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22 posts from January 2012

January 31, 2012

Pete Garcia says...

Here are some things from a Monday night conversation I had with FIU AD Pete Garcia.

His reaction to the day's events: "Rutgers handled everything in a professional manner. I'm very happy Mario decided to stay. I agree with him that he's building something special here."

"Obviously, money isn't everything, especially when you're like Mario, who's from down here, who has worked down here to build something over the last five years."

When I asked about the still-ongoing talks for another deal, he said, "We've talked about things, but this wasn't a leverage thing. It was never about that."

Nobody knows completely what's going on in Cristobal's head. But I find myself thinking of my Herald colleague Dan LeBatard, a 43-year-old Cuban-American born, raised, educated, working for 22 years of post-college life in South Florida where he has family. Dan has said often -- and I know it to be true -- that he's had a number of opportunities to leave South Florida for much more lucrative, higher profile jobs in sports media, but he stays because he's happy in this area.

Cristobal is a 41-year-old Cuban-American born, raised, educated and working for most of the last 20 years in South Florida, where he has family. He works for an AD that he's known for 20 years and has a program he rebuilt and of which he's emperor. He and I have talked about that moment on the drive home to Miami Beach when you're coming over one of the causeway crests and you take in the beautiful breadth of the bay, boats, buildings. You can't help but smile and think how lucky you are to be driving toward that scene every day because it's home.

Never underrate comfort and happiness.


January 30, 2012

Source: Cristobal's staying

A source close to Mario Cristobal texted me about 10 minutes ago to say Cristobal is staying at FIU.

Smart move to make the choice and get it out today before recruits started to answer those phone calls and texts that come in every time a head coach gets linked to another school. This is the second time in two months Cristobal's chosen FIU and his hometown over what would've been a signifcant raise and a job with a higher profile program in a higher profile conference. And make no mistake Rutgers had chosen Cristobal as their No. 1 choice.

Silence Speaking Volumes

Since Friday, FIU athletic director Pete Garcia and FIU football coach Mario Cristobal have observed a sort of media silence on the reports that Rutgers was interested in Cristobal. This comes with Cristobal, who just last week hired a new offensive coordinator at FIU, trying to corral a potentially strong recruiting class with some precarious elements.

So, there's no surprise that there's a Newark Star-Ledger report out today saying an announcement of Cristobal as Rutgers head coach is imminent. Silence speaks volumes. Especially in some parts of New Jersey.

Cristobal denied the Star-Ledger report this afternoon.

Oh, and Blacsheep, I delete all your comments because I got tired of the racism in some. So, I decided to delete all of them in a de facto banning from comments.

Silence isn't golden

Before Greg Schiano hung up the phone from letting Rutgers athletic director Tim Pernetti know he'd need a new head football caoch, the rumor mill had FIU coach Mario Cristobal as one of the favorites for the job.

This would be a bombshell any time. Having it happen days before National Signing Day could be an ICBM into what's shaping up as a fine recruiting class.

That's when somebody should've said something.

This seems like the time for an "I will not be the Alabama head coach" even if talks are occurring (a source close to Cristobal says they aren't, although the Newark Star-Ledger reports differently). FIU needed to squash these rumors as their reaction is being watched by several kids with other coaches in their ears and on their phoes: "Yeah, you liked him, but, next year, some Rutgers kid will like him., too"

Sources close to Cristobal said he hasn't been contacted by Rutgers. A Newark Star-Ledger Sunday evening article said the opposite. Whatever, it's late in the recruiting day for this to be or remain an issue.


FIU had the Mini Dazzlers at each of their last two home basketball doubleheaders. I'm an old school father who's pretty liberal in teaching my daughter on matters of reproduction and not being ashamed of your body. Still, tarting up a bunch of little girls tarted up with too much makeup and too little attire, then letting them do a routine that includes pop-that-stuff hip thrusts is flat out creepy. It was creepy when the Heat had their kiddie version of the Heat dancers. It's really creepy at FIU.


