Previewing the opening weekend of college basketball

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FRIDAY’S SHOWDOWNS

No. 10 Arizona vs. No. 12 Michigan State, 7:00 p.m.

This game has a ‘what could have been’ feel to it. Arizona will reportedly be without Allonzo Trier and Chance Comanche due to various suspensions while Ray Smith tore his ACL for the third time last week. Michigan State is playing without its two best big men due to knee injuries. What that means is that two of the best coaches in college basketball will be leading teams that are extremely freshmen-dependent.

Miles Bridges should be the best player on the floor. The Spartan freshman is an uber-athletic, 6-foot-7 combo-forward whose ability to play multiple positions is the biggest reason why folks aren’t that concerned about Michigan State’s depth question marks. Arizona doesn’t have an answer for him, either, not with Smith out of the lineup. The big question with the Wildcats is whether or not Lauri Markkanen, a Finnish seven-footer and potential lottery pick, will be the best player for Arizona or if shot-happy freshmen Kobi Simmons and Rawle Alkins will dominate the ball.

Prediction: Michigan State (-1.5)

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No. 3 Kansas vs. No. 11 Indiana, 9:30 p.m.

Indiana’s first test in the post-Yogi Ferrell era will be a doozy. We know that the Hoosiers are going to have some issues handling the ball this season with Robert Johnson and Josh Newkirk running the point, and running into Kansas in the season-opener is about as close to a worst-case scenario as you can get. The Jayhawks have one of the best defensive perimeters in the country with Frank Mason, Devonte’ Graham and Josh Jackson, and the Hoosiers lack the talent offensively to be able to create their own shots.

The most interesting matchup of the weekend will be in this game, as Josh Jackson, a potential No. 1 pick in the 2017 Draft, will go up against O.G. Anunoby, a potential lottery pick. Both are elite defenders that are still learning how to play on the other end of the floor, so don’t be surprised to see both of them somewhat limited on Friday.

DES MOINES, IA - MARCH 17: OG Anunoby #3 of the Indiana Hoosiers shoots a reverse dunk over Chuck Ester #0 of the Chattanooga Mocs in the second half during the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Wells Fargo Arena on March 17, 2016 in Des Moines, Iowa. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
O.G. Anunoby (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

THIS WEEKEND’S UPSET WATCH

No. 8 Virginia at UNC Greensboro, Fri. 7:00 p.m.: The Cavaliers open the season on the road without Austin Nichols, who is the low-post scoring force and shot-blocking presence that Tony Bennett brought in to replace Anthony Gill. UVA will be looking to transition to a season without Malcolm Brogdon while facing a veteran team that returns four starters and won 10 league games last season.

Chattanooga at No. 6 North Carolina, Sun. 5:00 p.m.: The Mocs were one of the nation’s best mid-major programs last season, and not only do they return essentially everyone from that team, they get Casey Jones back; Jones was the best player in the SoCon in 2014-15 before an injury cost him last season. The Tar Heels? They place twice this weekend and will be in New Orleans to take on Tulane on Friday night.

Chattanooga, who won at Georgia, Illinois and Dayton last season, will also pay a visit to Tennessee on Friday night.

Lehigh at No. 7 Xavier, Fri. 7:00 p.m.: Xavier is loaded. No one is arguing that. But they’ll be without Myles Davis and Kaiser Gates in the opener while hosting a Lehigh team that will contend for the Patriot and features Tim Kempton, one of the best mid-major players in the country.

