Hurricanes look to keep fun going in D.C.
A national TV audience watched Miami advance to the NCAA tournament Sweet 16, then saw the Hurricanes’ coach perform his best imitation of “The Greatest” in the postgame locker room.
An NCAA tournament win, locker-room hijinks, good TV and an impromptu recruiting clip — who wouldn’t want to play for Jim Larranaga?
“I’ve always had quick feet, quick hands, quick mind — just ask my wife,” Larranaga said Tuesday.
The coach made like Muhammad Ali because he was proud of his team defeating Illinois 63-59 in what the coach considered a tough fight.
The sparring figures to continue in the Sweet 16.
Second-seeded Miami will face No. 3 seed Marquette, 7:15 p.m. ET Thursday at the Verizon Center in Washington D.C. The winner will oppose the victor of top-seeded Indiana-No. 4 Syracuse in the East Regional final for a chance to advance to the Final Four.
Miami (29-6, 15-3 ACC) and its fans hope the second Sweet 16 appearance in the program’s history goes better than the first. The Canes lost to seventh-seeded Tulsa in 2000.
The Hurricanes understand the Golden Eagles (25-8, 14-4 Big East) must be taken very seriously. Victories against Davidson and Butler have put Marquette in the Sweet 16 for a third straight year.
“We went from a 20-something-point blowout game (against Pacific in the second round) to a nail-biter game against Illinois,” UM guard Rion Brown said. “It’s about respecting whoever you’re playing and come out and play hard.”
Forward Kenny Kadji said the presence of Larranaga and point guard Shane Larkin boosts the Canes’ confidence in close games.
“Shane has been through it so many times, and Coach L. has been through it before — he’s been in all the situations,” Kadji said.
Miami is 2-2 all-time against Marquette, winning a pair of games at home and losing two on the road. The last meeting was on Jan. 28, 1989, when UM won 106-90.
Larranaga will be returning to the site where his George Mason team won two games — over Wichita State and Connecticut — to advance to the 2006 Final Four. He knows beating Marquette is no layup.
“They’ve come from behind in both (NCAA tournament) games and played very, very well down the stretch,” Larranaga said. “They’ve played incredible defense, they’ve gotten offensive boards and a guy like Vander Blue made some incredible plays.”
Blue (14.8 ppg.) leads the Golden Eagles in scoring. Davante Gardner contributes 11.3 points and 4.3 rebounds.
“They’re just a very hard-nosed defensive team,” Larranaga said. “They play maybe harder than anybody we’ve played against all season.”
The country saw Larranaga’s postgame Ali shuffle, but cameras didn’t catch the coach diving on the floor before the game. He was showing his team how they needed to go after loose balls.
Clearly, Larranaga isn’t afraid to display his outgoing personality. He wants his players to do the same.
“It’s always been my way to encourage players to enjoy the journey,” Larranaga said. “If you can’t enjoy the circumstances you’re in, it’s not as much fun. Kids play best when they’re happy and having fun.”
Miami plans to create more fun in the nation’s capital.
“We definitely want to be the team having the most fun,” Brown said. “The main thing is, fun is playing well — doing all the little things right and concentrating on still playing hard. Winning is fun. Losing is not fun.”
Charlie McCarthy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @mccarthy_chas