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Wacky night at The Branch

Saturday night's doubleheader against Lousiana-Monroe showed why true sports junkies forego Leno or Letterman for UC-Santa Claus vs. WestNorth Central Easterns on ESPN3. It's not always aesthetic, but I'd count it as entertainment. Well, I would if I didn't have to cover it.

In the women's 71-61 loss, FIU guard Jerica Coley's first half answered the question, "What if one of the nation's best players took on a bad team one-on-five?" Because while five FIU players scrambled like my brunch eggs in trying to play defense, only Coley played offense. The other four could've been replaced by three light poles and a catapult. The light poles could've set the screens, the catapult could've passed the ball and neither would've airballed shots from inside 5-feet as the non-Coley part of the FIU lineup did.

No exaggeration. FIU coach Cindy Russo called out Marita Davydova for "throwing (stuff, ahem) over the backboard" but Davydova wasn't the only one with Donald Duck GPS. It went from abysmal to comical.

Coley in the first half: eight for 14 from the field. Everyone else in the first half: one for 16.

Defensively, especially in the second half, ULM did what it wished. Open jumers off the wing, down on the baseline. Players who would've gotten the ball slapped off their extensions for going inside against Diamond Ashmore or Fianda Mansare, both out with injuries, worked freely. There's still no excuse for a 6-15 team to feast on you like the Shoney's buffet.

In the men's game, FIU showed tremendous maturity, not just in learning from the recent close losses to South Alabama and Middle Tennessee State, but in rebounding from their own in-game forehead-slapping screwups that could've sent them to a third consecutive loss.

In the first half, Tola Akomolafe drained a three-pointer. I turned to the ULM media relations guy sitting next to me and said, "That's the best thing that could happen for your team. Now, he'll keep thinking he can actually hit that shot. And in the second half, he'll take one or two he shouldn't."

Akomolafe's seven for 34 from three-point range. Unless it's desperation at the end of a game, any three-pointer he shoots is a bad decision, even if it drops. Sure enough, with the score tied at 71 and just over a minute left, Akomolafe jacked up a three with time left on the shot clock. Of course it clanked away and led to a fastbreak layup by Amos Olatayo (Akomolafe goaltended) that put ULM up 73-71 with 1:02 left.

FIU's Tymell Murphy, who always seems to come up with a clutch basket to stop runs, lost the ball driving into a thicket of Warhawks on the next possession. R.J. McCray came out with it and ULM called timeout. "Run the play!" Pitino screamed (among other things) at Murphy as FIU went into a brief huddle.

Ah, but when ULM opened the door by Trey Lindsey stepping on the sideline after the inbounds play, FIU walked through the door crisply. Smith's driving layup while drawing a foul on Olatayo put FIU up and Deric Hill's steal, drive and free throws gave FIU the win. They could've sagged after bad plays by Akomolafe and Murphy, after the big blown lead Thursday, after two down-to-the-horn games didn't go their way. They didn't. That's some maturity for a team that's still really a new unit.

Thursday, Pitino snapped that there were no positives to take from the loss to 19-4 Middle Tennessee State. Pitino's young and has only 21 games under his belt as a college head coach. Sometimes, the problem with young coaches, people who are young for any profession, is they're too insecure to admit a mistake. Pitino doesn't have that problem. 

"After the game, I was in a bad mood in here (with the media) and I probably wans't proud enough of our effort in the first half because there were a lot of positives to take from it," he said. "We're in Year One of a major rebuilding process. To be up 20 on a great team, probably a team that's going to get an at-large bid (to the NCAA tournament) says a lot about our team."

Pitino said he went home after Thursday's game and considered his team: "These guys are all basically freshmen. None of them have played college basketball the way that we play. The guys who were here last year hardly played. The other guys were in junior college basketball. The other guys are freshmen. So they have nothing to look back at and reference.

"So during a timeout, we can now reference what we did against Middle. And we can talk about that -- 'Don't lose your heads like we did against Middle.' And, next year, when we have guys back, we can talk about 'remember what we did against Monroe late in the stretch.' I had to sit back and think about it. These guys are still learning in Year One."

