AUSTIN, Texas — Not long after Illinois had walked off the floor with a 57-49 win against Colorado in its NCAA tournament opener, assistant coach Jamall Walker approached Myke Henry in the victorious locker room with a message for the sophomore: Be ready Sunday.
The 6-foot-6 forward played one minute in the first half of the Colorado win, but his services will be needed against Miami’s burly frontcourt.
“That’s really my role, to always be ready whatever happens,” Henry said Saturday. “It’s kind of hard when you’re not always playing, but you’ve just got to be ready when it’s your turn. Miami is good and big. We’re gonna have to bring it.”
Late in Illinois’ win against the Buffaloes, point guard Tracy Abrams limped off the floor and didn’t return because of a leg injury he later described as a cramp.
The sophomore went through the team’s workout Saturday at the Erwin Center and said he’ll be fine for today’s game.
“I’m feeling pretty good today,” Abrams said. “I got some quality rest, most importantly. I’m feeling pretty good.”
During Miami’s 90-minute workout Saturday at the Erwin Center, the building’s fire alarm went off, and the facility was evacuated as firefighters and police checked the arena. The building was deemed safe, and everyone was allowed back in after about 30 minutes.
“We didn’t really know whether to leave or not until one of the security guards told us we had to evacuate the building,” Trey McKinney Jones said. “We made the most out of it. Julian (Gamble) was out there rapping. We were just having fun, being brothers like we are.”
Being able to handle adversity, on the court and off, is something Miami coach Jim Larranaga has preached to his team during his two seasons.
“The neat part about Miami players is they kept everything in stride and had a good time outside, just hanging out and talking and getting ready,” Larranaga said. “Nothing was going to bother me. There would be no complaining; whatever happens, happens.”
When 15th-seeded Florida Gulf Coast upset Georgetown on Friday, the players in the Miami locker room weren’t surprised. Florida Gulf Coast beat the Hurricanes 63-51 earlier this season.
“Hate that they beat us, but it’s definitely a good story that they came in and beat Georgetown so we can finally say, ‘We told you those guys aren’t that bad; they’re pretty good,’ ” Miami’s Reggie Johnson said. “I think the world saw that. It makes us feel better. We’re not the only ones who get beat by those teams. Georgetown was a 2 seed and got beat by them, so I’m kind of like, ‘Told you so, they’re good.’ ”
Miami point guard SHANE LARKIN was asked if he was surprised that the Eagles advanced in the tournament. His response was quick and simple: “No.”
“Florida Gulf Coast is a good team. Early in the season when they beat us, it was like, ‘Oh, Miami’s not that good.’ Florida Gulf Coast is just good,” Larkin said.
The Big Ten is 8-1 in the 2013 NCAA tournament.
“Now everybody else gets to see what we had to go up against every night,” Illinois’ Sam McLaurin said. “Kudos to all those guys. It’s a tough league; every day we had to play against one of them, it was always a tossup until the last four minutes of the game; that’s when the game was settled.”
Michigan and Michigan State reached the Sweet 16 with wins Saturday.
“Our league’s good, we all know that. It prepares you for this moment. There’s some great players in our league, great coaches,” Illinois coach John Groce said. “I’ve said all along I thought our league was the best in the country all season. To this point, there’s still a lot more to be played; it’s playing itself out that way. Teams are playing well, and certainly we wish the rest of our league the best.”
Groce has been too busy to watch much of the NCAA tournament.
“I try to follow a score here or there, especially the guys in our coaching tree, our coaching family. Other than that, not a whole lot,” he said. “My wife will tell me every once in a while a score; the TV’s on in our room. I see a little bit here and there, a couple minutes of a game, then I’m off to another film session or getting ready to watch another film. I leave that for the fans; they get to watch all that.”
In his bracket, President Barack Obama picked Miami to beat the Illini in the round of 32. The president had the Canes advancing to the Elite Eight before bowing out.
“I love the president, but he didn’t pick us to win it. That’s a problem with me,” Johnson joked in the Miami locker room. “It’s pretty cool to have
Obama pick us to go that far. I want to go further than what he picked us.”