By Phil Collin
Fullerton, Calif., November 22, 2018 – When Miami finds its way into an early season tournament, the “U” likely turns in a “W.”
They stormed into the 2018 Wooden Legacy at Cal State Fullerton on Thursday in familiar fashion, rolling to an 85-49 first-round win over La Salle in Titan Gym.
It’s not new to the Hurricanes. They have captured a record four of the ESPN Events tournaments (2007 and ’15 in Puerto Rico and 2009 and ’14 in Charleston), and in their nine events, they’ve compiled a 19-6 record.
The latter of the two tournament victories have come under Coach Jim Larrañaga, who is gearing his team toward the ACC schedule. And again, it was a trademark defensive performance that helped Miami advance to Friday’s semifinals.
For the 100th time under Larrañaga, the Hurricanes held an opponent to less than 40 percent shooting. In those games, they’re 83-17. Call it the scramble defense or the disrupting camouflage defense, the Hurricanes stifled the Explorers.
Miami (4-0) has started the 2018-19 season by winning its first four games for the fifth consecutive season. And Larrañaga’s career record moved to 635-413 (60.6 percent). In his eighth season at Miami, he’s compiled a 165-79 mark (67.6 percent).
“It means everything for us,” Miami guard Chris Lykes said of the tournament. “We came here to build camaraderie, but our main goal is to win. We want to win and win the championship.”
And who stands in the way in this tournament? Fresno State, which has not only never faced Miami, but has never participated in an ESPN tournament.
But the Bulldogs (2-1) advanced to the semifinals in much the same fashion that Miami did, with five players (all starters) scoring in double figures and limiting the opposition to 35.3 percent shooting from the field.
And in another first, it’s the inaugural season for Coach Justin Hutson, who has previously been an assistant at UNLV and San Diego State during the Steve Fisher era.
“It’s exciting,” Hutson said of the matchup. “I was telling someone on our radio station that we watch those games on the East Coast. I’m very familiar with Coach Larranaga and his program and what he’s done.
“Working with Coach (Steve) Fisher, those two guys are friends, so being in this business for a long time, it’s exciting to go up against somebody with such great character, first of all, but the resume he has. I wish it was a little later and we were a little taller.”
His players can’t wait, either.
“I know Miami can shoot the ball really well and they’re big. Obviously, they play in the ACC so they have to be big,” forward Sam Bittner said. “It’s going to be a big box-out game and a big transition game as well. They can run the floor really well. Just being able to isolate them on the defensive end and being able to get back in a solid is going to be big for us.”
The winner will advance to Sunday’s championship game. Miami knows what that’s all about and Fresno State can’t wait to find out how to get there themselves.