January 26, 2012

Camp Mitch sources say: Tim Cramsey new football OC; Copeland update

Sources out at the Mitch Madique Campus say Tim Cramsey will be FIU football's new offensive coordinator.

Cramsey, a former University of New Hampshire quarterback, just spent nine seasons as an assistant coach at his alma mater. The last two seasons, he was the offensive coordinator.

Expect FIU to accelerate to an up-tempo style of offense in the Oregon mode, cranking off lots of plays, trying to get some cheap scores and big plays out of defensive fatique or disorganization in the face of speed.


Speaking of speed, Port St. Lucie Treasure Coast quarterback-to-be-wide receiver Travares Copeland posted on Facebook,

"Daammmmmnnn I'm glad I'm not going2 RUTGERS.......head coach going2 NFL smh well ((fiu)) or ((west virginia)) Morgan town or Miami??????"

Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano is taking the head coaching job with the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Nice timing, doing that a week before National Signing Day. You'd think Rutgers commits' cell phones were made of plastique, the way they'll be blowing up the next few days asking, "You still sure?" 

And, before you ask, yes, you can expect them to come after Mario Cristobal, who did some time as a Rutgers assistant. You can bet that'll be used by other schools in the final days as FIU fights for what looks like a good recruiting class together. I don't see Cristobal making that move, however.

Travares Copeland speaks; commit list omission


Yesterday, there was a photo of FIU on the Travares Copeland hunt from the Port St. Lucie Treasure Coast High quarterback's Facebook page. Today, we have the above video link sent by ESPN 760AM's Ken LaVicka, whom you might've seen me making faces at during halftime of Saturday's FIU-FAU men's hoop game as he did play-by-play for FAU.

While grabbing Colombian cafe from Europa this morning, I got notified that I left a name off the verbal commit list that's in today's paper and online: Gastonia Forestview offensive lineman Jamie Collmar.



January 25, 2012

New offensive coordinator soon; recruiting tidbits, Feb. 1 event; new baseball schedule

Expect a new offensive coordinator for the football team to be hired by the end of the week. A new OC won't mean a new offense, however. FIU will stay with the spread option attack, but develop it more and diversify. Yes, they'll even have the quarterback line up under center for some packages. That makes sense, especially in super short yardage situations, when you've got a big quarterback like Jake Medlock, or long ones like freshmen E.J. Hilliard (6-3) or Favian Upshaw (6-2).


Though Krop High's Johnnie Durante made First-Team All-Dade as a defensive back -- seven interceptions, four returned for touchdowns -- he'll initianlly be tried on offense at FIU. And Upshaw will get his shot at quarterback.

There are no FIU fans at Syracuse among the linebacker coaches. Palatka High linebacker Leroy Owens switched his commitment to FIU from Syracuse and, as noted on last night's post, Haines City linebacker Josh Glanton, an FIU commit, is feeling the weight of deciding between FIU and Syracuse. Also feeling the weight of the wait: FIU and Syracuse coaches.

FIU's going after Port St. Lucie Treasure Coast quarterback Travares Copeland hard as they're in competition with West Virginia and Rutgers. How hard? Copeland put this photo on his Facebook Wall from Wednesday afternoon.


Even if he's not deployed at quarterback, Copeland's got wide receiver speed and athleticism. If the scouting report I got on his personality (posted yesterday) is accurate, team leaders will have to make him realize that FIU spreads the ball around like orange marmalade on toast.

FIU pulled Port Charlotte defensive end commit Marcus Gilchrist's scholarship offer several days ago.  

For next Wednesday's National Signing Day, FIU's throwing a soiree at the FIU Stadium's Stadium Club with free food and beverages at which they'll announce the 2012 recruiting class. Starts at 6 p.m.


FIU's not in Baseball America's Top 25 to start the season, but that can change while they're still shoveling snow in Chicago according to the full baseball schedule, released Wednesday afternoon.

