Miami Finds An Unshakable Groove Against Mighty Houston

Author: Yuvi March 26, 2023 Miami Finds An Unshakable Groove Against Mighty Houston

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Twelve members of the Miami men’s basketball team packed into a hotel elevator on Thursday night. It was too dense a crowd, and the elevator stalled. Half an hour went by before local firefighters arrived to extricate them.

It was a nervous experience for the players, but for Jim Larrañaga, the team’s coach, there was a lighthearted lesson in there.

“You guys got to be in the paint like you were in the elevator yesterday,” Larrañaga told the Hurricanes on Friday, hours before they faced top-seeded Houston in their regional semifinal matchup in Kansas City.

Miami, a No. The 5 seed and underdog in the game, took Larrañaga’s message to heart, neutralizing the Cougars by passing crisply, shooting brilliantly and, yes, using a mountain of bodies to wrest control of the paint from one of the best rebounding teams in the country.

The Hurricane’s 89–75 win was an unexpectedly lopsided result — one that knocked out the last remaining No. 1 seed in the men’s tournament, minutes after the top overall seed Alabama lost to San Diego State. But the Miami players claimed not to be surprised.

“A lot of the guys on this team have a chip on their shoulder,” said Nijel Pack, Miami’s star point guard, who scored 26 points and spent the night bouncing around the floor in a seemingly unshakable groove. He said he and his teammates relished their status as one of the underappreciated and unsung teams in the competition.

Pack, 21, who transferred to Miami last year after two seasons with Kansas State, shot 8 of 12, including 7 of 10 from 3-point range. He took shots from distances that pushed the boundaries of common basketball wisdom — and Larrañaga instructed him to keep doing it.

“It was a joke,” Larrañaga said of Pack’s night. “He was ridiculous.”

The evening was far less enjoyable for Houston, considered among the favorites to win the tournament. A trip to the Final Four would have been particularly special for the Cougars, with the games to be played in their home city.

Yet when asked this week about Houston’s prospects for success, Coach Kelvin Sampson was surprisingly blunt in nodding to his team’s deficiencies. Never mind the Cougars’ no. 1 seed, he said the day before the game. Never mind their 33-3 record. The season had often been a struggle, he said, and a deep run in the tournament was far from guaranteed.

Sampson, who joined Houston in 2014 and took the school to the Final Four two years ago, dismissed talk, for instance, that this was the best Cougars team he has coached. They were possibly too young and inexperienced, he said, and were too inconsistent to be considered great.

“The only person’s opinion that matters on that is mine because I coached them all,” he said before the game. “I’d probably have a better feel whether this is the best team or not, and it’s not. This has not been our best team.

Sampson’s words proved painfully prescient on Friday night. Houston, known for having one of the best defenses in the country, allowed Miami to shoot 51.7 percent. Seen as a fearful rebounding team, the Cougars let the Hurricanes match them on the boards, 35 to 35.

Miami looked sharp from the tipoff, going up 42–36 after a hard-fought first half that featured seven lead changes. Pack and shooting guard Isaiah Wong (20 points) kept poking holes in the vaunted Houston defense, slashing their way into space, wriggling free for open looks along the 3-point line.

Eventually, Houston could only shrug at Miami’s relentless scoring and production.

“The Pack kid, some of the shots he made were shots you hope he takes,” Sampson said. “The problem was he made them. Some of those were Howitzers.

Miami scored 5 quick points after the break, forcing Sampson to take a timeout, and essentially never looked back, stretching its lead with relative ease.

Houston shot just 37.5 percent. The droopy body language among the players reflected their night of struggles.

“We were just taking it game by game,” said Houston guard Marcus Sasser, who scored 14 points but made only a third of his shots. “We knew how hard it was to get to the Final Four.”

Larrañaga afterward credited his players’ ability to control the paint. Whether or not his elevator lesson had any effect, the Hurricanes packed the lane to impede the Houston guards from driving to the basket and the forwards from chasing down offensive rebounds.

Moments after the final buzzer, Larrañaga was in the team’s locker room, unleashing an arrhythmic but heartfelt dance routine as the song “Nightshift” by the Commodores played in the background. If the players were tired, they didn’t show it. Soon they were bouncing up to dance beside him.

“We were all hyped up,” Jordan Miller said. “We love when Coach L dances.”

Author: Yuvi

My name is Yuvi, I work as Sub Editor at

26 March, 2023, 3:21 am

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