Another Step For Respect

Already this season the University of Miami has handed Indiana, LSU and Texas A&M losses on their way to an unblemished non-conference schedule, all the while displaying a versatile starting line-up that has plenty of scoring options.

But despite 13 straight victories to open the season, before taking on Georgetown (Jan. 2), and the ability to find a different hero every time they step on the court the Hurricanes climb up the charts have been a little slower than expected. Evidence: Miami opened the week ranked No. 21 in the Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today polls.

The Hurricanes have another opportunity to open some more eyes throughout the country as they go into Gampel Pavilion to face the University of Connecticut Huskies, Jan. 5 (7 pm). Miami will be playing their second of four consecutive road games to open the Big East portion of their schedule after meeting the Hoyas on Wednesday.

Going into the Georgetown contest, the Hurricanes were one of five Div. I teams still undefeated besides Duke, Virginia, Butler and Oklahoma State. Although the Hurricanes early success has done little to alter the mindset of head coach Perry Clark.

"We play in a conference that requires that you bring you're ‘A' game every time you step on the floor," said Clark. "The polls and standings will take care of themselves, we have too much basketball left to even concern ourselves with that stuff. We're going to have people test our will and challenge us a whole lot the rest of the season. When you're ranked teams come at you with a little extra."

It will most likely continue with the Huskies Saturday night.

The Hurricanes could be in for a battle in a hostile environment against a respected national power that is still smarting from an upset defeat a little over a week ago. Connecticut, only one of eight schools to earn a national post-season berth the last 14 years, would love nothing more than to knock off the Miami.

The Huskies (7-2), coming off a victory over Virginia Tech, were defeated 88-70 at home by St. Bonaventure. The Huskies only other loss was to Maryland in the championship game of the BB & T Classic in Washington.

Aside from still being upset,, UConn's sizable front court and ability to score could cause match-up difficulties for the Hurricanes- starting with sophomore sensation Caron Butler.

Butler, one of three players averaging double-figure points, is pouring in a team-leading 18.0 points per game to go with 7.3 rebounds a contest. At 6-7, Butler can score from inside the paint or out on the perimeter despite not being a threat from the three-point strip (2-of-10). Through Jan. 1, Butler was shooting at a 47 percent clip on 58-of-123.

The second-year forward isn't too far removed from a freshman season in which he led the Huskies in points scored (15.3) and rebounds (7.6). Butler was in the top-15 in eight Big East individual categories and went on to make the All-Big East Third Team, and All-Big East Rookie Team. "Caron is just one of those guys whose motor is always running," said Huskies head coach Jim Calhoun. "Anytime the ball is in his hands good things usually happen."

The Huskies also lean on backcourt mates Taliek Brown and Tony Robertson to light up the scoreboard- especially Robertson.

Robertson, a 6-2 junior, is averaging 13.3 points per game and 2.6 assists per game(through Jan. 1). Robertson is connecting at 53 percent from the floor (36-of-67) and is also a threat from long range with14-of-31 three-pointers (.452) made. He is a 91 percent free-throw shooter on the year.

Brown is contributing at 8.1 points per game and 4.9 assists per game and hasn't missed a game since arriving last year. As a freshman, Brown started all 32 games and led the team with 157 assists. 6-7 forward Johnnie Selvie is the third leading scorer on the team at 13.0 points a contest. Selvie, the lone senior in the starting line-up, gives the Huskies a solid presence on the glass (6.0 rebounds per game). Starting center Emeka Okafor, a freshman, has also been a strong rebounder (9.1 rpg). Okafor is averaging 8.4 points per contest.

Although Calhoun doesn't go down the bench with reserves, freshman guard Ben Gordan has given the team good quality minutes. Gordon, a guard, is posting 12.4 points a game and distributing 3.1 assists a game. Forward Scott Hazelton (4.0 ppg, 2.6 rpg) is also one of the first players off the bench.

Despite not having the quality depth of other premier teams around the country, the Huskies have had little trouble scoring. Before the start of conference play, Connecticut was scoring over 82 points a contest while giving up 69 points on the defensive side. UConn had also outrebounded the opposition 345-279.

"We're a young team and still learning in many ways," said Calhoun, who earlier this season went over 600 victories for his career. "We'll get better as the season moves along."

The Hurricanes will be attempting to close the gap between themselves and a program that is barely two years removed from a national championship and that has averaged 27 wins the last eight seasons. Although Miami trails in the all-time series 12-6, the Hurricanes have won four of the past six contest.

For the Hurricanes there might not be a better player to currently have on your side than 6-7 senior John Salmons. Salmons, the reigning Big East Player of the Week (Dec. 31) averaged 20 points, 4.0 rebounds, 2.0 steals and 1.5 blocks in victories over LSU and St. Francis before the Hurricanes started conference play. Salmons had 19 points against the Tigers and followed that up with 21 against St. Francis. He leads the team at 13.3 points per game.

But these days, Salmons is just one of several offensive choices the Hurricanes have. Salmons is followed by sophomore forward Darius Rice, James Jones, Eton Tyler and Marcus Barnes as all five starters are posting double figure points. Jones leads the Canes in rebounding. Junior college transfer Rafael Berumen has quietly emerged as the Hurricanes top reserve. "We're going to have play even better basketball in the Big East," Salmons said. "We can't take anybody for granted."

After facing the Huskies, the Hurricanes travel to St. John's and Virginia Tech before returning home."

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