FIU opens Feb. 17 with a three-game set at Rice, BA's No. 6-ranked team, and a Feb. 24 three-game set at No. 20 Florida State. FIU's home opener is March 2 against Brown (heigh-ho).

Other scheudle highlights: their two three-game series against FAU will be March 16-18 (here) and May 17-19 (up there). Their exhibition against the split squad Marlins at Huh, We Thought Those Retail Spots Would Sell Faster Stadium: March 7. The Sun Belt Conference Tournament is May 23-27 at Western Kentucky. 


Play it, Stevie...

Download 05 Higher Ground






Some football recruiting stuff; Diamond Dinner

For Haines City outside linebacker Josh Glanton, the choice between FIU, where he verbally committed during the fall, and Syracuse is hard enough that he's starting to stress over it. FIU defensive line coach Cedric Calhoun was scheduled to swing by for a visit Tuesday afternoon.

One recruiting service reports speedy Jackson High wide receiver DeAndre Jasper has committed to FIU, but would like to wind up at Marshall, which had a 11 players from Dade and Broward on their roster for the Beef O' Brady's Bowl. A source says Jasper definitely will choose FIU on Signing Day.


FIU's still in the hunt for Travares Copeland, who played quarterback at Port St. Lucie Treasure Coast this year after transferring from Fort Pierce Westwood, but might be used at any of the skill positions. He just entertained West Virginia on a home visit. Scouting report I got from up there: great athlete, tremendous arm ("50 or 60 yards off the back foot"), but too Me Centric, will need some grounding from the coaching staff and team leaders.



 FIU baseball coach Turtle Thomas is hoping for a sellout of all 500 seats to this year's Diamond Dinner, a fundraising event and season first pitch event for the baseball and softball programs. Last year, 435 attended the event at the Graham Center Ballroom.

The human draw for this year's event is special guest speaker Lou Piniella, former Yankee, Kansas City Royal and, at the start of his career, Clevelnad Indian player and manager of the Cubs, Reds, Devil Rays, Mariners and Yankees (during the years when the Yankees changed managers like Starbucks changes baristas). Thomas said the timing worked for getting the recently-retired Piniella and they're working on getting former Cardinals, A's and White Sox manager Tony LaRussa for next year's event.

Along with dinner, alcohol and stories from Piniella (in "The Umpire Strikes Back," the late former umpire Ron Luciano's first book with David Fisher, Luciano recalled the night Piniella ran for the cycle -- got thrown out at every base), there are 21 live auction items and 200 silent auction items. The items range from trips to the Indianapolis 500, U.S. Open, the Ryder Cup (flights, hotels, tickets) to a trio of basketballs each signed by either Larry Bird, Magic Johnson or Michael Jordan.

For ticket information, call 305-348-1919. 


10 - It Keeps You Runnin' [Single Version]


January 22, 2012

Perspective on last call at Club FIU-FAU; Palm Beach OL verbally commits

Something I saw Sunday morning reminded me of this, a commercial selected for the book The 100 Best TV Commercials...and Why They Worked:


See, from the video I shot of the final seconds of FIU's 66-64 loss to FAU, it doesn't look like FIU's DeJuan Wright did anything to warrant being called for a foul as FAU's Greg Gantt launched an off-balance three-pointer.


But check out this video from FAU Owl Access: http://fauowlaccess.com/articles/121/fau-defeats-fiu-66-64.aspx. The slow motion at the 58-second mark seems to show Wright getting Gantt on the wrist as he goes up. That would be a foul. Not terribly flagrant, literally a slap on the wrist, but it would be a foul on a shooter.

Maybe there's a third angle showing Wright missed his wrist and Gantt went down from a poisoned dart from the man on the grassy knoll behind Beehive Woman. How ever the final call went, FIU lost by two after blowing out to a 14-4 lead, then throwing away several possessions with basketball obtuse plays. They also got outrebounded badly, which often goes to hustle and positioning (see: "FIU women lose 50-49 to FAU."). You lose 16-2 on second chance points, get only four offensive rebounds, there's only so much you can gripe about officiating (which wasn't great either way) before you need to hit the mute and go forward.