Also, when talking about FIU's defense, which forced 25 turnovers Saturday and is 19th nationally in steals per game, but often got dissected by ULM Saturday. In the second half, the Warhawks shot 70.4 percent. That's not tough when you're shooting layups after breaking pressure or open threes.

"Maybe I've got to learn and get better as a coach, but I like to take chances and some of those things that we did taking chances probably shot us in the foot a little bit," Pitino said. "We gave up a couple of open looks because of it. Maybe I should've gone a little more passive. But, I just don't like doing that. And I think you see Deric Hill continue to be aggressive, continue to try to make plays on the ball."

Pitino said he considered backing off, "but I saw that (Trent) Mackey and Olatayo both played 40 minutes. And I saw that Jayon James played 40 minutes. And I thought it was going to wear on their legs at some point. Whereas we played 10 guys and the minutes were evenly distributed."

Tired players commit fouls, usually because they're physically late or mentally dulled. Olatayo, who left the court in tears after his 30-point night couldn't prevent an FIU win, committed the late foul on Smith. Pitino wouldn't claim fatigue as the reason for that. I wouldn't discount it.

 

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Pitino is doing a great job... I hope PG doesn't screw up and chase him out of town. FIU Basketball is on the RISE! FIU Athletics...not so much!

DJN, you are comparing FIU vs ULM to "UC-Santa Claus vs. WestNorth Central Easterns?" That one statement shows what a biased clown you are and how you have no respect for the university that the Herald forces you to cover. I see those kind of cheap shots innocuously peppered in your blogs all the time, almost as often as you include references to your breakfast foods.

In case you didn't realize it, FIU and ULM are both Division 1 schools. I assume you meant UC-Santa Barbara vs a directional school. ULM only slightly fits the mold as a "directional school" since they used to be called Northeast Louisiana, but that was over 20 years ago. I don't know of any "directional school" that plays Division 1 football. UC-Santa Barbara doesn't even have a football team and has less than 20,000 students (although more than UM).

Maybe you should ask the Herald to re-assign you to cover its beloved Hurricanes since covering FIU is so beneath you. I'm sure you would investigate UM's recruiting activities and follow every tweet of its football players the way you do for FIU, right? Right? DJN, are you there?

SouthPaw,

I read the first paragraph 3 times to see if in some way I could see your interpretation of what DJN wrote, unfortunately I couldn't.

This is what I got from the paragraph:
Real sports fans would prefer to watch a game against two on a tiny computer screen because it tends to be more entertaining, and FIU's games yesterday was proof of that. He (DJN) would have watched the games even if he (DJN) wasn't paid to cover the game.

With respect to the inclusion of breakfast items, I don't know the etiquette for blogging but I do believe it is less rigorous than an article. Maybe a blog expert can tell us how many breakfast references are allowed in a blog per month?

I am not living in Miami currently so may be I am not seeing or hearing some of the things you guys are seeing and hearing but rants like this paint us as insecure and petty.

Just more proof that Pitino is not only a coach but a mensch as well. Good stuff, oh scribe.

I agree with Fiu4 ever, DJ' not putting FIU down. DJN is doing a great job.

Southpaw, you're waayyyyy too sensitive.

Or, maybe you're not college hoops junkie enough for the late night (in the east) ESPN college games that used to invariably involve some UC campus vs. a double directional school or Blahblahblah State. Junkies of any sport like to watch games between teams that aren't of great consequence (and, sorry, neither FIU or ULM team is right now) or game 35 of 82 because you never know what you'll see.

Yep, The Herald forced me to cover FIU...when I asked to do it about six seconds after Adam Beasley left the beat. Let Adam have the Dolphins headache. This works out for me perfectly personally and professionally.

If you have a problem with the way the UM writers cover their beat, go complain on their blog. If you have a problem with the way I write about what FIU players say in a public forum which everyone else in the free world can see then e-mail or text message to me, that's your problem. If you have a problem with the way I cover this beat or write this blog, we can talk about it.

Over Apple Jacks and bacon.

Sense of humor likely removed during tonsilectomy.

DJN is good in its work!!

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