AUSTIN -- That season-opening loss to Florida Gulf Coast is looking better every day for the University of Miami Hurricanes. UM players said they are not at all surprised to see the little-known Fort Myers team making noise in the NCAA Tournament.
“I wasn’t surprised, just because of how they put it on us early in the season,” said Trey McKinney Jones. “They’re a great team and very confident. They weren’t ready to back down at all. They put the pedal to the metal and they didn’t stop.”
Said Julian Gamble: “They’re a little bit similar to us in that they play with a chip on their shoulder. I grew up with one of the players on their team, Eric McKnight, so I know the type of struggles he’s gone through to get to this moment. So, I wasn’t surprised at all. It just goes to show in this tournament seedings don’t matter.”
As soon as FGCU went up on Georgetown in the opening game, Shane Larkin and Kenny Kadji posted comments on Twitter. From Larkin: “People thought we were weak when we lost to Florida Gulf Coast early in season, hope those ppl are watching them play right now!!”
Kadji said every UM player chose FGCU to beat Georgetown. “The way they played against us at their place was unbelievable. I knew that was not a fluke.”
Miami-Dade College fans watching Sunday’s game between Florida and Minnesota probably noticed a familiar face. Minnesota senior center Trevor Mbakwe is a St. Paul, Minn., native but spent the 2008-09 season at Miami-Dade after transferring from Marquette.
He told reporters he was approached by former UM coach Frank Haith about transferring to the Hurricanes after averaging 16.3 points and 13.2 rebounds for Miami-Dade. But he chose to go back home. Mbakwe led the Big Ten in rebounding this season with 8.8 rebounds per game.
“It’s a big state,” Mbakwe said. “They produce a lot of athletes, football- and basketball-wise. Even with Florida Gulf Coast [making Sweet 16], it shows how good throughout the whole state, how good basketball is.”
Larkin averages 36.2 minutes per game, so he felt very strange playing only 29 minutes against Pacific in the Canes’ 78-49 tournament-opening win. UM was ahead 40-19 at halftime, so coach Jim Larrañaga used the opportunity to play his entire bench for a change.
“I wasn’t tired and I was dry when came into locker room,” Larkin said. “It was a new feeling for me. First time I’ve played under 30 minutes all season. It was a humbling feeling knowing we got it done, but at the same time, I like playing, wish I had been out there longer.”
All seven bench players got in the game against Pacific, and they combined for 28 points. Even walk-ons Steve Sorenson and Justin Heller will forever be able to say they played in the NCAA Tournament.
Sorenson, a freshman, was particularly excited because he grew up in Austin and Dallas.
“When we were watching the Selection Show in Greensboro, I saw that we had the two seed and I looked down at the subscript and I saw Austin, Texas, and I couldn’t have been more ecstatic,’’ Sorenson said. “I haven’t been here in a long time and it feels great to come back.’’
A scalper was quoted in the Austin American-Statesman saying he was not thrilled to have UM, University of Florida and UCLA playing here because he is having a hard time getting rid of his ticket supply.
“Why didn’t we get Oklahoma State or any Big 12 school?” scalper Nick Jones said. “These Florida schools and UCLA, they stay at home, on the beach, whatever.”