North Palm Beach Benjamin offensive guard Trenton Saunders, 6-4, 280, has verbally committed to FIU, according to a South Florida source.

With 6-5, 334-pound Edens Sineace, who announced his commitment a couple of weeks ago, that's a lot of buffet damage coming into the program on the offensive front from Palm Beach County. Josh Hess, a big offensive lineman from Virginia who committed last summer, no longer has a scholarship offer on the table from FIU.



January 21, 2012

FAU, FIU, Fouls...Panthers loss 66-64

Greg Gantt, usually a Panther killer, had been relatively quiet most of this afternoon. But he got hot in the second half and it was him FAU went to after two Phil Taylor free throws tied the game 64-64 with 11.2 seconds left. FIU's DeJuan Wright fouled Gantt on a three-pointer -- or did he? -- and the two free throws with 0.6 left on the clock gave FAU a 66-64 win.

FIU's Jeremy Allen closed with a game-high 20 points, 15 of them in the second half. For the game, he shot seven of 10 from the field, four of five from three-point range. Wright and Dominique Ferguson each had 14 for FIU. Gantt had 18 points for FAU. Jordan McCoy had 11 rebounds and 18 points for FAU.


Halftime: FIU men trail, 33-31

FIU blew out to a 14-4 lead on FAU before trading the rebound for the turnover or forced shot at the offensive end of the court. The Owls closed to 20-17, hung that close for four and a half minutes, pulled even 25-25 on Raymond Taylor's three-pointer from the Turnpike, then took the lead on a pair of Greg Gantt free throws. Gantt usually kills FIU, but this afternoon, it's forward Jordan McCoy. McCoy, off the bench, has four rebounds and a game-high 12 points in 15 minutes.

Dominique Ferguson has 10 points to lead FIU in scoring. Brandon Moore has five rebounds, but also two fouls, the most of anyone in a loosely-called game.

Basketball, the beach and radio, radio on a Saturday morning

Take care of yourselves out there -- there's stomach virus going around, dropping kids and adults like Sonny Liston in a bad mood on a good day.

They might still be hammering, painting and punch-listing stuff inside The Branch as the entrance renovations and suite(s) debut today. And it won't look finished until there's no more oversized Tonka stuff digging up the northeast corner of the arena area or the landscaping is truly finished on the southeast side.

But, hey, this is Miami-Dade County, where basic contracting has recently advanced all the way to 1968 ("Maybe the gate to the garage doesn't work because your windshield is too thick") and waiting for projects to finish could've been the inspiration for the Chinese Restaurant episode of Seinfeld. So, while we have the Acronym Agony Shootout inside today between two men's teams just trying to get themselves together for the Sun Belt Tournament, FIU should count itself lucky the building's Just For Men treatment got done in time.

Speaking of today's men's game, it's on The Sun Belt Network and (my shallow understanding is) blacked out locally on ESPN3.com because it's on The Sun Belt Network. That's mimosas and white sangria if you have Comcast Cable, which has The Sun Belt Network. It's you and the kid with a stomach virus if you don't.

TV's also why the men's game open's for the women's game today. Of course, had the scheduling been done by record, it also would've been a situation in which the women's teams, the two with the over .500 records, could've told the men, "Go warm 'em up for us."

As mentioned, neither FIU or FAU, the men's preseason conference favorite, is having the level of success of even its most reasonable hopes. Some of you have asked about Isiah Thomas' job security. My sense is Thomas, who'll have two years left on his contract after this season, is more likely to fire FIU than FIU is to fire Thomas. Dealing with off court, paper wrangler mistakes such as the eligibility problems of forward Tola Akomolafe, who didn't stumble in any of his classes according to an athletic department source familiar with the situation, are the type of thing that can cause someone who doesn't need the job to say, "To Compton with this crap."

