The buzz around the University of Miami campus this week has been about Saturday’s football mega-game between the Hurricanes and No.2 Florida State. The basketball program is hoping a little of that excitement rubs off on their teams, which open their regular seasons at the BankUnited Center on Friday.
The women’s team plays a rare 11 a.m. game against Oakland University to accommodate thousands of Miami-Dade County school kids who were invited. The men play at 7 p.m. against Howard.
“The Florida State game is a focal point for our athletic department this weekend, and there is a lot of energy on campus in anticipation of that game,” coach Jim Larrañaga said. “Normally, there’s a spinoff and, hopefully, we’ll see that on Friday night. The students will say, `Man, I’m fired up for the football game, what can I do? Hey, let’s go over to the BUC and cheer on the men’s basketball team.’”
The men face two tough challenges against Howard: 5-10 sophomore guard James “J-Byrd” Daniel, the MEAC Player of the Year who averaged 21 points per game last season, and a Bison zone defense that focuses on guarding the perimeter.
“Daniel is a high-octane scorer, can really shoot the three, is very good in the open court and will it’s going to be a major challenge for our guards,” Larrañaga said. “We will have a lot of guys assigned to him.”
The two most likely to be responsible for Daniel are guards Angel Rodriguez and Manu Lecomte. Rodriguez, a redshirt junior transfer from Kansas State, demonstrated his defensive skills in an exhibition win over Nova last week with five steals.
“Angel is a pit bull on defense,” Larrañaga said. “He’s going to come up with loose balls, deflections, steals. He distributes the ball very well, finds the open man, a very willing passer. He’s also a very good three-point shooter, though he didn’t make any in that game. It’s going to take him a while. Even though he’s in very good shape and practicing, he’s rusty. It takes a while to get back in sync.”
The combination of Rodriguez and Lecomte gives the Canes a new dimension they didn’t have last season and makes them more unpredictable.
“Putting them in the game together gives us the best combination of ball-handling and shooting we have,” Larrañaga said. “They’re both outstanding three-point shooters. The question is can we defend and rebound with them both in there?”
Rodriguez can’t wait for the game.
“I’m like a little kid before Christmas,” he said. “We’re all excited to finally go out there and prove what we have.”
The women’s team cruised to a 69-42 exhibition win over Nova Southeastern last Friday. Suriya McGuire had 13 points and Nigia Greene, back after medical redshirt season, added 12. Freshman forward Khaila Prather led the team with 10 rebounds and figures to play a significant role.
Miami’s defense was particularly strong. Nova was held to 16-for-54 shooting (29.6 percent) and just 2 for 24 from three-point range.
“They’re challenging the ball, putting bodies on people, and we really need that,” UM coach Katie Meier said.
Friday: Oakland University at UM women
When/where: 11 a.m.; BankUnited Center
Radio: WVUM-90.5 FM
Noteworthy: The Hurricanes have eight players back from last year’s team, including starters Keyona Hayes, Suriya McGuire and Adrienne Motley. Redshirt freshman Nigia Greene and redshirt junior Michelle Woods are back from injury, and freshman Khalia Prather had 10 rebounds in 69-42 exhibition win over Nova. UM beat Oakland 86-68 last season.
Howard at UM men
When/where: 7 p.m.; BankUnited Center.
Radio: WQAM-560 AM, WVUM-90.5 FM.
Noteworthy: UM guards Angel Rodriguez and Manu Lecomte will have a tough assignment against 5-10 sophomore guard James “J-Byrd’’ Daniel, the MEAC Player of the Year last season with 21 points per game, which was 11th best in the nation. Daniel hit double figures in every regular season game last season. UM 7-0 center Tonye Jekiri is expected back from injury.