From the Bird’s Nest: Road Trip-Miami
After a grueling stretch in December and early January where it seemed I was living in airports and hotels, the last few weeks have been more than welcome. With exception of a one night stay in Mobile, it's been home sweet home.
And, if you have to break that streak, South Florida ain't a bad place.
As Arkansas was being hit by another winter storm and South Louisiana braced for more freezing temperatures, I landed in Fort Lauderdale Friday afternoon, got my rental car and before I was a mile down the road, had to turn on the air conditioner.
75 degrees and sunshine. Now, THAT is a road trip.
But I have to say, I'm not a fan of Miami. Especially when I'm in a car. The definition of common driving courtesy here is to blow your horn as you pass someone as you go twenty miles per hour over the speed limit. The horn is not to let them know you're passing them. It's to let you know that you were too damn slow. Road rage is as common in Miami as boudin is at Best Stop. And, let's face it. The crime rate in this city is high and it's really the only city I travel to where safety is a real concern. Take a wrong turn in Miami and you could wind up where you really don't want to be. When you see Miami on television, you see South Beach, the Ocean, the nightlife and the beautiful people.
But South Beach might as well be on another continent from the city itself.
Naturally, I had to fight rush hour traffic driving from Ft. Lauderdale's airport to our hotel, which was near the Miami Airport. I chose to fly out of Ft. Lauderdale because it was cheaper, and it's a lot closer to Boca Raton, which is the second stop on this road trip.
I got to the hotel just before six. The team beat me there by maybe a half hour after being delayed in Dallas. Because of the women's game, the team would be practicing at Miami-Dade High School. It was a quiet night for me. There was a Cuban restaurant just down the street from the hotel and then I came back and watched the Duke comeback against North Carolina, which ruined a perfectly good meal.
Spent a good part of the day Thursday writing two pieces for this website: the third part of the 2011 baseball preview and the Sun Belt preview for Thursday. Had breakfast early, skipped lunch and headed to the arena about 4:30. And, as you might expect, traffic was an issue. A fifteen minute drive turned into 30. Heard lots of horns blowing, but I don't think I was the target of any of them.
FIU's campus is one of the nicest in the Sun Belt. They've got a ton of students, none of whom really care about their athletic teams. They should. They get hammered with student fees, which allows FIU to have sports. Roughly 80% of FIU's budget comes from those fees. They generate very little in ticket sales. Got to the U. S. Century Bank arena in plenty of time. One thing has been consistent about FIU regardless of the sport. Those who work the games are very friendly and very helpful.
Coach Marlin and I visited, as always, before the game. At the end of the pregame for UALR I said "Strive for five," and I told him I'd have something that rhymed with six for the game. And I did. "If you can make it six, you're right in the mix." After I turned off the recorder he said, "Niiiiiiiiice. I knew you'd come up with something."
Coach Kevin Johnson gave me a copy of the scouting report, which is always helpful, especially against a team like FIU, who we only see one time and a team that has a lot of new faces. I glanced over it before it was time to go on the air. As it turned out, it wasn't nearly as helpful as it should have been. But that wasn't KJ's fault. More on that later.
FIU was going to be a tough matchup for the Cajuns. The Panthers have a lot of talent. They're a team that on any given night can play lights out and if they do, they'll win. But they've been very Jekyll and Hyde this year. Their quickness, especially with DeJuan Wright, was going to cause the Cajuns problems.
Wright, who normally comes off the bench, started. So did Cameron Bell, who hasn't played much during the conference season. I thought that a bit odd, as Eric Frederick, who normally starts at power forward, did not start. Neither did Marvin Roberts, who was FIU's best player a year ago.
The Cajuns took a nine point lead at 18-9, but FIU answered with a 10-1 run to tie it. It was back and forth the rest of the half and FIU took a one point lead into the locker room with Phil Gary hit a three pointer with two second left. It was FIU's first lead since they were up 6-4. Halftime stats showed the Cajuns at 46 percent shooting, compared to FIU's 36 percent. Rebounding and turnovers were pretty even. The glaring stat was at the free throw line where FIU was 12-18. The Cajuns were just 3-8. If the Cajuns were going to win, they were going to have to get to the line more and more importantly, they were going to have to make them.
After FIU scored the first basket of the second half, the Cajuns went on a 17-5 run to take a nine point lead, 45-36 with 12:21 left. FIU cut it to three by the 9:44 mark and the score pretty much remained between three and six points down the stretch. The Cajuns still weren't making free throws, seemingly hitting one of two when they got to the line. They were 9-18 for the game. Travis Bureau made 1-2 at the 3:58 mark.
It was the last freebie the Cajuns would miss. Raymone Andrews, who finished with eight points, four rebounds, six assists, three steals and no turnovers in 32 minutes, hit two with 3:32 left to give the Cajuns a five point lead. Bureau hit two more with 1:25 left and the Cajuns led 64-59. A layup by Dominique Ferguson, a Cajun turnover and a bucket by Phil Taylor cut the lead to one with :35 left. But Andrews made four free throws to keep the Cajuns in the lead until Tremayne Russell converted a three point play to tie the game with 11 seconds left.
FIU fouled Randell Daigle, which didn't make FIU Coach Isiah Thomas very happy. But actually, if the foul isn't called, LaRyan Gary would have had an easy layup on the upcoming pass. Daigle made the two free throws and Phil Gary was called for a travel with 1.9 seconds left. Thomsa went ballistic at that call, but the call was a good one (I even made the call before the official did.)
LaRyan Gary was fouled with one second left and made the 11th and 12th straight free throws to seal the 72-68 win.
When the final horn sounded, Thomas and his coaching staff went after the officials. They never did shake hands with the Cajuns coaches. Steve Shields, UALR head coach, was suspended one game for doing the same thing. I'll be interested to see what happens to Thomas for his postgame antics.
Now, back to that scouting report:
Roberts, Frederick and reserve guard Brandon Moore did not play in the game. The reason? They showed up for the game as the starting lineups were being introduced. Seems they fell asleep after pregame meal. Roberts said his knee hurt.
After skipping lunch, it was a quick bite to eat after the game. The drive back to the hotel took the normal fifteen minutes.
When there's no traffic on the roads, Miami isn't a terrible place...as long as you know where you're going.