Canes trying to heal quickly

University of Miami men's basketball coach Perry Clark isn't too concerned with the possibility of landing a second seed and first-round bye in the Big East Conference tournament, which starts next week in New York.

Just making sure the Hurricanes rebound from their recent swoon before the end of the regular-season is about the only immediate concerns that Clark wants solved. Miami, 3-3 in the month of February, is coming off their most lopsided loss of the year, 90-77 to Notre Dame at the Miami Arena this past Saturday.

"You know I'm not really caught up in where we would be seeded. My main concern right now is getting this team back to playing solid basketball," said Clark, when asked about the tournament beginning March 6. "We have to pick ourselves up and go from there. We have to defend and get rebounds if we intend on getting this thing back on the right track."

"I'm not even concerned with going to New York right now. The most important thing is getting ready for our next game and putting the last one behind us. We have to find ourselves."

The Hurricanes (21-6, 8-6 in the Big East) slipped in the new polls released today, going from 13th to 18th in the ESPN/USA Today and from 17th to 22nd in the Associated Press rankings. Miami had been ranked as high as No. 11 just several weeks ago.

The Hurricanes are now faced with having to win their final two regular-seasons and hope for some help to secure that No. 2 seeding in the conference tournament. In order for that to happen, St. John's (18-9, 8-6) would have to lose either at home against Notre Dame on Wednesday or against Villanova in their final regular-season game on Sunday.

Miami will have a chance to work themselves into that position starting tomorrow night- Feb. 26- when they travel to Providence for a nationally televised game (ESPN 2, 7:30 p.m.) at the Civic Center. The Friars (15-13, 6-8), 3-3 in their last six games, are coming off a 69-64 loss at Virginia Tech. The Friars, 102-96 losers at Miami earlier this season, only hope of reaching the NCAA Tournament this year is likely by winning the conference tournament.

Three Providence starters are averaging double-figure points, but their best chance of stealing one from the Hurricanes could be in the hands of senior guard John Linehan. Linehan, second on the team with 12.7 points per game, leads the Big East with 127 steals (4.54 apg).

Linehan, who scored 14 points and recorded five steals against the Hokies, is four steals shy of the NCAA career record held by former Providence guard Eric Murdock with 373. He is also ninth in the conference in assists with 126 (4.5 per contest).

While Linehan will be keeping close tabs of the bouncing ball, freshman forward Ryan Gomes will be the subject of a lot of attention from the Hurricanes defense. Gomes, averaging 13. 7 points a game, ranks second in the conference in field percentage (.558, 159-of-283) and sixth in rebounding (8.5). Gomes has been strong on the offensive glass with 81 rebounds (3.86 per game). Junior guard Abdul Mills (14.4 points a game) has connected on 56 three-pointers. Maris Laksa has also made a solid contribution with 9.6 points a game and 5.1 rebounds.

Since the opening of their conference schedule, the Hurricanes have developed a trend they can't seem to snap out of-getting beaten on the boards. Miami has been outrebounded in seven of 13 conference games and repeatedly fails to get consistent inside scoring.

"We have to develop that attitude off coming up with the loose balls and wanting to battle underneath," said forward James Jones, who is 16th in rebounding in the Big East with 6.5 a game. "That's going to be huge in the Big East and tournament time."

Jones is also third in the conference in blocked shots with 71.

Senior John Salmons, coming off a 13-assist performance against Notre Dame, is third in the conference with 159. Salmons is 18th in rebounding (6.1 pg) and is scoring 13.7 points per game. He has also recorded 5.9 rebounds a game. Darius Rice leads the team with 14.8 points a contest, including 68-of-180 from three-point range. Rice is closing in on the all-time season mark for made three-pointers by a UM player. The record is held by Steve Edwards, who had 79 in 1992-93. Gomes had 31 points and 12 rebounds in the first meeting between both teams in January. Rice had a game-high 32 points on 13-of-17 from the floor.

Miami, currently tied with St. John's for second place in the East Division, trails the Red Storm by one game because St. John's has a better division record (7-4 to 6-5). The teams have split two games this season. The Hurricanes would also lose in a tiebreaker with Boston College (18-9, 7-7), who holds two victories over UM this season.

The University of Connecticut Huskies (19-6, 11-3) and Pittsburgh Panthers (23-4, 11-3) has already clinched first-round byes for the tournament. UM closes out the regular-season against Virginia Tech Saturday, March 2 at the Miami Arena.

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