN moving the Maui championship game up to the second of four tip times on Wednesday, as opposed to it being the final game of the event, a decision I continue to vilify. Bring back the late-night Maui championship battles!
2019 championship: No. 4 Kansas 90, Dayton 84 (OT)
Dayton's 84-79 Maui win over Gonzaga in 2013 just narrowly missed here, but there was no way this Flyers classic wasn't making my list. Yes, it was a loss, but it was a moment of arrival for UD that season and its eventual NPOY, Obi Toppin. Here's the thing: Toppin didn't even lead Dayton in scoring the day. He had 18, Ryan Mikesell had 19. Kansas' Devon Dotson had a career-best 31 and won Maui MVP alongside Udoka Azubuike, who added career-best 29 points for KU. Twenty lead changes, 11 ties, one Lahaina classic. When the 2020 NCAA Tournament was canceled days before Selection Sunday, Kansas was the projected No. 1 overall seed and Dayton, in its best season ever, was also a projected No. 1. That both met in Maui only adds to the what-could-have-been aspect of that star-crossed year ... but also makes this one of the more special Maui games ever. Dayton and Kansas getting to play in a season where neither got a chance to win it all adds to the lore.
2020 championship: No. 17 Texas 69, No. 14 North Carolina 67
Proof that the Maui juice travels, even when it's not in Lahaina. (Let's hope the same is true of 2023, with it being held in Honolulu.) Back in 2020, when the tournament was forced to relocate to Asheville, North Carolina, and without fans in attendance, we still got a great one. I wonder if this game is destined to be overlooked in the years ahead because of its location and it being 2020 amid the pandemic. Hey, it deserves a spot on the list. Matt Coleman hit the winner with 0.1 left on the clock to give Texas its first Maui title. Texas almost collapsed, giving up a 16-point lead to UNC. It was UT's second win in three days that came down to its final possession.
2022 championship: No. 14 Arizona 81, No. 10 Creighton 79
Scroll back up and you'll see we've had five of the past six Maui title games register among the best in the tournament's history. Let's hope that continues in 2023. Back in '22, Creighton nearly took out Arizona in the first Maui tourney in Maui since 2019. It was one we all deserved — a frenzied finish. The Bluejays and Wildcats were as efficient as expected, both going for better than 1.05 points per possession.
Zona's Oumar Ballo (tourney MVP) had the game of his career, going off for 30 points and 13 rebounds. Arizona won despite not scoring in the final 2:21. It was Creighton's third game in three days against a ranked team (No. 21 Texas Tech, No. 9 Arkansas). Arizona won its third Maui championship, joining Duke (5), North Carolina (4), Kansas (3) and Syracuse (3) as the only schools to win it three times or more.
Best Maui Invitational winning percentage
*Minimum 10 games played