AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Texas Longhorns are one win away from advancing to their first Final Four in 20 years, but they’ll have to go through a team that’s flying high after upsetting a No. 1 seed in the Sweet 16.
No. 2 Texas, the highest seed left in the tournament, takes on a fifth-seeded Miami Hurricanes squad at 4:05 p.m. Sunday that upended top-seeded Houston 89-75 on Friday behind a huge game from guard Nijel Pack. He’s a player the Longhorns are familiar with since he played for Kansas State and was a first-team all-Big 12 selection last season.
Pack drilled seven 3-pointers against the Cougars to score a game-high 26 points for the Hurricanes, and he’s just one of the many weapons Miami has that the Longhorns have to worry about.
“We can’t play open gym with teams,” Longhorns senior forward Timmy Allen said. “When we come down and focus our energy on getting consecutive stops and converting those to baskets, we can create separation and that’s what we’ve tried to hang our hat on.”
Allen mentioned the team has gotten better at playing 1-on-1 defense and “playing tendencies,” and with a Miami team that’s so diverse on offense, that is going to be paramount in trying to limit what the Hurricanes can do.
“We aren’t in rotations as much, we’re trying to contain the ball more and keep it in front of us,” Allen said. “We have to gang rebound at the end of possessions, and we don’t feel like there are a lot of mismatches a team can put on us as long as we keep a body in front.”
The Hurricanes’ dynamic backcourt also includes Isaiah Wong, an honorable mention All-America guard and Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year who can score from just about anywhere on the court. Throw in the inside presence of Norchad Omier, a 6-foot-7, 250-pound transfer from Arkansas State, and it’s a bit strange to see Miami with such a low seed coming into the tournament because they clearly aren’t playing like a No. 5 seed.
“They can play really fast in transition and do a great job sharing the basketball,” Longhorns interim head coach Rodney Terry said. “They’ve got great guard play and have an elite offensive rebounder with Omier inside and underrated defensively. Anytime you win the ACC in the regular season, you’re pretty doggone good.”
Terry said he’s familiar with Miami head coach Jim Larranaga from earlier in their careers. Terry was an assistant coach at UNC-Wilmington and Larranaga was the head coach at George Mason. In 2006, Larranaga led the Patriots, an 11-seed in the NCAA tournament, to the Final Four.
“His teams always play with great joy and spirit about themselves. They play loose and free,” Terry said. “I’ve always looked up to him as a players coach. Guys want to run through a wall for him. He’s brought that to Miami and has taken them to the top of the ACC, and it doesn’t get better than that.”
Miami made the program’s first-ever Elite Eight appearance last year, and Larranaga said that’s something the team can lean on as it prepares to take on Texas.
“The guys that were on the team last year can help bridge the gap with the others and stress to them that it’s not about who we play or where we play, it’s about how we play,” Larranaga said. “We have to execute our game plan better than our opponent executes its game plan.”
Texas will likely be without senior forward Dylan Disu after he aggravated a foot injury early in the Sweet 16 game against Xavier on Friday. Terry said Disu is considered day-to-day, and Disu has had the best 5-game stretch of his career as a Longhorn leading up to Friday’s game. He said while Disu has worked hard to be available, they have the depth to make him for it if he can’t go Sunday.
“It’s no different from the mentality we had when Timmy went down for the Big 12 tournament, it’s the next man up,” Terry said. “It’ll be by committee. It could be Brock (Cunningham), Christian Bishop played really well for us last night and Timmy had to play more as well. I always tell the guys that we’re all we need and we’re all we’ve got. We’ll find somebody ready to go, band together like brothers, and go out and compete.”