KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Knocking No. 1 seed Houston out of the NCAA Tournament made Jim Larrañaga feel like dancing.
Much to his players' delight, the 73-year-old Miami coach busted moves straight out of the disco era in the locker room Friday night to celebrate an 89-75 Sweet 16 victory that left the tournament without a No. 1 seed among its final eight teams for the first time since seeding began in 1979.
Larrañaga is known to dance in the locker room after his biggest wins, and this one in the Big Dance surely qualified.
“We were all hyped up,” Jordan Miller said. “We love when Coach L dances. That’s probably the best celebration we could look forward to.”
Nijel Pack and Miami (28-7) hit shots from near and far against the stingiest defense in the country as the Hurricanes became only the fifth team this season to score at least 70 points against Houston (33-4).
“We just wanted it really bad,” Miller said. “We came into this game as the underdogs. We had a lead throughout the whole game. I wouldn’t say a comfortable lead, but a lead, and we just didn’t want to let up.”
The fifth-seeded Hurricanes made their second straight Elite Eight and will play second-seeded Texas in the Midwest Region final. Larrañaga is seeking his first Final Four with Miami and second overall — he took George Mason there as an 11 seed in 2006.
About 30 minutes before Houston's loss, top overall seed Alabama fell to San Diego State in Louisville, Kentucky. Fellow No. 1 seeds Purdue and Kansas lost during the tournament's first weekend.
The Cougars simply couldn’t stop a multifaceted Miami offense led by Pack’s 3-point shooting. He had season highs of seven 3-pointers on 10 attempts and 26 points.
Isaiah Wong’s mid-range game helped get the 'Canes out to a fast start, and he finished with 20 points. Miller hurt the Cougars with his penetration and had 13 points, and Norchad Omier was his usual rugged self under the basket while recording his 16th double-double with 12 points and 13 rebounds.
“We emphasized moving the ball and finding the open man, and the guys did such a fantastic job from start to finish,” Larrañaga said. “We only ended up with six turnovers. So that’s the name of the game. And we tied them in rebounding. A great performance by our guys.”
It was Pack who hit big shot after big shot, some from near the logo. He was comfortable inside T-Mobile Arena, where he played five games during his two seasons at nearby Kansas State.
“It’s a blessing to be back in this arena for sure," Pack said. “My teammates found me early and kept me going. They instilled confidence in me from the jump ball. They kept feeding me and telling me to shoot the ball, and I shot it with a lot of confidence, and they were able to go in.”
Houston was in the Sweet 16 for a fourth straight time, had won 15 of its last 16 games and had the season-long goal of playing in next week’s Final Four in its home city.
“Unfortunately, one off-night and you go home in this tournament,” Cougars coach Kelvin Sampson said. “We just never could get a foothold. We kept climbing, and we’d get ahead of them, and then we just couldn’t put stops together.”
Miami used a 16-5 run spanning the halves to go up by double digits, with Omier’s three-point play and Miller’s short bank-in with the left hand making it 47-36 and prompting Sampson to call timeout less than two minutes into the second half.
Houston battled back to make it a two-point game, but then Pack made three 3s and Miller and Wooga Poplar hit one each to fuel a 16-2 run that put the Canes ahead 70-53. The lead grew to as much as 17 points, and Houston never got closer than 11 the rest of the way.
Walker led the Cougars with 16 points. Jamal Shead added 15 and All-American Marcus Sasser and Tramon Mark had 14 apiece for the Cougars, who shot just 37% overall and 29% from distance.
“It was an amazing run,” Sasser said. “Came up short, but the time that we got to spend throughout these months, I couldn’t have asked for nothing better.”
Houston — which came into the game as a 7.5-point favorite, according to FanDuel Sportsbook — found itself behind at half for the second straight game after the Hurricanes played their sharpest half of the tournament.
Miami turned the ball over just once the first 20 minutes, converted Miami’s six turnovers into 15 points and shot 6 of 14 from distance against the second-best 3-point defense in the country.
Pack made four of them, and all were timely. His first three gave Miami leads and his fourth broke a 31-all tie.
“The Pack kid, some of the shots he made were shots you hope he takes,” Sampson said. “The problem was he made them. Some of those were Howitzers.”
Oh, about that dance Larrañaga did. He said it was to the Commodores’ 1985 song “Nightshift.”
Miller gave his coach’s moves a grade of A.
“Not an A-plus — it was a little stiff,” Miller said. “But he’s still very mobile for his age.”
BIG DAY FOR THE U
The Hurricanes reached the regional final just a few hours after Miami’s ninth-seeded women’s team hung on to beat Villanova and advance to the Elite Eight for the first time. Miami and UConn are the only schools with teams remaining in both tournaments.
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