The Miami Hurricanes proved in two outings just how much can change in the matter of a week.
Last Saturday’s Chapel Hill-sized beat-down courtesy of North Carolina felt like the ultimate setback. A week later; the disappointment was replaced with sheer optimism as Miami knocked off No. 3 Virginia and No. 11 Louisville over a five-day span.
The Canes still need to get “road tough”—in South Bend and Blacksburg this week to close out the regular season, before trekking to Washington D.C. for the conference tournament and then wherever Miami lands for March Madness—but strong play against the Cavs and Cards are a step in the right direction.
The BUC was electric on Saturday afternoon for what was most-certainly a heavyweight bout from tip-off.
Miami took it’s first lead at the 15:27 mark, going up 11-9 after Ivan Cruz Uceda hit his second three-pointer over a 63-second span. Prior to, Angel Rodriguez hit a three and assisted Davon Reed on a jumper—going toe-to-toe with Louisville’s Chianu Onukau and Trey Lewis, who combined for nine points in a matter of minutes.
20-20. 27-27. 34-34. Punches traded; the blow for blow continued. The Canes cooled off in the final minute. Outside of a few late free throws, Miami’s last field goal of the half was a three-pointer from Reed at the 4:45 mark.
The Canes’ drought continued early in the second half; shots missed while the Cardinals hit free throws, lay-ups and a few jumpers, extending their lead to eight points three minutes in before Jim Larranaga called a Miami timeout and leaned on Rodriguez to provide a spark.
“I said, `Listen, you need to show everybody in this arena how hard you’re willing to play to win this game, and your teammates will follow,” Larranaga said.
Rodriguez got busy, cutting to the basket and delivering circus-style lay-ups or getting to the line, keeping the game in reach for Miami—scoring five points for the Canes in 32 seconds; the Cards leading, 46-43 at the 13:53 mark, forcing Rick Pitino to call a timeout.
In the wake of the loss, a frustrated Pitino was extremely candid in explaining the difference he saw in the senior point guard from 2015 to 2016.
“He’s a much different player than last year,” Pitino said. “Last year he was out of control, he was erratic, he was heavy. This year he is light and doing all the smart things. You’ve got to give credit to a player who turns around his body and his game like that.”
From the moment the Canes took that three-point lead, Rodriguez’s teammates felt the spark and responded.
Tonye Jekiri stepped up his rebounding effort while the Canes as a whole clamped down on defense—allowing Miami to chip away, eventually taking the lead on a James Palmer lay-up with 12:17 remaining; UM’s first since the 2:26 mark in the first half.
A signature moment at the 10:21 mark; Rodriguez driving to the basket yet again, but dishing it out to Cruz Uceda, who canned a three-pointer for the 50-49 lead. Sheldon McClellan got the steal. Rodriguez got back to the line and his back-to-back free throws.
Louisville went on another mini-run as Miami cooled again—the Canes trailing by five with 7:39 remaining.
Anthony Lawrence Jr. dropped a clutch three with the shot clock about to expire and Rodriguez and McClellan rolled in a pair of lay-ups before a mix of solid defense and offensive setbacks for the road team had things rolling Miami’s way from the five-minute mark on.
Trailing 62-58, the Canes went on to outscore the Cardinals 15-3 down the stretch. Jekiri went 4-of-4 from the line, McClellan got his two and a late clutch three from Reed all but sealed it—pushing the lead to six for Miami with :43 remaining.
McClellan and Reed hit some late free throws that demoralized the Cards; the pressure ratcheted up a few notches and momentum completely on the side of the home team, while Jekiri finished with two steals, eight rebounds and eight points.
Rodriguez and Reed each had 17 points in the win, while McClellan followed with 13 and Cruz Uceda with nine, but way of a 3-for-3 performance from beyond-the-arc. Regarding bench play, Lawrence Jr. and Palmer logged a combined 29 minutes and scored nine—picking up the slack for Ja’Quan Newton, who was suspended for the final three regular season games for violating a team rule.
Miami’s victory pushed Louisville into third place with three games remaining; a huge blow as the Cardinals self-imposed a post-season ban and were playing for nothing more than a regular season conference title.
The Canes also snapped a five-game losing streak to Louisville, dating back to 1963.
Next up for Miami; a Wednesday night showdown at No. 23 Notre Dame—the Canes’ fourth-consecutive game against a ranked team over a 12-day stretch.
A victory against the Fighting Irish sets up a winnable finale at Virginia Tech; the result of both pushing Miami to 25-5 on the season and in great position for both the ACC’s, as well as the NCAA tourney.