FIU sports long have been hindered on the field/court/pitch is that the school always seems to be playing catch up in the offices and board rooms. They went Division I in basketball without the proper infrastructure. They did the same in football. They've lost tournament bids, favorable rulings on transfers, etc. out of political weakness. Whatever you want to say about Pete Garcia, he brings a political savvy and a knowledge of relationship value to the FIU athletic department that's been arid in that area for years.

On Garcia: he feels there are certain sports FIU just should be winners in just on being in South Florida -- golf, tennis, soccer (I'd debate that one), baseball, football. And he wants to be a power in sand volleyball, which the NCAA has added for spring.

 "I've emphasized it and here's why: I want to win," Garcia said. "It's a new sport. No school has a 100-year head start on us. No school has a winning tradition over us. No school has better facilities than us -- everybody's building the same facilities. And, there's only a couple of regions in this country that can have as good a weather and South Beach for sand volleyball. You add that up and we should be very competitive, very quickly at the highest level because we don't have those things to overcome. We're not trying to catch anybody and we have some advantages they don't have at Nebraska. Michigan." 

I asked him why FIU basketball games aren't on the radio anymore. FAU's on 760AM up in Palm Beach. Even Nova Southeastern has its games on the air, 640AM.

"You've got to be a superfan to listen to FIU radio basketball. And if you're really that superfan, we've got to do everything we can to get you here," Garcia replied. "And remember, radio is expensive -- they're not paying us. We'd have to pay them to be on the radio. You've got to buy the time. It's an expense. How much are you getting out of that expense? Are you better off spending that money on marketing, promotions, the low hanging fruit. What's our low hanging fruit? Our students, right there in the dorms. Let's use that money, buy pizzas, let's do this or that, let's promote it over there right across the street and let's get them to come."


FIU got the doubles point to take a 1-0 lead on No. 14 Clemson in the women's tennis season opener. Then, Clemson went West Virginia-on-Clemson on FIU, taking the six singles matches to win 6-1. Karyn Guttormsen and Giuletta Boha won their doubles match and Lisa Johnson and Christine Seredni won theirs.


She threw it down on so many tunes for so long. But this is the one that, to me, not only fit romance (wife and I had a second "first dance" to it at our wedding in 1999), but for any athlete who ever won a long pursued championship.

My your heart and head be at rest, Ms. James.


January 19, 2012

FIU men get by South Alabama 65-62.

Accident that FIU's three-game losing streak ends with DeJuan Wright's return Thursday night at South Alabama?

So, now there will be bouncy vibe around the team going into Saturday's acronym showdown with FAU. If FIU didn't expect to be 5-13 (2-4) coming into Saturday, FAU, the preseason conference favorite, certainly didn't expect to be 6-12 (2-3) going into Thursday night's game at Troy.

Both the men's and women's games Saturday, the premiere of the upgraded U.S. Century Bank Arena, will be shown on ESPN3.com.

January 17, 2012

Wright returns Thursday; another POW sweep for the swimmers & Beupre

While the women's basketball team's best player, Jerica Coley, is putting up All-America consideration numbers, the men's team's been laboring without its best player, senior guard DeJuan Wright. That ends Thursday at South Alabama when Wright returns from a leg injury suffered at Maryland, he said Tuesday afternoon.

The exact nature of the injury remains a minor mystery. Wright said when he went down, he knew instantly he'd be out for a while. Wright's 15.9 points per game and 8.7 rebounds obviously were missed as the Panthers went 1-7 without him. Head coach Isiah Thomas likens Wright to a great special teams player who swings the field and momentum with a couple of great plays.

At 4-13, the Panthers need somebody to open the parachute before there's a full-scale crash.


Sophomore Sonia Perez Arau won the 1000-yard freestyle, 200 backstroke, and the 400 Individual Medley, win Nos. 11-13 this season for Perez Arau, a team best. She won swimmer of the week.

