The 2014-15 University of Miami basketball season began Thursday night at the BankUnited Center with women’s coach Katie Meier in tears during the national anthem and men’s coach Jim Larrañaga probably feeling like crying at halftime of his game with the Canes trailing Division II Eckerd College.
The UM men rallied to win the exhibition 74-58 but were outrebounded 33-32 by the Tritons. Larrañaga lamented: “We have a lot of work to do.”
Sheldon McClellan, who transferred from Texas, led the Canes with 24 points on 7-of-10 shooting. Kansas State transfer Angel Rodriguez, a Miami Krop graduate, was all over the court with 11 points, six assists and five steals. The pair connected on a few crowd-pleasing alley-oops.
Freshman forward Omar Sherman got extra minutes in the absence of the injured Tonye Jekiri and added 10 points, as did Spaniard Ivan Cruz Uceda, UM’s leading rebounder with eight. Uceda is ineligible to play the first 16 games of the regular season for an eligibility infraction, so coaches let him play Thursday to give him some experience. Jekiri is expected back for next Friday’s regular-season opener at home against Howard.
Rebounding is “a major concern,” Larrañaga said. “Howard is a much more challenging game than this one was.”
The women cruised to a 69-42 victory over Nova Southeastern on an emotional night for Meier. She was overwhelmed at the sight of Michelle Woods and Nigia Greene back in UM uniforms after missing last season with serious injuries — Woods a broken sternum from a car accident and Greene a torn ACL sustained during preseason workouts.
“I was in tears, thinking about those two kids and what they’ve been through, that they got to play again in their Miami uniform,” Meier said.
Meier is especially aware of the fragility of life after losing her nephew, former Auburn football star Phillip Lutzenkirchen, in a car crash over the summer.
Greene was the second-leading scorer with 12 points in 15 minutes, behind Suriya McGuire’s 13 points. Woods had nine points, four rebounds, two assists and two steals.
McGuire was in the car accident with Woods and echoed Meier’s sentiments. “I was in there with her, so it brought tears to my eyes to see her playing so mobile and aggressive, not afraid. She’s still the same Shelly, if not better.”
Meier was especially impressed with freshman forward Khaila Prather, who led UM with 10 rebounds in 15 minutes.
“Doesn’t she just catch your eye?” Meier said. “That long body, long arms getting every ball in the air, playing her tail off. She’s gonna be pretty special.”
The UM women also play their season opener at home next Friday, facing Oakland at 11 a.m. The men’s opener is at 7 p.m.