- Carter Strickland, Reporter, HornsNation
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AUSTIN, Texas -- It took six games, three days and countless misses plus a few hits but, finally, in the last game of the regional, the NCAA tournament showed up in the heart of the Lone Star State.
Thank you, Miami and Illinois. Faith in college basketball was restored in this football town, live and in person instead of having to experience it via flat screen. There were shots that mattered, dunks that thundered, sweating and screaming coaches, nervous and obnoxious fans and finally a winner, Miami, that had to play for an entire 40 minutes to advance. The game ended 63-59 in favor of the Hurricanes over the No. 7 seed Illini. The only other regional game that had even been near to being this close was Illinois' eight-point win over Colorado. And the Illini shot 13 percent in the second half to secure that win. All the other games here were double-digit foregone conclusions.
Then there was the capper where one team played as though it mattered (Miami) and the other played clearly above its head (Illinois).
"After the game was over I was still kind of stunned when I shook hands with their coach [John Groce], I was speechless," said Miami coach Jim Larranaga.
Now there is No. 3 Marquette and the Sweet 16 for the Hurricanes to worry about. Or maybe it is Marquette that should start worrying. The Hurricanes have effectively proved they can run a team out of the gym (Duke) as well as grind another to the end of its season (Illinois).
That versatility should prove invaluable as the Hurricanes move forward against Marquette, a team that itself has proved to have Lazarus-like qualities. The Golden Eagles have won twice in the waning moments in this tournament. But now Miami has one of those come-from-behind wins. The Hurricanes trailed 55-54 with 1:58 left before Shane Larkin hit a step-back 3-pointer to give Miami a lead it did not give up.
"I wanted to go out there and make a big play for my team, and I guess luck was just on my side when I shot it," Larkin said.
It takes a smidgen of luck at this stage. And the officials may have sprinkled a bit Miami's way on a controversial out-of-bounds play late. Replay showed the ball should have been awarded to the Illini, which would have given them another chance to tie the score.
"There were so many hands I don't know who touched it last," said Miami's Kenny Kadji. "I really don't know."
Groce acted as though he knew something: "I have two thoughts. I thought the officiating Friday and today was tremendous. These are the best of the best. My second thought is you saw the same video I did."
Everybody saw the same game Groce did, one in which Miami struggled to find its way around a defense that got into the passing lanes and harassed the interior players.
"Tremendous," Larranga said of that defense.
But he also had another word for how Miami was able to deal with that defense and ultimately make it to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2000: "Resilient."
Indeed, the Hurricanes bounced back. Just like basketball finally did here Sunday night.