SEVEN MORE GAMES TO WATCH

  • Nevada at No. 23 Saint Mary’s, Fri. 11:00 p.m.: Part of the reason the Gaels missed out on the NCAA tournament last season was that they didn’t do enough in the non-conference. Nevada may be the second-best team in the MWC. They also have an NBA-caliber big man in Cam Oliver.
  • Vanderbilt vs. Marquette, Fri. 6:30 p.m.: The Bryce Drew era at Vandy kicks off with a trip to Annapolis for the Veterans Classic.
  • South Dakota State at Cal, Fri. 10:00 p.m.: There should be plenty of NBA scouts in attendance here as Ivan Rabb, the best center in America, takes on Mike Daum, the best mid-major center in America.
  • Georgia at Clemson, Fri. 7:00 p.m.: Both Georgia and Clemson could use this win as both seem like they are headed towards the bubble for this season. Jaron Blossomgame of Clemson is one of the best players in the ACC.
  • FGCU vs. Florida, Fri. 7:30 p.m.: This is going to be the year that we make a judgement on whether or not Mike White is ready to coach at this level. Florida has the pieces to be a good team.
  • Harvard at Stanford, Fri. 11:00 p.m.: The first game that Siyani Chambers plays after tearing his ACL will be a road trip out west to take on the Cardinal.
  • Montana at USC, Fri. 11:00 p.m.: Montana is always one of the best mid-major programs out west, while USC is a young team that will have a number of new players in larger roles.
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 14: E.C. Matthews #0 of the Rhode Island Rams looks on during a semifinal game against the Dayton Flyers in the 2015 Men's Atlantic 10 Basketball Tournament at the Barclays Center on March 14, 2015 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)
E.C. Matthews (Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)

FIVE STORY LINES TO KEEP AN EYE ON

How healthy is E.C. Matthews?: Matthews is coming off of a torn ACL. In 2014-15, when he was healthy, Rhode Island was 23-10 and Matthews was the team’s leading scorer and highest-usage offensive weapon. Last season, Matthews played ten minutes before popping his ACL and the Rams eventually went 17-15. It’s not a direct correlation, but it is safe to say that the Rams will not reach their ceiling without a healthy Matthews. They host Dartmouth on Friday night.

Does Lonzo Ball fit with Bryce Alford and the rest of the Bruins?: UCLA gets two games this weekend, as they host Pacific and CSUN. Neither of those two programs look like they’ll have a real shot to get to the NCAA tournament this season, but they should give us a glimpse into how Steve Alford is going to handle his team this year. Who is running the point? How good will they be defensively? What’s his rotation look like? How will Ball be used?

How many shots does Malik Monk take and what is Kentucky’s rotation?: Like UCLA, Kentucky has a pair of games this weekend, hosting Stephen F. Austin on Friday and Canisius on Sunday. Monk’s ability to fit within a system and a team that has as much talent as Kentucky is a major question mark, particularly with a trip to NYC for the Champions Classic coming up. It will also be interesting to see how Coach Cal uses his rotations and what lineups he opts to trot out.

So how good are the Louisville players we thought would “breakout”?: The big story line with Louisville this offseason was that they’ll have a chance to be excellent this year because Donovan Mitchell, Deng Adel and Ray Spalding are going to take a major step forward. We’ll get our first look into finding out just how big that step forward truly is this weekend.

Do Markelle Fultz and Dennis Smith Jr. look like they’ll live up to the hype?: There’s a chance that these two guys could end up being the top two picks in the 2017 NBA Draft. They’ll get their first real collegiate action this weekend. With all the hype that goes into the elite freshmen these days, it will be interesting to see if they can live up to it.

Unbeaten Gamecocks, Iowa’s Clark star in women’s Final Four

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SEATTLE ⁠— An undefeated South Carolina team led by star Aliyah Boston and guided by vaunted Dawn Staley, an Iowa squad that features high-scoring Caitlin Clark and the return of LSU and flashy coach Kim Mulkey headline the women’s Final Four this weekend.

Virginia Tech is the newcomer to the group as the Hokies are making their first appearance in the national semifinals. Hokies coach Kenny Brooks became the third Black male coach to take a team to the Final Four in women’s basketball history.

All of the women’s basketball world will descend on Dallas this week as the Division I, II and III championships will be held there. It’s only the second time that all three divisions will have their title games in the same place.

Staley and the Gamecocks are looking to become the 10th team to go through a season unbeaten and the first to repeat as champions since UConn won four in a row from 2013-16. South Carolina advanced to its third consecutive national semifinals and fifth since 2015 thanks to another superb effort by Boston, the reigning AP Player of the Year. The three-time All-American had 22 points and 10 rebounds in a win over Maryland on Monday night.

Next up for the Gamecocks is Iowa and the sensational Clark. She helped the Hawkeyes reach their first Final Four in 30 years with a game for the ages in the regional semifinals on Sunday night. The junior guard had the first 40-point triple-double in NCAA history in the win over Louisville.

