CORAL GABLES, Fla. — With Miami Heat stars LeBron James and Dwyane Wade sitting courtside, it was fitting the other highly touted basketball team in town would want to give them a show.
Late in the University of Miami’s 87-61 rout Saturday of North Carolina, Hurricanes point guard Shane Larkin was driving uncontested to the hoop on a fast break. Suddenly, Larkin threw the ball off the backboard and trailing big man Kenny Kadji followed with a dunk.
James and Wade went wild. The two went crazy again when the videoboard replayed it.
“Yeah, I guess you could say it was for them,’’ said Larkin, who said he heard Kadji yell behind him, “Backboard, backboard.” “I would have done it if they weren’t here either. It was one of those moments where we were having fun out there.’’
With the NBA All-Star Game next weekend, it sure didn’t hurt that Larkin gave James and Wade a preview of something they will be seeing plenty of in Houston.
James and Wade showed up along with Heat guard James Jones, a former Hurricanes sharpshooter. Jones said the two Heat stars enjoyed the show.
“This was their first time,’’ Jones said. “They liked it. LeBron and Dwyane are the athletes, so they liked (Larkin’s play).’’
It’s hard not to be liking what the eighth-ranked Hurricanes are doing these days. Miami, which had routed Duke 90-63 on Jan. 23, became the first team in the 60-year history of the Atlantic Coast Conference to defeat both the Tar Heels and Blue Devils by 25 or more points in the same season.
True, North Carolina came in unranked. But few foresaw the Hurricanes (19-3, 10-0 ACC) dominating the game the way they did. They jumped out to a 9-0 lead and spent the rest of the afternoon extending it before a raucous sellout crowd of 7,972 at the BankUnited Center.
“Not at all,’’ Miami guard Durand Scott said about whether he had anticipated such a lopsided win. “It’s crazy. I see how great of a team we can be, how much confidence we have now. We’re just rolling.’’
Scott and Kadji each scored 17 points while Larkin had a game-high 18. Larkin also had a game-high nine assists, including the one off the backboard.
“I thought that was appropriate,’’ said Larkin’s father, Hall of Fame baseball player Barry Larkin, who hasn’t missed a home game this season. “It shows you how he approaches the game from a team concept. [Larkin’s unselfish play is] simply the straw that stirs the drink. It was nice to see him put on a little showtime as well. I saw the reaction of (James and Wade).’’
Hurricanes coach Jim Larranaga might not want to see such plays too often, but he wasn’t complaining that it got James and Wade out of their seats. Anything that might boost Miami’s recruiting is a plus.
With the Heat off Saturday in between Friday’s 111-89 win over the Los Angeles Clippers and Sunday’s home game against Los Angeles Lakers, the Hurricanes got a call earlier in the week to ask about tickets for the players.
“We told them, ‘Sorry, it’s sold out,’” cracked Larranaga, whose team Saturday shot 54.4 percent, including 57.7 percent from 3-point range (15 of 26). “But then we said, ‘We think we can fit you in.’
“Those guys are great, great players, great ambassadors of the game of basketball …. For our recruiting purposes, [having the Heat stars on hand] gives us a lot of credibility. We tell [recruits], ‘We’re a hot ticket in town. Our program is heading in the right direction. There’s a lot of enthusiasm.’ ’’
James and Wade help in getting the program attention. But the Hurricanes weren’t doing too shabby before they showed up.
With the team riding a 11-game winning streak, a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament is becoming a realistic possibility. If the nation’s top-ranked teams continue to lose each week and the Hurricanes keep winning, it’s not out of the question they eventually could occupy the top spot in the polls.
“Being in that spot would definitely be great. I was telling somebody [Friday] that the success that we’re gaining right now is not by mistake,’’ said Scott, crediting all the work the Hurricanes players have put in behind the scenes.
Routing Duke, which was then ranked No. 1, and North Carolina (16-7, 6-4), which is still one of the ACC’s best teams, is a good way to get people’s attention.
“Everybody from North Carolina always thinks it’s just about North Carolina,” said Tar Heels coach Roy Williams. “It’s not. Miami is pretty dadgum good.”
Miami already has one championship team in town with the Heat. If the Hurricanes continue to be a threat to hang a banner of their own, James, Wade and company just might be checking the schedule for future games to attend.