There was a time, just a few years ago, when Katie Meier would have been proud had her gritty, never-say-die University of Miami women’s basketball team closed a 27-point deficit to six against the mighty Tennessee Volunteers.
She would have lamented a 79-67 loss, but been delighted that her team was in position to win with two minutes to go, in front of a boisterous home crowd, no less.
Not anymore. Not after she worked so hard to raise the program’s profile to the point that the No. 24 Vols were considered underdogs against the 23rd-ranked Hurricanes on Sunday afternoon. Not after leading the Hurricanes to a top-five ranking last year. Not after winning 41 consecutive games at the BankUnited Center and seeing two of her players picked in the first round of the WNBA Draft.
The only thing Meier was feeling after Sunday’s loss was downright disappointment. The nation’s second-longest home win streak was over, and Meier was scratching her head and pointing the finger at herself after her starters went 2 for 26 in the first half.
Even more upsetting to Meier, the Canes (2-1) failed to play the tenacious defense for which they are known.
“Big moment. We laid an egg,” Meier said.
“Completely 100 percent I didn’t have my team ready and that’s on me and I’ve got to change how we approach the game, look at starting lineups and game prep. No question we weren’t ready for that game. … Our focus wasn’t there, our response to missing a shot was to play less defense. I have a major problem with that.”
At halftime, down by 25, Meier rallied her team by unfurling her “26-point plan.” She challenged them to treat the second half as five four-minute mini-games and focus on winning each one by five or more points. She saw no need to point out how poorly they were shooting.
“Stat sheets are for losers,” Meier said. “Losing coaches are always deep in the stat sheet (burying her nose in the post-game stat sheet). Our starters were 2 for 26 at the half. That was the harsh reality. I can’t just say ‘Hit shots.’ That’s Captain Obvious, and I don’t coach that way.”
They almost pulled it off. Morgan Stroman, who went 0 for 6 before intermission, wound up with 13 points after bullying her way to the line and hitting a few layups. The typically-reliable Stefanie Yderstrom, who missed her first seven shots, finally scored with 5:22 left to close the gap to 67-54. A minute later, she hit a three and the crowd of 2,524 went wild.
Yderstrom hit a pair of free throws with 2:30 to go to close UM to within six, but she missed a three-point shot on the next possession, and the Vols hung on.
“With two minutes to go, I thought we had that game,” Stroman said.
Meier, disgusted as she was at halftime, admitted she enjoyed the tense second half.
“If you’d have told me at halftime I would have any sense of feeling like I had some fun in that game, I would have probably not believed you,” she said.
Sophomore Michelle Woods continued her breakout season, leading the Canes with 17 points after scoring 19 and 20 in the previous two games. Bashaara Graves led the Vols with 20 points.
“It’s a springboard, unfortunately, we were at the bottom of the pool and there wasn’t any water in it,” Meier said. “And we had to springboard out of it. We put ourselves in the situation to win the game, which is amazing. I’ll celebrate that in a little bit. For now, it was our first opportunity to show we can come out of the gates and throw the first punch and we didn’t. I’ll learn from it, and we’ll get it right.”
Tennessee coach Holly Warlick and her players applauded the Canes’ second-half comeback.
“They didn’t have a quit to them,” Warlick said of UM. “They play with a big heart.”
“Nobody’s going to lay down just because we have Tennessee across our chest,” said Volunteers forward Cierra Burdick, who led all players with 10 rebounds. “That’s one of the things we’re learning as we go. Miami’s a great team, ranked Top 25, this was a Top 25 matchup. For us to come in and be the underdogs and get this win on the road, that’s a great win for our program.’’
Meier would have smiled at that comment not so long ago. On Sunday, it was little consolation.