The Gamecocks have the experience edge having reached the Final Four so often with this group. No one on Iowa’s roster was alive the last time the team advanced to the game’s biggest stage. C. Vivian Stringer was the coach of that team in 1993 that reached the Final Four before losing to Ohio State in overtime.

“It is like a storybook, but it’s kind of been like that for us all year long,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. “I mean, we have had — honestly, we keep talking about destiny and how it’s supposed to happen and it is happening. But I’m so happy for Caitlin. I can remember sitting in her living room and her saying, I want to go to a Final Four. And I’m saying, We can do it together. And she believed me. And so I’m very thankful for that.”

The other game will pit LSU against Virginia Tech. The Tigers are making their first trip to the national semifinals since 2008 when Sylvia Fowles dominated the paint. Now LSU is led by another stellar post player in Angel Reese.

She broke Fowles’ record for double-doubles in a season earlier this year and was key in the Tigers’ win over Miami in the Elite Eight.

Reese, who transferred in this season from Maryland, has made Mulkey’s second season at the school a special one. She came to LSU with a resume headlined by three NCAA titles from her time at Baylor along with some flamboyant sideline looks such as her silver-shimmering jacket with white pants that she wore in the Elite Eight game Sunday.

“What really makes me smile is not cutting that net down,” Mulkey said. “It’s looking around out there at all those LSU people, looking at that team I get to coach experience it for the first time.”

LSU’s opponent is also making its first appearance at the Final Four. The Hokies have had the best season in school history, winning the ACC crown as well under Brooks. He joined former Syracuse Quentin Hillsman and Cheyney State’s Winthrop “Windy” McGriff.

The significance has not been lost on Brooks, who hopes he can inspire other Black male coaches to get more opportunities.

The Hokies run to the national semifinals has been led by star post Elizabeth Kitley and sharpshooter Georgia Amoore. The pair combined for 49 points in the win over Ohio State in the Elite Eight.

Tar Heels’ Love plans to enter name in transfer portal

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North Carolina guard Caleb Love says he will enter his name into the transfer portal after three seasons with the Tar Heels.

The 6-foot-4 Love announced his decision with a social media post Monday. He had big moments during an unexpected run to last year’s national championship game though he also wrestled with inconsistency for most of his college career.

At his best, Love has game-changing scoring potential and is fearless in taking a big shot. That included scoring 28 points with a huge late 3-pointer to help the Tar Heels beat Duke in the Final Four for the first NCAA Tournament meeting between the rivals and the final game for Blue Devils Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski.

This season he led the team by averaging 16.7 points. but his shooting percentages all dipped after showing gains in 2022. He never shot 40% from the field for a season and twice failed to shoot 30% on 3s.

UNC returns Armando Bacot, the program’s career leading rebounder and an Associated Press third-team All-American, and guard R.J. Davis at the core of an expected roster revamp. That comes after the Tar Heels became the first team to go from No. 1 in the AP preseason poll to missing the NCAA Tournament since it expanded to 64 teams in 1985.

Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at https://twitter.com/aaronbeardap

AP March Madness coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness and bracket: https://apnews.com/hub/ncaa-mens-bracket and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25

Texas reportedly reaches deal with Terry as full-time coach

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AUSTIN, Texas ⁠— Texas has reached an agreement with Rodney Terry to be the Longhorns’ full-time head basketball coach, taking the interim tag off his title after he led the program to the Elite Eight following the midseason firing of Chris Beard, a person with knowledge of the deal told The Associated Press.

Texas was knocked out of the NCAA Tournament by Miami on Sunday, ending its longest postseason run since 2008. Terry and Texas officials reached the agreement Monday, according to a person with knowledge of the deal who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

Financial terms of the deal were not immediately available.

Terry took over the Longhorns as acting head coach when Beard was first suspended on Dec. 12 after a felony domestic violence arrest. Terry was giving the title of interim head coach when Beard was fired Jan. 5.

Texas won the Big 12 Tournament championship and questions about Terry’s future with the program were amplified as the Longhorns kept winning in the postseason. Texas fans wondered what more he needed to prove and Longhorns players publicly advocated for him to get the job.

