Surging Isaiah Wong, No. 14 Miami take on Vermont
Isaiah Wong will look for his fifth consecutive 20-point game when No. 14 Miami opposes Vermont on Wednesday in Coral Gables, Fla., but scoring is not the only attribute that is drawing raves for the fourth-year junior from teammates and coaches.
“He’s a complete player. He’s been putting it together,” Hurricanes guard Jordan Miller said after Wong had 24 points, six rebounds and five assists in Miami’s 66-64 home win over then-No. 6 Virginia on Dec. 20. “He’s very experienced. And the way he’s been passing the ball is truly amazing.”
Over the past four games, Wong has averaged 26 points, 7.3 assists and 5.8 rebounds while committing just 1.8 turnovers per contest. He produced a career-high 36 points in a 107-105 win over Cornell on Dec. 7, and he logged 22 points and a career-high 10 assists in a 91-76 win against St. Francis (Pa.) on Dec. 17.
“Some guys just have a natural, innate ability to put the ball in the basket and score, and he’s got that,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “But he’s gotten stronger, more athletic and sounder in all areas of his game.”
Wong forced a turnover in the closing seconds to keep Virginia from getting off a possible shot at forcing overtime. Wong credits his coach, Jim Larranaga, along with film work and his own experience in the Atlantic Coast Conference for his improved defensive play.
“I feel like defense is a mental thing, too,” Wong said.
Wong also displays a coolness under fire.
“He’s great. He’s a great player,” Larranaga said. “The thing about him is he’s that way every day. He’s got great mentality. He’s got a great work ethic. He’s a great teammate, and he’s so much fun to coach and be around.”
The game against Vermont will serve as the final nonconference outing for the Hurricanes (12-1), who will begin a stretch of 17 consecutive Atlantic Coast Conference games when they play at Notre Dame on Friday.
The Catamounts (6-8) of the America East Conference are coming off an 84-72 home loss to Toledo on Dec. 20. The result snapped Vermont’s four-game winning streak and kept the Catamounts from getting to .500 after starting the season 2-7.
“I thought the second half we competed better and at times made it a game, but just couldn’t string together enough stops,” Vermont coach John Becker said. “There was a couple of times that we did and we just couldn’t capitalize by scoring on the other end, so you have to credit them.”
Becker also thought his team was in a bit of a funk in its final nonconference home game.
“It was a little quiet, a little lack of energy I thought today by our group for whatever reason,” he said. “But you have to tip your hat to Toledo today.”
The Hurricanes, on the other hand, played before an enthusiastic crowd of 7,257 in their 8,000-seat arena in their game against Virginia even with students on Christmas break.
“And they were loud,” Larranaga said. “They were loud right from the beginning, and I’m inviting them to come back. I love that kind of support.”
–Field Level Media