As you are reading this, I hope that Oxford is buzzing about the men’s basketball team knocking off No. 5 University of Pittsburgh Monday night. I hope that Tuesday morning brings SportsCenter showing non-stop highlights of Charlie Coles and his boys celebrating and gaining national recognition after a huge upset victory.
However, I do not have the privilege of knowing how we fared versus the Panthers because I am writing this before Monday’s game took place. Despite the outcome Monday night, whatever it may be, Miami basketball made incredible progress and gave RedHawk fans a reason to be excited this past Thursday when the team took on No. 4 UCLA on its home court. Despite falling short 64-59, Miami fans should have not only been excited because of our near upset victory, but because of the way the Redhawks hung with the powerful Bruins the entire game. Suffocating UCLA defense, timely Bruin 3-point field goals and questionable, at best, officiating could not stop Miami from being within one point with less than one minute remaining and making UCLA earn its victory.
Miami basketball fans should see the good things that came from this loss. The main positive was the play of senior Michael Bramos. Bramos’s 22 points do not nearly show how he put the RedHawks on his back at times and got Miami crucial buckets when it needed them. UCLA played very tight defense on Miami’s point guards the entire game, but Bramos showed he was up to the task of making sure Miami got offense when the team needed it. Another positive, despite not being seen in the final box score, was the play of guard Kenny Hayes. Although he only registered two points, his two were extremely important as he drove the baseline against numerous UCLA defenders and put in an acrobatic lay-up to bring Miami within two points as the end of the game approached.
This is positive for the RedHawks going forward because it shows Hayes has the confidence to take shots and get Miami points, even if he is struggling on a given night. Hayes is an important factor that makes the offense run, so it is important Hayes stays aggressive at all times. As the saying goes, “Good shooters keep shooting,” and that is exactly what Hayes did to bring Miami close to victory.
One aspect of Miami’s offense that surprised me was the contributions of freshman guard Kramer Soderberg and freshman forward Julian Mavunga. Even though Miami fans have heard wonderful things about the youth of the current program, I did not expect to see such impact on the court so soon, especially against an opponent with the caliber of UCLA.
In only 12 minutes of action, Mavunga made his presence known on both ends of the floor. He played solid on the defensive end and scored 6 points, going 3-4 from the floor. Soderberg also contributed, tallying 5 points in only 6 minutes of limited action. Hoisting a fearless 3-point shot and draining it, Soderberg is showing early on that he can give Miami’s offense the depth it needs to succeed. I was very pleased to see these two freshmen shine under the bright lights of national television, and I look forward to seeing more positives from them as the season continues.
Even though the RedHawks were not able to upset the UCLA Bruins last week, Miami fans have many reasons to remember this game positively. As the RedHawks progress through the season, I look for them to build off the encouraging signs they saw out in California. If Miami can play this well against a storied program such as UCLA, this shows that Miami has what it takes to be a dominant force in the MAC this season. While a win against the Bruins would have been sweet, the positives shown last Thursday night make me believe Miami can win come March. And wins in March are as sweetest of all.