Miami - FIU Preview

When Perry Clark took over as University of Miami men's basketball coach nearly 18 months ago one of the first things scribbled on his ‘things to do' agenda was to find a way of putting Florida International University back on the Hurricanes schedule.

Before the hiring of Clark and not since 1992, the Hurricanes had shrugged and found little appeal at the thought of facing their cross-town neighbor. Why play the Golden Panthers, a team smaller in status and with nothing to offer?

No slight on the Golden Panthers, but the Hurricanes felt there was nothing they could gain from playing the men to the south. Instead, there existed the possibility of a Golden Panthers victory that could leave the Hurricanes humbled and reeling for a long time.

That will all change tonight.

After a nine-year hiatus, the Hurricanes and Golden Panthers will share the same basketball court at Miami Arena, renewing the matchup between in-city schools and a rivalry still in diapers. The Golden Panthers shocked the Hurricanes 72-64 in 1992, the last time both teams played. The series dates back to 1987 and the Hurricanes have won six of the seven contest.

Given that the Hurricanes have only garnered national attention for the last five or six years and the Golden Panthers haven't been able to sustain any consistency in recent times, the game probably won't be revamping any national sports newscast or filling up the phone lines on the radio.

Unlike storied and intriguing in-city rivalries such as Louisville-Kentucky, USC-UCLA and Temple-Villanova, the Hurricanes and Golden Panthers probably won't receive the same sacred treatment when they tip-off at 7:30 p.m.

But Clark , along with Miami athletic director Paul Dee, listened to the community in granting the Golden Panthers wishes of restarting the series.

"The students of both programs have called for this for a long time," Clark said. "We're only giving the community what they've been asking for and hopefully they will show up."

Asked if he was worried that FIU would outnumber Miami fans, Clark said his focus would be on the floor once he steps out of the locker room.

"My main concern will be on the basketball game being played and not how many people are in the seats," Clark said.

The Hurricanes (6-0), winners of 10 straight home games against non-conference opponents, are off to their best start since the 1997-98 when they opened up 9-0. Miami last played on Thursday, defeating Howard 87-71. The Golden Panthers will enter the game 4-2 after a 65-55 loss at Auburn last Friday.

Despite having difficulty in recent games rebounding the ball, the Hurricanes have developed into a team with plenty of scoring options. Four of the five UM players are averaging double-figure points a game for the season, led by sophomore forward Darius Rice at 15.3.

Among the ours picking up the offense for Miami: forward John Salmons (14.8), guard Marcus Barnes (13.3) and junior James Jones (12.5). Salmons has been the hottest hand for the Hurricanes making 33-of-78 shots (.471). Senior center Elton Tyler, still adjusting from sitting out last year, is averaging 8.3 points and 3.7 rebounds a contest.

Rice, who is shooting .500 (17-34) from three-point range, has also been a force on the glass with a team-leading 7.7 rebounds a contest, including 33 on defense. Rice and Jones tied with a team-high seven rebounds against Howard Although, Clark appreciates Rice's effort inside for the Hurricanes, he doesn't it to become a nightly occurrence. The Hurricanes were beaten to the ball repeatedly in the first half in their last outing.

"That's not a good sign when Darius is your leading rebounder." Clark said FIU freshman Taurance Johnson , the only scorer in double figures in the loss to the Tigers, leads the team with a 14.5 average. The Golden Panthers bench has outscored its opponents 154-128 and is providing 26 points a night.

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