University of Miami

Sour end to Sweet 16 as UM basketball team upended by Villanova

Miami’s Sheldon McClellan (10) and Villanova’s Phil Booth (5) scramble for a loose ball in the second half during a Sweet 16 matchup in the NCAA Tournament’s South region at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Ky., on Thursday, March 24, 2016. Villanova advanced, 92-69.
Miami’s Sheldon McClellan (10) and Villanova’s Phil Booth (5) scramble for a loose ball in the second half during a Sweet 16 matchup in the NCAA Tournament’s South region at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Ky., on Thursday, March 24, 2016. Villanova advanced, 92-69. TNS

Facing a team coach Jim Larrañaga had called “a mirror image” of his University of Miami team, the Hurricanes slammed into a Villanova team that had a senior point guard as good as Angel Rodriguez, as many weapons and tenacious defenders as the Canes, as respected a coach, and — most important on this night — a work ethic that not only matched, but at times exceeded, Miami’s.

The second-seeded Wildcats shot 62 percent, outrebounded UM by 10, and advanced to the Elite Eight with a 92-69 victory over the third-seeded Hurricanes.

Villanova on Saturday faces top-seeded Kansas, which eliminated fifth-seeded Maryland 79-63 late Thursday. It will be the Wildcats’ third regional final appearance since 2005.

The Canes, meanwhile, head back to Coral Gables the same way they did in 2013, with a sour memory of their Sweet 16 game. They did not play their best when it counted most, and that will sting for a while.

“They had more grit and fight than us, for sure,” UM forward Kamari Murphy said. “The second half was all them. We had no juice, had no fight. A team that’s offensively gifted like that, you can’t play catch-up. They were quicker than us, outfought us, and got the best of us.”

Rodriguez, slumped in his locker room chair, added: “At this point in the season, whoever wants it more is going to win because everybody’s very, very talented. They wanted it more, I guess, because they outplayed us.

“Every loose ball, they got to it first, and that was shocking, especially at this stage.”

It’s really sad that I’m taking off my UM jersey for the last time. This is not how I pictured it ending.

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Both teams shot high percentages, but the Wildcats outscored UM 18-9 off turnovers and 14-9 on second-chance points.

“Normally, if I look at a stat sheet and we’ve shot 53 percent from the field, 58 percent from three, I think we probably won the game,” Larrañaga said. “But you look at their stats, 62 percent from the field, 66 percent from three, and 95 percent from the foul line. They’re just an incredible offensive team.

“We had no way to stop them.”

It is not the way seniors Rodriguez, Sheldon McClellan, Tonye Jekiri, and Ivan Cruz Uceda wanted their college careers to end.

McClellan, doing all he could to extend UM’s season, led all scorers with 26 points on 8-of-12 shooting. Rodriguez, who averaged 26 points in the first two rounds, finished with 13.

“They were hitting threes off the loose balls, and that really killed our momentum when we were trying to come back,” McClellan said. “It’s really sad that I’m taking off my UM jersey for the last time. This is not how I pictured it ending.”

Villanova (32-5) had four players in double figures. Point guard Ryan Arcidiacono and Kris Jenkins had 21 points each. Daniel Ochefu added 17 and Josh Hart had 14.

The Canes (27-8) didn’t play with the urgency they had in the first and second rounds, and that angered Larrañaga, who stormed onto the court to yell at his players after Ja’Quan Newton didn’t battle for a loose ball.

After that play, former Hurricane Julian Gamble, a forward on the 2013 team, tweeted from Belgium, where he plays pro: “One thing he loathes is a lack of effort.”

 
Miami coach Jim Larrañaga talks with guard Angel Rodriguez during the second half against Villanova in the NCAA Tournament in Louisville, Ky., Thursday, March 24, 2016. Villanova won 92-69. Timothy D. Easley / AP

Villanova set the tone early. Keeping with the custom from back home at the BankUnited Center, Canes fans remained standing until UM scored its first basket. They watched the Wildcats take an early 8-0 lead on a three-pointer by Jalen Brunson. Miami finally got on the scoreboard at 16:32 with a three by McClellan.

Murphy followed that up with a monster dunk, and the UM fans went wild. But Villanova’s defense was relentless, and forced the Canes into five early turnovers.

Villanova opened up a 15-point lead on a three-pointer by Jenkins, and it appeared maybe the game was getting away from the Hurricanes. But then, McClellan and Rodriguez showed that they, too, could shoot from long range.

McClellan for three! 29-17.

Rodriguez for three! 29-20.

McClellan three! 29-23.

Rodriguez three! 29-26.

Miami got to within one point, 31-30, with 4:33 to go in the first half.

Villanova led 43-37 at the half, and the shooting percentages leaped out of the box score: UM 67 percent from the field, 64 percent (7 of 11) from three-point range. Villanova 64 percent overall and 75 percent (6 of 8) from beyond the arc.

Combined, the teams shot 65.2 percent in the first half, the best shooting first half in the tournament the past three years.

Apparently, those three-point shooting drills Larrañaga shared with Villanova coach Jay Wright on the recruiting trail worked.

The second half opened with a missed dunk by Jekiri, and the Wildcats made their next seven shots to stretch their lead to 53-42 with 15 minutes to go. Meanwhile, Jekiri and McClellan picked up their third fouls early in the second half. Jekiri went to the bench, and the Wildcats took advantage in the paint and never were threatened again.

Michelle Kaufman: 305-376-3438, @kaufsports

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