“It was all about this team. I’ve enjoyed every single day of this journey with this group,” Terry said in Sunday’s postgame news conference as his voice cracked and he held back tears. “It was never about me. It was always about these guys. I love these guys.”

Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte had praised Terry’s job handling the team in crisis and gave him a raise, though only through April. He’d also noted Terry inherited a veteran, senior-heavy roster and strong staff of assistants built by Beard.

That lineup could have disintegrated into chaos after Beard’s arrest. Instead, Terry marched the program to a second-place regular season finish in the Big 12 and a No. 2-seed in the NCAA Tournament.

The Longhorns went 22-8 under Terry, and their march to the Elite Eight was the program’s first beyond the NCAA Tournament’s first weekend in 15 years.

Terry is the second Black head coach in program history, joining Shaka Smart, who coached Texas from 2015-2021.

Terry, 54, had a previous stint as an assistant at Texas under Rick Barnes from 2002-2011. He also was head coach at Fresno State and UTEP. He left UTEP after three seasons to join Beard’s staff in 2022. He is 185-164 as a head coach.

Former Texas player T.J. Ford, who led the Longhorns to 2003 Final Four and was that season’s Naismith national player of the year, praised the move to keep Terry.

“I’m very excited that the right decision was made to continue this great culture,” Ford tweeted.

The dormant Texas program had all the signs of renewal under Beard, as he mined the transfer portal to build a roster to compete in the rugged Big 12. He had done the same at Texas Tech, where he led the Red Raiders to the 2019 national championship game.

Beard was arrested after his fiancée called 911 and told police he choked, bit and hit her during a confrontation at his home. She later recanted that she was choked, but Texas still fired Beard as university lawyers called him “unfit” to lead the program.

The Travis County district attorney eventually dismissed the felony charge, saying they could not prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt, and because of her wishes not to prosecute.

Beard has since been hired at Mississippi.

Caitlin Clark leads Iowa to first Final Four since 1993

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SEATTLE – Caitlin Clark put on quite a show, having one of the greatest performances in NCAA Tournament history to help Iowa end a 30-year Final Four drought.

She had 41 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds to lead the No. 2 seed Hawkeyes to a 97-83 win over fifth-seeded Louisville on Sunday night and send the team to its first women’s Final Four in since 1993.

“I dreamed of this moment as a little girl, to take a team to the Final Four and be in these moments and have confetti fall down on me,” said Clark, who is a Iowa native.

The unanimous first-team All-American was as dominant as she’s been all season in getting the Hawkeyes to Dallas for the women’s NCAA Tournament national semifinals on Friday night. The Seattle 4 Region champion will face the winner of the Greenville 1 region that has South Carolina playing Maryland on Monday night.

“I thought our team played really well. That’s what it’s all about. I was going to give it every single thing I had,” said Clark, who was the region’s most outstanding player. “When I came here I said I wanted to take this program to the Final Four, and all you’ve got to do is dream. And all you’ve got to do is believe and work your butt off to get there. That’s what I did, and that’s what our girls did and that’s what our coaches did and we’re going to Dallas, baby.”

Iowa (30-6) hadn’t been to the Final Four since Hall of Fame coach C. Vivian Stringer led the team to its lone appearance in 1993. Before Sunday, the team had only been to one other Elite Eight – in 2019 – since the Final Four team.

Clark had the 11th triple-double of her career and the 19th in NCAA Tournament history. She had the first 30- and 40-point triple-double in March Madness history.

“It’s like a storybook, been like that all year long,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. “We keep talking about destiny and how it’s supposed to happen. … She’s spectacular. I don’t know how else to describe what she does on the basketball court. A 40-point triple-double against Louisville to go to the Final Four. Are you kidding me? That’s mind-boggling.”

Trailing by five at the half, Louisville cut its deficit to 48-47 before Clark and the Hawkeyes scored the next 11 points as part of a 17-6 run to blow the game open. That brought most of the pro-Iowa crowd of nearly 12,000 fans to their feet.

