NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament Midwest Regional-Miami (FL) vs Houston

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – If it wasn't surgical precision by Miami on Friday night, it was something that needed surgical tape for the team to get the point . 

That was the visual left by Hurricanes coach Jim Larranaga after yet another bracket-rocking upset in this rock-and-rolling NCAA Tournament. This one left the Elite Eight without a No. 1 seed for the first time ever. This one left Houston – victim to Miami's 89-75 bludgeoning in a Midwest Regional semifinal -- feeling a lot like Alabama as both remaining No. 1 seeds went down within minutes of each other Friday night. 

This one left Larranaga explaining in detail how he hammered home his point regarding Houston's physicality. In hotel space reserved for video Thursday, Larranaga ordered trainer's tape laid out in the shape of the lane. 

"Then we packed everybody in it," the coach said. "I told everybody, 'To beat Houston you gotta have five guys in the paint.' Everybody's got to block out and everybody's got to rebound."

If the Canes didn't understand the importance of crowding the lane, they soon did. Armed with the key to beating the Cougars, Larranaga said all 12 players dutifully departed the meeting and got on an elevator. 

"It got stuck," he said. "It took a half hour for the firemen to get them out of there."

Houston wasn't as lucky with their escape. The No. 5 seeded Canes not only beat the Cougars, they routed them. Sent a message. That. Just. Doesn't. Happen … to Kelvin Sampson-coached teams but there it was for all to see.

"Unfortunately, one off-night and you go home in this tournament," Houston 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."

In the end, it was the sort of clubbing Houston usually applies to foes. Miami's margin of victory tied the Cougars' worst loss in two years – since the 2021 national semifinal loss to Baylor. The 89 points were the most given up by Houston in more than five years and more than 30 over their season average. 

Larranaga got his point across. He noticed at halftime the Cougars had launched 17 3-pointers. They average 22 for an entire game. 

"They're going to start attacking the paint," the coach said. 

He was right. Houston quickly cut the lead to four and Larranaga got point guard Nijel Pack out of the game fearing he'd get in foul trouble defending. 

The strategy was brilliant. Pack eventually returned and ripped in three straight threes in a 2-minute, 13-second span. 

The combined length of the shots was about 72 feet, enough to discourage the Cougars before finally beating them. The lead at that point was nine with 12 minutes left. Houston never got closer. Pack's 26 were his high in his one season with the Canes. 

"It was a joke. It was ridiculous," Larranaga said. "I don't know how far those shots [were]. People say to me, 'What do you say to him when he misses one of those long shots.' I say, 'Just keep shooting.' " 

It was the best day in Miami basketball history and it wasn't even close. The Miami women advanced to their first Elite Eight. That basketball excellence is not quite the same as winning five national championships in football but it's a start. 

It's all about the (basketball) U. The women advance to play third-seeded LSU on Sunday. On that same day, the men could advance to their first Final Four in the regional championship game against Texas. 

It seems the world has underrated these whirlin', twirlin' shootin' Hurricanes of the court variety. They are brawnier and more athletic than they look. They matched Houston – a team with a +7.5 rebound advantage per game – on the boards. Each team had 35.

"I told them today at the shootaround, 'Our defense was too stretched out. You guys gotta be in the paint like you were in the elevator yesterday,' Larranaga said. "And they were able to do that." 

The fact that something like Friday night almost never happens to Houston made it more convincing that Miami could take the whole Tex-Mex dinner next week in Houston.

"I wouldn't say [we're] underappreciated," Miami guard Jordan Miller. "I feel like we play a certain style that is hard to prepare for. When we play teams in the ACC we usually play them once or twice. That second time they're familiar and [the games are] usually closer. We know we kind of have an advantage when we first play a team." 

In some ways, might as well call it the best team money can buy. Pack is in the middle of a two-year NIL contract with booster John Riuz that will pay him $800,000. Wong, the ACC player of the year, is getting a reported $400,000 over two years as well as a car.

Might as well say it: Miami is getting its money's worth. 

The guard tandem combined for 46 points. Wong chipped in with 20. The Cougars can still feel the effect of Pack's 7-of-10 shooting from the arc. 

"Some of the shots he made were shots you hope he takes," Sampson said. "The problem was he made them." 

All-American Houston guard Marcus Sasser finished with 14 points, more than four below his average. More telling: Miami made him work for it. Sasser made only 4 of 12 shots to get there. 

Meanwhile, Houston will not get there – back home that is, where the Final Four will be staged next week without a home team. The Cougars left their hearts – and their game -- in Kansas City. 

"Just because it's in Houston, that don't mean we get extra points or something like that when we step on the floor," Sasser said. We were just taking it game by game, but we fell a little short."