Miami Just Taking Care Of Business

Even before the start of the season the popular opinion was that the University of Miami men's basketball team would fade at the sight of it's Big East schedule after feasting on some non-conference cupcakes early on. Playing their last season as a member of the Big East before moving into the ACC next fall, UM was expected to go away quietly. But the Hurricanes haven't cooperated - so far.

Miami (12-5, 2-1), picked to finished 11th in the league's preseason poll, will enter Wednesday night's conference game against Rutgers (9-5, 1-3) in search of their third consecutive victory - all in the Big East - and tied for third-place in the conference standings.

After suffering a blowout defeat at the hands of North Carolina in early January and a double overtime loss to Pittsburgh in their conference opener, the Hurricanes have rebounded with road victories at St. John's and Virginia Tech. With 12 more regular-season conference games remaining it might be too early to consider the Hurricanes a serious contender at this point. But UM coach Perry Clark likes the direction his team is headed in.

"You know to come back and play the way we did against St. John's and Virginia Tech - especially on the road - says a lot about the kind of character this team has," said Clark. "Last year they might not have responded the way they have, but I think we're talking about a smarter basketball team this season."

Of the Hurricanes 17 losses last season eight were decided by eight points or less as the UM repeatedly committed costly mistakes in critical situations in almost every contest. But for a length-of-the-court drive by Pittsburgh guard Karl Krueser at the end of regulation in the loss to the Panthers, UM has held up nicely. Against the Hokies, UM opened the second-half with a 12-5 run and built a 15-point lead that they would never relinquish.

And it also helps that Miami has been getting some quality offensive production from several players - starting with sophomore guard Rob Hite. Hite, who is averaging a team-leading 17.2 points per game, is coming off an impressive performance against Virginia Tech in which he matched his season-high with 26 points. Hite was 9-of-10 from the floor, while hitting all five of his three-point attempts. He had 18 points against St. John's.

"I'm just trying to give the team a lift," said Hite, who is shooting 59 percent from the floor and has led the Hurricanes in points in six of the last eight games. "I'm very confident that I can put the ball in the hole and the guys are doing a nice job of getting me the ball."

UM senior forward Rodrigue Djahue, averaging 4.8 points and 3.9 rebounds, has been effective inside. Djahue had 12 points and 10 rebounds against the Hokies and has 23 rebounds in the last three games. Hite and Djahue have made up for the recent struggles of senior Darius Rice, who is 8-of-24 from the floor in the last two games.

"I'll snap out of it," says Rice, averaging 16.2 points a game this season. "Just keep getting me the ball."

Rutgers, tied for fifth-place in the Big East, is in desperate need of a victory. The Scarlet Knights opened the season by winning seven of nine games, but have dropped four of their last six games, including a 54-49 loss at Pittsburgh last Saturday. Rutgers has lost three of four games on the road.

Rutgers junior guard Ricky Shields, coming off a 10-point performance against Pittsburgh, leads the team with a 14.1 points per game average and has a team-high 32 three-pointers. Senior forward Herve Lamizana is averaging 13.9 points and a team-leading 8.0 rebounds per game. While the Scarlet Knights, averaging 66.5 points and shooting .403 percent from the floor this season, might be struggling on offense, their defense is holding the opposition to 63.9 points and 41 percent shooting.

"We have to be a little more aggressive against Miami than we've been in our last couple games," said Rutgers coach Gary Waters. "Miami has a few guys that can score in bunches so if we don't get our's it could be a long night down there."

Miami leads the all-time series 7-3 and has won five of the last six meetings between the teams. Rutgers defeated Miami 64-61 in 2002 - the most recent game in the series.

Canes Time Top Stories