Louisville was down 22 with just under 6 minutes left before going on a 13-1 run to get within 86-76 with 2:10 left. The Cardinals could get no closer.

Clark left the game with 22.7 seconds left to a loud ovation from the crowd as she hugged her coach. After the game, Clark paraded around the court holding the regional trophy high above her head, delighting the thousands of fans who stuck around to celebrate their Hawkeyes.

Hailey Van Lith scored 27 points and Olivia Cochran had 20 points and 14 rebounds to lead Louisville (26-12).

Clark hit eight of the Hawkeyes’ season-high 16 3-pointers, including a few from just past the March Madness logo. It was a school record for the Hawkeyes in the NCAA Tournament, blowing past the previous mark of 13 against Gonzaga in 2011.

Louisville scored the first eight points of the game, forcing Iowa to call timeout. Then Clark got going. The 6-foot junior scored the first seven points for the Hawkeyes and finished the opening quarter with 15 points. When she wasn’t scoring, she found open teammates with precision passes.

She also had four assists in the first 10 minutes, accounting for every one of Iowa’s points as the Hawkeyes led 25-21.

Clark continued her mastery in the second quarter, hitting shots from all over the court, including a few of her famous long-distance 3s from near the logo.

Louisville was able to stay in the game, thanks to Van Lith. After scoring the first six points of the game, she went quiet before getting going late in the second quarter. She had 11 points in the second quarter as the Cardinals found themselves down 48-43 at the break.

Clark had 22 points and eight assists in the opening 20 minutes enroute to the fourth-highest scoring total all-time in a NCAA regional.

“She played great, she made some big shots,” Louisville coach Jeff Walz said of Clark. “She passed the ball well. we turned her over at times.”

1,000-POINT CLUB

Clark has 984 points this season and is looking to join former Hawkeye Megan Gustafson with 1,000 points in a single year. Four other players have done it, including Villanova’s Maddy Siegrist, who accomplished the feat this season. Kelsey Plum, Jackie Stiles and Odyssey Sims were the others to do it.

HOMETOWN HERO

Van Lith once again played well in her home state. The small-town standout from 130 miles away from Seattle grew into being one of the best prep players in the country, the all-time state high school leader in scoring and now a star for the Cardinals.

Hundreds of fans from her hometown of Cashmere, which has a population of 3,200, took in the game, cheering the Louisville star on.

EMOTIONAL DAY

It was a bittersweet day for Iowa assistant coach Jan Jensen. Her dad Dale died in the morning after battling pancreatic cancer for a year. He was 86.

“He didn’t sound so good the last couple days and I was kind of fretting, ‘When am I going to go if we go to Dallas?’” she said. “I just feel like he knew. He was never a high maintenance guy, he was never a guy who made it complicated with me in anything. So I think, he told my people at home, I’m not ready to go until Jan’s team is done.”

Miller, Wong rally Miami past Texas 88-81 for 1st Final Four

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — On the eve of Miami playing for a place in its first Final Four, the quiet conversation floating through the team hotel did not revolve around all that the Hurricanes had accomplished this season. Instead, they talked about what had happened to bring last season to a close.

The sting of an Elite Eight defeat was fresh to those who were there. And they made everyone else feel it, too.

“That loss sat with me for a really long time,” the Hurricanes’ Jordan Miller said. “It doesn’t go away, and the fact that we had the opportunity to come back and make amends, make it right, that’s what was pushing me.”

Miller responded with a perfect performance against second-seeded Texas in the Midwest Region final Sunday. Along with Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year Isaiah Wong and March dynamo Nijel Pack, Miller rallied the Hurricanes from a 13-point second-half deficit for an 88-81 victory that clinched that long-awaited trip to the national semifinals.

“How hard we fought to come back in this game, especially on a stage like this, it’s an amazing feeling,” said Pack, one of Miami’s newcomers. “I know how much these guys wanted to win this game, especially being here last year and losing the Elite Eight, and now being able to take it to the Final Four is something special.”

Miller finished with 27 points, going 7 of 7 from the field and 13 of 13 from the foul line, while Wong scored 12 of his 14 points in the second half against the Longhorns, who had been the top remaining seed in a topsy-turvy NCAA Tournament.

