During a timeout with less than 10 minutes remaining in the Hurricanes’ final home game of the season, Head Coach Jim Larrañaga only wanted to talk to one player. Larrañaga pulled redshirt senior point guard Angel Rodriguez aside and told him to lead his team for one final time at the BankUnited Center.
Rodriguez answered the challenge, and the rest of the team followed his lead as No. 12 Miami beat No.11 Louisville 73-65 in front of 7,342 screaming fans on Senior Day Saturday afternoon.
“I stopped Angel as he came off the court and told him, ‘Listen, you need to show everybody in this arena how hard you’re willing to play to win this game, how important this game is to you, and your teammates will follow,’” Larrañaga said. “’I want you to pick up their point guard full court and play with great defensive intensity. And you’ll see what happens.’ From that moment on he was absolutely sensational.”
Rodriguez tied junior Davon Reed for a game-high 17 points to go with seven assists and five rebounds. Rodriguez and fellow redshirt senior guard Sheldon McClellan held guards Damion Lee and Trey Lewis, Louisville’s leading scorers coming into the game, to 19 points on a combined 8-of-23 shooting.
“As a player sometimes you just don’t realize a lot of important things that you do for your team,” Rodriguez said. “I always forget how much of an influence it is when I pressure the ball, when I play so hard on defense. It really makes the team go harder and I did that in the second half, and the team responded just like Coach L told me they would.”
Following that crucial timeout, Miami dominated Louisville the rest of the way. The Canes closed the final 4:50 of the game on a 15-3 run. Louisville (22-7, 11-5) went 1-of-12 down the stretch.
“Led us to a win, basically,” McClellan said of Rodriguez. “He changed the game for us with his tempo. He does it all for us. We really feed off his energy.”
Rodriguez scored the team’s first seven points of the second half following a 6-0 run by Louisville. A wide-open three from the right corner by Reed with 41 seconds left put the Canes up 68-62, and sent the BUC into an early celebration. The Canes (23-5, 12-4) finished the regular season with just a single loss at home, which came on a buzzer-beater by Northeastern back in November.
The Canes trailed 38-36 at halftime despite shooting a scalding 59 percent from the field. The Cardinals kept up with Miami’s hot shooting, making 58 percent of their field goals. Neither team led by more than five as Miami or Louisville knocked down another shot every time one side tried to pull away.
Rodriguez scored five points and dished five assists in the first eight minutes of the game. Miami’s quick ball movement and drive-and-kick game led to wide-open looks from the outside. The Canes went 5-of-7 on threes against Louisville’s tough zone defense. The Cardinals came into the matchup with the No. 1 defense in the country, according to kenpom.com.
The Canes next play No. 23 Notre Dame at 7 p.m. on Wednesday in Indiana.