Canes aren't rattled by slight

Dec. 19, 2001

Voters around the country might not be ready to put the University of Miami in the top 25, but Mike Gillespie is convinced.

“If they’re not a top 25 team, I don’t know who is,” the Florida A&M coach said after the Hurricanes beat his team 90-62 and extended their perfect record to 10-0 — the best start in school history.

“They have all the ingredients. They’re long, lean athletes, they have great shooters, a great coach, and they mix it up defensively. We’ve played Mississippi State and Georgia Tech, and we’re about to play Alabama, so I’ve seen them on tape, and Miami’s the best. I think they’re one of the better teams in the country.”

UM, one of eight undefeated teams in the nation, was one spot shy of the Top 25 in both polls this week despite a win over No. 21 Indiana and an RPI ranking of 12. The only other undefeated teams that remain unranked are Butler (10-0) and Mississippi State (10-0).

“I’d rather have the best finish than the best start,” UM coach Perry Clark said. “But I am happy about our consistency of play. When you look around the country and see some of the scores, to sit here where we are, not just with our record, but our consistency, is very pleasing.”

Senior guard John Salmons, who was on UM’s 1999-2000 Sweet 16 team, said this team has more offense. All five UM starters are averaging double figures.

“This is the best offensive team since I’ve been here,” said Salmons, who had a career-high 10 assists against the Rattlers. “We’ve always been more of a defensive team, but now we have a lot of guys who can score. I’m just glad to be a part of this.”

Darius Rice led all scorers with 24 points on 8-of-14 shooting, including 6 of 10 from three-point range. He was determined to shoot well after going 2 of 11 for four points against Indiana.

“Indiana’s not chopped liver,” Clark said. “They set their defense to stop him, but he did a lot of other things well. Everyone knows he can shoot the basketball. That’s not news.”

The Hurricanes shot 56.1 percent Tuesday and made 13 three-pointers, two short of the school record. All 12 of Marcus Barnes’ points came from behind the arc.

One of the surprises was the play of UM freshman guard Kahleaf Watson, who was averaging 1.7 points and 5.6 minutes and didn’t play against Indiana.

Watson came in midway through the first half and immediately made an impact with his speed, athleticism and willingness to drive to the basket, something other UM players have lacked.

Watson made all four of his shots for 12 points with three assists in 17 minutes. His most memorable play was a fast-break dunk with 3:57 to go to give UM a 32-point lead.

“Playing against Kahleaf is like trying to hit against Greg Maddux, and then all of a sudden facing Mariano Rivera,” Clark said. “He is so quick, so fast. We’ve had to try to slow him down. I told him as soon as he starts taking care of the basketball, he’s going to play. That speed will help us down the road.”

Watson, a Washington native who earned all-state in basketball and football, admitted he struggled to adjust to the college game.

“I’m so fast that in high school I could just go by people, but here, there are guys as fast as I am, so I have to learn to slow down and take care of the ball,” he said.

FAMU, which dropped to 1-8, was led by Sonny Tudeme’s 14 points and 10 rebounds.