Sabrina Beaupre, of course, won the diver of the week honor, her sixth in eight weeks this season.

January 14, 2012

FIU vs. Marlins at Marlins Park; Diamond Dinner; Pool Control

A couple of baseball notes:

Wednesday, March 7, in Exactly How Deep Are The Feds Looking Into This? Stadium the Marlins will play FIU in a split squad exhibition game at 1:05 p.m. 

The Diamond Dinner, to baseball and softball programs' fundraising what Harmon Killebrew was to the Minnesota Twins, will be Feb. 11 at the Graham Center Ballroom. The event will include food (dinner...good), alcohol (cocktail reception...better), a live auction, a silent auction and guest speaker Lou Pinella, an insanely competitive player and manager.


In their final home meet of the season, FIU's women of the pool blew Central Connecticut State out of the water with a 174-120.

Sophmoore Sonia Perez Arau won the 100-yard freestyle, 200 backsrtroke and the 400 individual medley. On Senior Day, seniors Kariann Stevens and Vicnan Torres won the 400 free relay with freshmen Klara Andersson and Nadia Farrugia. Stevens also won the 100 butterfly. The freshmen took individual firsts in the 100 free (Andersson) and 200 free (Farrugia). Freshman Jeanmarie Madison won the 200 breaststroke). Sophomore Johanna Gustafsdottir showed nice versatility by winning the 100 back and the 500 free.

Diver Sabrina Beaupre won the 1-meter and 3-meter events. But, if you're reading this far into the pool part of the post, you probably assumed that. 

January 12, 2012

FIU gets Middle-d, 74-60 (women), 70-59 (men); Tola Akomolafe ineligible (for now)

Despite 29 points from FIU's Jerica Coley, Middle Tennesseee pulled away late for a 74-60 win Thursday night.

The men's team, playing most of the first half with a lineup of Deric Hill, Tanner Wozniak, Gilles Dierickx, Jeremy Allen and Dominique Ferguson, led Middle's men 29-26 at halftime. But shooting under 30 percent in the second half opened the door to a Blue Raiders comeback similar to the one that crushed FIU's women. Ferguson finished with a game-high 20 points. Allen finished with 19.

As the men's game started, 6-6 forward Tola Akomolafe, who has started eight of the 14 games he's played this season, sat at the end of the bench in a suit. There were some eligibility concerns earlier this week about Akomolafe that have come to pass. The school is petitioning the NCAA. 

January 11, 2012

Munga Eketebi out as men's soccer coach

At the start of this academic year, other than women's basketball coach Cindy Russo, no person at FIU could stand as the embodiment of an athletic program's history as Munga Eketebi could for FIU men's soccer. The former FIU player and assistant coach has been relieved of the head coaching duties he held for five seasons, most of them working under the yoke of NCAA sanctions earned before he was head coach but while he was an assistant.

Eketebi's last team at FIU finished 5-8-2, the first decrease in wins after three consecutive seasons of increases. His final record is 27-51-9.

The men's soccer program made national noise perhaps before any other program at FIU, winning the 1984 NCAA Division II national title and being runnerup in 1985. Eketebi starred on those teams, a three-time All-America. Former Herald writer Mike Phillips, who covered FIU in those days, described Eketebi as a combination of deft feet and enormous, powerful upper body that made him a juggernaut from the top of the area to the goal line.

After his playing days, Eketebi became Karl Kremser's assistant at FIU for all but the one season he left FIU to coach Nova Southeastern. Not only did he become a fixture in the South Florida soccer community, you'll meet few people who were as widely liked by everyone from youth club players to adult fans.


January 10, 2012

Coming to the West Dade stage; FIU poolwomen sweep weekly Sun Belt awards

From Lagos, Nigeria by way of the University of Wyoming and Quality Education Academy in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, comes transfer Lekan Ajayi, a 6-10, 245-pound forward. Ajayi, rated by ESPN as the No. 24 center in this year's recruiting class, will be available as a sophomore when the 2013 spring semester begins.

