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The Hurricanes are loose heading into tonight's game against the up-and-down Illini.
Sunday, March 24, 2013
AUSTIN, Texas — The hunt for levity and adversity never ends for the Miami basketball program. A Saturday afternoon fire alarm brought both.
Interrupting its only full practice for today’s NCAA tournament game against Illinois, the Hurricanes found themselves on a loading dock with time to kill. So, as they’re known to do, the ’Canes did a little freestyle rapping to fill the gap.
“It’s a little bump in the road for us,” senior Julian Gamble said, reaching back to regain the chip-on-the-shoulder mentality.
Pacific certainly didn’t do that Friday. The Hurricanes are fresh and rested coming off the 78-49 beating of the 15-seeded Tigers. A streaky Illini team is the next target on the dream ride with a Sweet 16 seat at stake. Illinois (22-12) showed how good and how poor it can play in Friday’s 57-49 win over Colorado.
Tipoff for Miami’s game against Illinois is at 8:40 p.m., and it will air on TNT.
The Illini can shoot and they can flop — red hot to stone cold. After making three 3-pointers in the final 5:06 of the first half, Illinois made just three total shots in the entire second half.
“I think they shot 31 3s yesterday, so you can’t be surprised,” Miami forward Kenny Kadji said. “They shoot the ball. Sometimes they won’t make any. Sometimes they make everything.”
It’s the same story all season. The Illini have beaten two top-ranked teams (Gonzaga and Indiana), but lost seven of nine games in January. As a 6.5-point underdog, Illinois is eager to find the same edge Gamble gleaned from the fire alarm. The Illini, winners in eight of the last 10, don’t sound intimidated by — Miami a trendy pick to win it all.
“We have gone against bigger and stronger guys all year,” Illinois forward Tyler Griffey said. “But we look forward to the challenge.”
The game will likely be won or lost on the perimeter.
The Hurricanes shut down Pacific’s outside shooting game until they’d built an insurmountable lead. They’ve done it most of the season, but are not immune to surrendering big 3-point games. North Carolina went 13 for 29 from behind the arc in the ACC tournament title game, but Miami matched the Tar Heels punch for punch.
It’s that ability, CBS analyst Seth Davis said, that gives Miami the edge today.
“They can beat you 65-60 and they can beat you 85-80,” said Davis, who’s in his 10th season of NCAA coverage. “It’s an absolute necessity to play deep in the NCAA Tournament.”
Either scenario could easily play out Sunday in Austin.
Illinois made at least 10 3-pointers in each of its first six games. A season-high 14 (on 28 attempts) fell through against Georgia Tech Nov. 28. Then in those six January losses, the Illini made just 24 percent of their shots after making 32.3 percent for the season.
Illini coach Jim Groce knows Georgia Tech numbers won’t be that easy to generate against Miami, noting the Hurricanes boast the ACC’s top two defensive players in Durand Scott and Shane Larkin.
“I think that [Miami’s] size allows those guys to be even more aggressive at times because you’re funneling into bigs and lot of depth up front,” Groce said.
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