This hasn't been a week for rote predictability for basketball games in South Florida. Not in Coral Gables, on the edge of Biscayne Bay or Thursday night at The Branch.
The FIU women opened with what looked like an undercard tuneup: 0-5 Arkansas State. And it's not as if the bad Red Wolves got that record playing Tennessee, unless you want to count Tennessee-Martin, which whipped Ark State by 10. FIU had just beaten Iowa and given LSU trouble so what could be expected here?
Certainly not an offense as stagnant as the pep band's playlist as part of an overall performance that could be described as "sleepy." Any second, I expected Al Czervik to arrive and liven things up...
After Thursday's 60-57 loss, FIU coach Cindy Russo said the team wouldn't practice Friday just do film with Saturday's South Alabama game looming. She said between finals week stress and study and the third game in seven nights, the team was tired. Don't get the idea that Russo went into Cuddly Mother Hen mode after the game, though. More like Angry Mama Bear.
Russo left the floor at halftime shaking her head, looking toward the floor about a yard in front of her. The similarity to parents murmuring to themselves about a screwup kid can't be overlooked. She wasn't in much better mood after the game.
"We didn't need to lose this game tonight, even playing as poorly as we did -- and we did play poorly," Russo said. "We cannot win games unless we listen and execute. And we did not execute. We just kind of individually did what we wanted to do and we lost. Timeouts, we kept telling them the same thing. Do you think we could've posted up on this team?" I nodded. "Did you see us post up much?" I shook my head as if to say "not often." "OK, thanks. Well, that was our game plan believe it or not.""
Finda Mansare, sitting next to Russo as she went off postgame, went six of 11 from the field, grabbed six rebounds, but didn't get to the line. Diamond Ashmore took only one free throw. Marita Davydova shot two. The three-point shooting percentage for Jerica Coley equalled the number of free throws she took: zero point zero.
In contrast, the men's team came out with more giddyup than I saw in any performance last season. That's helped by the high-pressure style of defense that doesn't allow for a stately pace of play and uses the whole bench -- 11 players got on the court Thursday, 10 scored, in a relentless beatdown that didn't let up over the last 30 minutes. FIU led 33-26 at half, 37-30 early in the second and maintained a double digit lead over the last 15 minutes to the 80-61 finish.
Interesting that the trouncing occurred without the usual scoring help from season leading scorer Malik Smith, although Smith's points were timely. Tymell Murphy threw in a game-high 22 points Tuesday.
Dominique Ferguson was at The Branch. I wondered if last year's No. 3 watched this year's No. 3, freshman Jerome Frink, with enough of an analytical eye to realize how to not be a black hole of offense in the post. Frink also didn't get overwhelmed by a much more physically mature Kendrick Washington, 6-7, 275 pounds. Both came away with seven rebounds and Frink defelected a number of passes that turned into FIU steals.
"He really set the tone in the second half," coach Richard Pitino said. "The admustment they made was they wanted to pound it inside on us. They're very physical, tough kids. Frink came in there, really fought hard. he fronted the post, he was aggressive. To see him do that coming off the bench really gave us a big boost. That kid competes every single day."
SWIMMING & DIVING
A good crowd by FIU standards filled the lower part of The Branch as other athletes and some students took a break from studying. I'd idly said to someone, "The swim team's out of town, who'll be there?"
The most loyal fan grounp among the students -- who else was in the rain at the women's soccer opener and at Saturday's football season closer? -- spat out the kind of shot you'd expect from a passionate Philly fan when senior butterflier Marina Ribi Tweeted about the football team earlier this week, "Is winning two games the whole season a reason to party every night of the week now? Get your a---- on the field and PRACTICE #p------."
Ribi ripped off the third best 100 fly time in school history, 55.96, at the Mizzou Invitational Thursday and was fifth in the 200 Individual Medley, but it was sophomore Johanna Gustafsdottir who truly starred. Gustafsdottir won the 200 IM with a time of 1:59.44. Gustafsdottir, Klara Andersson, Valeria Popova and Kelly Grace threw down a 1:34.83 to crash the school record for the 200 freestyle relay while finishing eighth.
Junior Sonia Perez, second in the 500 freestyle, destroyed her own school record in 4:50.32. Junior Sabrina Beaupre came in third in the 3-meter diving event, but put up a 293.50 score, her season high.
The meet continues throughout today with finals tonight.