So FIU will have Ajayi, 6-10 Joey De La Rosa, 6-10 Brandon Moore and 7-0 Gilles Dierickx on the roster next season, academics permitting. That's not just a lot of size, that's a lot of fouls to give in physical games.


Here's why the last few weekends before National The Fax Is Working, Right? Day have college coaches across the land chasing Tylenol with shots.

FIU verbal commit Josh Glanton, a linebacker out of Haines City High, posts that with signing day nigh, it's "decision time" between FIU and Syracuse. Glanton's visiting this weekend, along with a momvan full of other recruits. Another load of recruits will be in the weekend after next. Better hope The Rusty Pelican brings its best stuff.


Sophomore diver Sabrina Beaupre was named Sun Belt Diver of the Week Tuesday. And the sky is still blue, grass is still green, 836 still more clogged than that Stanford kicker's chitlins. Beaupre's received this honor five times this season already. She swept the diving events at Saturday's FIU Invite with scores of 311.10 (1-meter) and 312.08 (3-meter).

Ah, but something new has been added with senior Kariann Stevens winning the Sun Belt's Swimmer of the Week award. Saturday, she won the 200-yard freestyle (2:00.29), 100-yard breaststroke (1:12.52), 100 free (55.33) and 100 Individual Medley (1:02.40) and was part of the victorious 200 free relay.

January 09, 2012

Coley gets second Sun Belt Player of the Week; recruiting note

Sophomore guard Jerica Coley threw in 28 points against Morgan State last week, which is in the pedestrian range (for her). Saturday's 36 points, however, including 23 in the second half against Louisiana-Monroe, were a career high and boosted her to another Sun Belt Conference Player of the Week Award.

Or maybe it was the career-high 16 rebounds and eight assists (tying a career high) against Morgan State. Among the many things to like about Coley: she hits free throws. She was 90.0 from the line last week. So many players these days don't understand how devastating that simple skill can make them late in the game, particularly if they handle the ball often.

Saturday's game jacked her scoring average up to 24.9 points per game, second in the nation.


For National Signing Day, the most overrated day in college-affiliated football as far as what we really know come sundown, I'll be in Indianapolis slogging through Super Bowl Week.

As FIU pursues North Palm Beach Benjamin offensive guard Trenton Saunders, 6-4, 280, they'll get help from Riviera Beach Suncoast defensive back Davison Colimon. Colimon Tweeted he'll try to get Saunders to come with him to FIU.

January 08, 2012

Saturday at The Branch: Having your best when you're not at your best

FIU's women's basketball team knows they've got their best player, maybe the best player in the program's history, for 40 minutes a night. FIU's men's basketball team doesn't know if they'll have their best player back by the Sun Belt Conference Tournament.

There's your difference Saturday night against both genders of win-starved Louisiana-Monroe hoopsters. Whether it turns out to be the difference come conference tournament time, we will see.

Sophomore guard Jerica Coley saved the FIU women from an embarrassing potential upset home loss by taking control of Saturday's game -- twice. It was akin to watching an old school parent and kid. Monroe reached for the game, Coley slapped the hand. Monroe reached for the game again, Coley popped it upside the head. FIU won 65-55 and Coley poured in a career high 36 points. 

There was no senior guard DeJuan Wright to save the men. The Monroe men came in 1-15, yet after an 11-0 first half run, never trailed FIU on the way to a 54-50 win. FIU had its chances near the end, including with a strangely staffed desperation play, but nobody took true ownership of the game. Not to say guard Phil Taylor (6-18, 19 points) and Jeremy Allen (4-16, 10 points) didn't try. They didn't get it done, however. 

Neither women's coach Cindy Russo nor men's coach Isiah Thomas felt her/his team played well offensively Saturday.