Now, the No. 5 seed Hurricanes (29-7) have a date with No. 4 seed UConn on Saturday night in Houston. Two more Final Four newbies, fifth-seeded San Diego State and No. 9 seed Florida Atlantic, will play in the other national semifinal.

It’s the first time since seeding began in 1979 that no team seeded better than No. 4 made the Final Four, so perhaps it is fitting that Miami coach Jim Larrañaga is involved. He took George Mason there as an 11 seed 17 years ago to the day.

Miami was a 10 seed last year when it lost 76-50 to eventual national champion Kansas in a regional final.

“No one wanted to go home,” said Miller, coincidentally a George Mason transfer, who joined Duke’s Christian Laettner as the only players since 1960 to go 20 for 20 combined from the field and foul line in an NCAA tourney game. “We came together. We stuck together. We showed really good perseverance and the will – the will to just want to get there.”

After Miami climbed back from a 64-51 deficit with 13:22 to play, the game was tied at 79-all when Norchad Omier was fouled by the Longhorns’ Brock Cunningham while going for a loose ball. He made both of the foul shots to give the Hurricanes the lead, then stole the ball from Texas star Marcus Carr at the other end, and Wong made to more free throws with 34 seconds remaining to keep them ahead for good.

Miller kept drilling foul shots down the stretch to ice the Midwest Region title for the Hurricanes.

Wooga Poplar scored 16 points, and Pack followed up his virtuoso performance against top-seeded Houston with 15, as the same school that once dropped hoops entirely in the 1970s advanced to the game’s biggest stage.

“You just love when your players accomplish a goal they set out before the season,” Larrañaga said.

Carr led the Longhorns (29-9) with 17 points, though he was bothered by a hamstring injury late in the game. Timmy Allen added 16 and Sir’Jabari Rice had 15 in the finale of a season that began with the firing of Chris Beard over domestic violence charges that were later dropped and ended with interim coach Rodney Terry consoling a heartbroken team.

“These guys more than any group I’ve worked with in 32 years of coaching have really embodied, in terms of staying the course, being a team,” Terry said, choking up so hard on the postgame dais that he could barely speak. “They were so unselfish as a team, and they gave us everything they had. They really did.”

The Longhorns revealed about 90 minutes before tipoff that Dylan Disu, the Big 12 tourney MVP and early star of the NCAA Tournament, would miss the game with a foot injury. He hurt it in the second round against Penn State and only played about 90 seconds in the Sweet 16 against Xavier before watching the rest of that game in a walking boot.

Without their 6-foot-9 star, the Longhorns’ deep group of dangerous guards resorted to potshots from the perimeter against Miami’s porous defense. Rice hit two 3s early, Carr two of his own, and the Longhorns stormed to a 45-37 halftime lead.

On the other end, Texas tried to keep Pack and Wong from producing a sequel to their 3-point barrage against Houston.

Pack, who dropped seven 3s in the regional semifinal, didn’t even attempt one until there were 7 1/2 minutes left in the first half, and his best shot – a looping rainbow as he fell out of bounds – didn’t even count because it went over the backboard.

Wong took as many shots and scored as many points (two) as he had turnovers in the game’s first 20 minutes.

The Longhorns’ advantage stretched to 13 in the second half, and tension built on the Miami bench. At one point, Harlond Beverly and Larrañaga got into a verbal spat and the 73-year-old coach yanked the backup guard from the game.

Fortunately for the ’Canes, Pack and Wong were poised, Poplar and Miller seemingly possessed.

Still trailing 72-64 with about eight minutes to play, Pack and Wong joined Miller and Omier in turbocharging a 13-3 run to give the Hurricanes a 77-75 lead, their first since the opening minutes. When Rice answered at the other end for Texas, Miller calmly made two go-ahead free throws to begin his late-game parade to the line.

Carr made a nifty turnaround jumper to tie the game again for Texas, but the Miami momentum never slowed. Omier made two free throws with a minute left, swiped the ball from Carr at the other end, and Miller and Co. finished it off.

“We just all bought into staying together, keeping that hope alive,” Miller said, “and the way we just willed this one through, I think everybody played really well, and I think it really shows the poise of this squad.”