The college basketball season did not exactly get off to a great start for the University of Miami Friday night.
About two hours before tipoff for the Hurricanes’ opener against Texas-Rio Grande Valley, coach Jim Larranaga announced that forward Kamari Murphy had been suspended for three games because of the ubiquitous “violation of team rules.”
A transfer from Oklahoma State, Murphy is one of the big reasons for the optimism in the program this season, adding muscle and defense up front. He had a double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds in the exhibition win over Doweling College last week.
Then the Hurricanes struggled in the first half against the visiting Vaqueros, shooting only 27.6 percent from the field in going 8-of-29 from the field.
But they picked things up in the second period, and after leading by only eight points at the break, rolled to an 86-59 victory, pulling away even though the Vaqueros shot an even 50 percent from the floor over the final 20 minutes. The Hurricanes were even better over that span, shooting 54.5 percent in making 18 of 33 shot attempts.
Five players scored in double figures for Miami topped by guard Sheldon McClellan’s 18 points, but it was the 16 points of forward Ivan Cruz Uceda that played a key part.
From Spain, Cruz has undergone a physical transformation since arriving at Miami from Harcum College in Pennsylvania as a junior transfer last season, trimming 20 pounds off his 6-10 frame and adding some well-defined muscle.
“I was trying to get better physically as I could to help my team and to have the better season I could,” he said after the win over UTRGV.
Cruz Uceda is not the playmaker of McClellan or guards Angel Rodriguez, who struggled with his shooting in the opener in going 2-of-10 from the field (1-of-7 on 3-pointers), or Davon Reed (14 points) or even backup guards Ja’Quan Newton (11) and James Palmer (11).
But he adds a significant dimension to Miami’s offense.
“Spacing,” UTRGV coach Dan Hipsher said. “The thing is you’ve got to put so much time in with those other guys to make you’re giving support he’s the perfect guy for this team. He gives them the spacing with the kick-outs and the shooting that he doesn’t have to do a whole lot more than that — stay outside the 3 line and give them spacing.
“They’ve got enough guys in Angel and Sheldon that they’re going to break you down.”
It was a pair of 3-pointers by Cruz Uceda that helped Miami rebuild their lead after the visitors had cut Miami’s lead from 19 points at 48-29 down to 10 at 51-41 approaching the midpoint of the second half. Each of those two threes — he had four in the game in seven attempts — put Miami up by 17 points and took whatever fight they may have had out of the Vaqueros.
“I think I played good,” Cruz Uceda said. “My teammates really found me on the court so that helped me make some shots. They found me on the 3-point line, so, yeah.”
All four of Cruz Uceda’s 3-pointers came after teammates (McClellan, Newton, and Rodriguez twice) drew defenders in with drives to the basket and then zipped passes back outside to him on the perimeter.
The Hurricanes are back in action again Monday night when they host Louisiana-Lafayette. Tipoff is at 7 p.m. at the BankUnited Center on their Coral Gables campus.