"They're nice athletes, they're quick and they're fast," Russo said of Monroe, which came in 4-12. "And they showed us a different kind of game. It was kind of a junk defense at times. But we never really settled down and picked it apart, which we should've been able to do. Five players just decided we're not all going to do it at the same time. Congratulate them on pulling it out, but disappointed that I thought we lacked the focus and concentration we needed to have."

Coley said, "First half and second half we didn't run our sets like we wanted to, we didn't run it hard. We could've gotten more of what we wanted, so we let them hang around.

Also, FIU spent most of the game plodding fast break opportunities away, as if scoring so quickly and easily would offend their sensabillities. Monroe, on the other hand, had two players flying as soon as they saw a shot and got the outlet passes going. The Warhawks got some cheap buckets, while FIU grinded it out every possession. And, when FIU's lead shrank to 41-40 in the second half, you could feel the uh-oh permeating the building.

Coley had gone 5 for 14 in the first half.

"I figured, eventually, they were going to go in," Coley said. "So, I just kept shooting. Coach was telling me I was rushing the shot, so I tried to slow it down a little bit and they went in."

With FIU precariously leading 41-40, Coley hit a three-pointer; blocked a pass from Elexar Tuglar (not to be confused with Alexar Tuglar, also on Monroe), stole it, then fed Finda Mansare for the fast break layup; got a fast break layup off a Carmen Miloglav steal; made another steal, and went end-to-end for a driving jumper off the glass.

All that put FIU up 50-40 with eight minutes left. But four minutes later, there they were again, up only 51-50. So, Coley drained a three with the shot clock buzzing; banged in a foot-on-the-line two-pointer; then bombed in another three pointer: 59-52. Coley went four for four from the line in the last 25 seconds as FIU put away the game.

So, to sum up: 12 of FIU's last 14 points, 19 of the 23 points in the two runs after FIU's lead got cut to one; a 23-point second half on eight of 10 shooting, four of five from the line. That's not being clutch. That's being The Thing at Clobberin' Time.

"Jerica's everybody's game plan. We need to really execute our offense, have four or five passes, we can get her the ball back," FIU coach Cindy Russo said. "It's not going to be off the first two passes. She has to be everybody's game plan. She attracts a committee to stop her. At the end of hte game, when we ran some things right, she got the ball back, that's exactly what happened. They can't keep up with her all the time."

Nobody stepped up like that for the FIU men. Thomas seemed at a loss why even after getting into the bonus, FIU didn't get the ball inside, where 6-10 Joey De La Rosa and 6-10 Brandon Moore could've put their Gatorade bottles atop the heads of their smaller Monroe counterparts.

"We didn't have enough patiencce to move the ball and put it inside," Thomas said. "Our guard play failed us in terms of patience."

In this game, it was FIU who played from behind all the way, closing the gap, then seeing Monroe pull away again throughout the game. Nobody could provide the final push on those key possessions. That's part of what Thomas lamented was lost without Wright.

"As you can see, we don't have that go-to guy out on the floor," Thomas said. "We struggle offensively because we don't have him. You can mark it down -- he gives you 17 (points) and eight (rebounds). But you also get those momentum plays where you get a dunk, you get a steal. His energy, his leadership. You definitely miss that on the floor."

Asked if Wright would be back before the conference tournament, Thomas said, "I don't know. I hope so."

With 6.9 seconds left, Thomas inserted Deric Hill, who had been stapled to the bench throughout the game. Hill's job was to throw an inbounds pass from behind the end line to De La Rosa at midcourt. Hill got the call because he'd been a high school quarterback in his past. Maybe he was a running quarterback because the pass was short, even as De La Rosa completed his come back pattern. Tight coverage got the ball knocked away. Monroe recovered it and Fred Brown hit two free throws to ice the game.

Going to try a home run play wehre Deric's going to throw it to the big," Thomas said. "The big will catch it, we had three trailers, three shooters or three people who can take it off the dribble. If he didn't have it, he could've called time out. That situation never should've happened. We should've taken care of business the first half."


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