University of Miami

UM to be tested by tenacious FSU in home doubleheader on Sunday

University of Miami basketball coach Jim Larranaga.
University of Miami basketball coach Jim Larranaga. MIAMI HERALD

University of Miami basketball coaches Jim Larrañaga and Katie Meier had stern words with their teams over the holiday break, hoping to light a spark in them for the start of the Atlantic Coast Conference season.

After opening the season 10-0 and reaching No. 6 in the national rankings, the UM men’s team has struggled to find a rhythm and lost two of its past four games – to New Mexico State and a sub-.500 Georgia Tech. The Hurricanes (12-2) are ranked No. 15 heading into Sunday’s 6 p.m. home showdown against No. 24 Florida State – Miami’s first home game since Dec. 5. A loss to the Seminoles would likely drop the Canes from the rankings.

During the halftime interview of UM’s 10-point loss at Georgia Tech, Larrañaga described the Canes’ play as “appalling.” On Friday, he said his team “has a lot of growing up to do.” His players are making poor decisions, he said, not passing soon enough and lack on-court chemistry.

Ja’Quan Newton is the team’s lone senior. Sophomore Bruce Brown and highly-touted freshman Lonnie Walker IV, both projected as first-round NBA draft picks before the season, have been inconsistent. Brown vowed to step up on Sunday. The team’s leading scorer is much-improved sophomore Dewan Huell (13.4 ppg, 6.5 rpg).

He lamented that many college players today seem more focused on their NBA dreams than getting an education and improving their basketball skills. He said it existed even when he coached at George Mason and Bowling Green.

Asked if his players may be distracted by a potential NBA future, he said: “Our guys? No, every guy. These guys are coming in (to college basketball) looking at us like we’re a prep school for the NBA. They read social media and Twitter and all that junk, and what the media say...It’s a real problem for our culture. It’s a real sad commentary as to what’s happened to college basketball.”

Brown is averaging 10.9 points and shooting 43 percent. Walker averages 8.3 points (aided by a 26-point game against Boston University). In the past six games, they’ve shot a combined 4-of- 36 (11 percent) from 3-point range.

Larranaga said if the Hurricanes aren’t more careful with the ball, they’ll be exploited by FSU.

“FSU is athletic, long, gifted, tall, and have active hands,” he said. “Phil Cofer is an NBA player. They’re playing at a very high level right now.”

The Seminoles led fourth-ranked Duke at the half, and Cofer had 22 first-half points, but the Blue Devils scored the final nine points and won 100-93. FSU went on to beat North Carolina in the next game.

The UM women host Wake Forest at noon Sunday. The Canes (11-4) are coming off a close road loss at No. 2 Notre Dame. Senior Erykah Davenport scored a career-high 24 points in 23 minutes. Junior Emese Hof added 14, and redshirt senior Shaneese Bailey had 13 points, a game-high eight rebounds and four assists.

“They came back from Christmas and I thought they had too much Christmas turkey and they looked out of shape, not committed and I was just furious,” Meier said. “I had the upperclassmen do film with me first and I lit into them about `What are you waiting for? I don’t see your purpose, don’t see your effort, don’t see your focus.’ Three of our top four scorers are freshmen and that’s fine, they’re talented, but they should not be leading us. After that meeting, I saw a real shift. Our upperclassmen heard the message.”

Meier also credited freshman Endia Banks for the team’s recent success: “Endia Banks looked like a fifth-year senior in that Notre Dame game. She is so composed. Six assists against a high-level defensive team. In recruiting I didn’t think she’d be that player for us. I thought she’d be a wing who would generate offense, not leading and controlling a game. Other coaches in the league are like, `That Banks is special. And she really is.”