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Courtside blog: UM 69, VCU 63 (F)

Que pasa Eye On The U Crew? Checking in from the Coliseo de Puerto Rico where the Canes are about to take on VCU. I see some of you have been busy talking trash and getting into some verbal jousting. Just do me a favor and cut out the foul language.

The old asterick trick is creative, but it isn't like someone with half a brain can't figure out what you are saying. I don't want to start having to bozo people on here. What's that mean? That means you think you are posting something on this blog, but it isn't getting posted. Nice little technological trick. Of course, I don't want to have to do that. But some of you are starting to get a little out of hand. This is a Canes blog, but people with opposing views are welcome just like Canes supporters. This is an open forum. I don't want my editors to start shutting that down. OK. Enough on that crap.

Anyway, I'm going to take you through today's hoops game like I did yesterday. The game is on ESPNU if some of you can watch. It's also on 1360AM radio in Miami. Either way, feel free to chime in as this one moves along.

VCU is a good team. They got three starters back from a team that finished 28-7 last season including star point guard Eric Maynor. I spoke to a VCU assistant yesterday after the Canes played. His take: "This team is real good -- NCAA Tournament good. Anthony King has made tremendous strides. I love their size and physical play. If they can stay healthy, they are an NCAA tournament team."

VCU made the NCAA tourney last year and upset Duke in the first round before taking Pittsburgh to OT in round two. So, you can take this game as a very good measuring stick to where the Canes are in round ball.

As for me, I had some fun last night on the town. I went out with a couple of friends down to a restaurant in old San Juan called Dragonfly, a Latin-Asian restuarant with some great sushi. It's pricy, but the food was top shelf. I loved the Criollo roll (California roll with a fried plantain on top). If you are in the PR you got to check it out.

Before I went out, though, I ran into a couple of Canes players in the hotel including beloved bench-lifer Jonathan Stratton -- the walk-on white kid with blond hair who Canes fans always root to see get in the game. Stratton, a senior, is a funny dude. He told me it used to bother him when fans would root to see him get in. But he's grown to love it now. He still hasn't been able to score yet at UM's BankUnited Center. He told me coach Frank Haith got on him a little bit after he took three shots in 1 minute in UM's opener against Florida Southern -- and missed all three. Stratton, who did score last year in UM's road trip at Michigan, said his goal is to score at home before he graduates. There's a good chance he may finally do it with the light schedule UM will face at home over the next couple of weeks. I'll be rooting for him.

As for his take on the team, Stratton said this UM team has been the most fun he's ever been on. "The chemistry is great," Stratton said. "The first two years I was here with Guillermo Diaz and Rob [Hite] there was a big disconnect between guys. Some guys didn't like each other. Guys had other goals. This team is great. All of us get along. We really all like each other and it's made a huge difference. We have so much depth. And none of the guys are greedy -- not even Jack who could be if he wanted to. All we want to do it win. That's all we really care about."

James Dews told me last night he and his teammates weren't even thinking about leaving their rooms at the Condado Plaza. And I have to say I didn't see any Canes at the casino or out at the pool where a number of hot latin women were hanging out.

‘‘We're staying in our rooms," said Dews, who had 11 points in his first career start Thursday. "[Coach] doesn't have to tell us either. We've just been kicking back with each other in the hotel rooms. And that's all we want to do. Puerto Rico is just like Miami. We're focused. If we just stick together, play hard, anything can happen."

So far, it looks like nothing but good things are in store for this team.

- Another great start for UM. They led Marist 10-1 yesterday early. This team is just coming out on fire early . A lot of energy and defense. Jack McClinton and Brian Asbury each have hit three pointers and Anthony King has a nice jumper inside.
- UM leads 12-6 with 14:18 to play. Jack McClinton made his first start at point guard yesterday against Marist and was OK. He had 11 points, 2 assists and 4 turnovers. But its pretty apparent he's not the best point guard on this team. Freshman Eddie Rios is the only pure point on this roster. He came off the bench and had 8 assists yesterday. But its not the fact he had better numbers than McClinton. Rios just knows how to run an offense a little better. Haith has inserted him and Lance Hurdle in the backcourt now after this break. Let's see how they do.
- VCU has crept back into this game by playing some better defense against UM's bench. Haith has once again subbed a full five for the starting five. This UM team has so much depth. It really makes a difference when you can keep guys fresh.
- Jack McClinton has started to heat up. He's got four three-pointers to help the Canes get back in front here by a comfortable margin.
- UM has been a bit sloppy with the basketball. I've got McClinton for three turnovers. Rios and Brian Asbury have been called for charges and Collins was just whistled for traveling. I'm sure Haith isn't happy with this. But VCU has a very good defense. Every basket Miami has made today, they've had to earn with good passes and setups.
- Canes finish the half strong on a 14-5 run to open up a 36-21 lead at the break. Aside from the turnovers in the first half, UM was impressive again.

- VCU has come out with more press here in the second half. I thought UM did average against it in the first half. 10 turnovers was probably too many.
- The Rams came out with 5 quick points, but UM responds with defense and rebounding and ups the lead back to 15 behind a Brian Asbury jumper and three-pointer. Asbury is the one guy on this team that I think can be the x-factor. If he can become a more dependable weapon, this team can be even better. He's done a good job so far. But he needs to be more consistent.
- James Dews hits a three-pointer with 12:17 to play to put UM back up 48-32 and give the Canes their biggest lead of the game.
- VCU is crawling back into this thing thanks to some UM turnovers. Canes were just whistled for a 5-second violation when trying to inbound the ball.
- VCU cut it to 50-42 with 9:44 left and frustration was beginning to mount especially for freshman point guard Edwin Rios, who drew a foul for contact, but didn't get one when he was hacked. Then, Ray Hicks made a nice play for UM, driving to the hole for a lay-in to make it 52-42. UM has the ball with 7:56 left here and is trying to hold on for dear life. That VCU defense is tough. But it is a good test for this UM team, which needs to learn how to win these games -- especially with little experience at point guard.
- Miami has been getting a little lucky here a little. VCU has been missing a lot of close range shots. UM's defense deserves some credit for making them tough. But this game could be closer if not for some of those close-range misses.
- Canes have been shooting well from the line, too. 15-of-18 so far.
- VCU trims it to 52-46 before Jack McClinton hits a big three-pointer -- his fifth -- with a hand in his face. Big, big shot. Might change the momentum here.
- Less than two minutes to play and UM has a 10-point lead against a team that finished 28-7 and upset Duke in the first round of the NCAA tournament last year. I'm impressed. What do you think?
- Maybe its not over. VCU has turned up its defensive intensity. UM has been called twice for 5-second violations on inbounds passes. Make that three.