The Miami Hurricanes’ 64-43 win over Central Connecticut on Friday night in the first round of the annual UM Holiday Tournament was expected.
It was Central Connecticut (5-5), after all, not second-ranked Connecticut. And the Canes (9-2) rarely lose on the opening night of their tournament, doing so only twice since 1995.
Given that, it was no surprise that the Canes never trailed Friday, rolling to a 39-17 halftime lead. However, Central Connecticut outscored Miami, 26-25, in the second half and might have made a game of it had they not shot 35 percent from the foul line (12 of 34).
“Our first half was real solid – excellent intensity,” Canes coach Katie Meier said. “The second half, I think we knew we had the game in hand, and we totally lost focus. It was really shocking.”
The Canes advanced to play Wisconsin (8-4) in Saturday’s 7 p.m. tournament final. Wisconsin beat Delaware State, 83-54, earlier Friday.
Miami guard Stefanie Yderstrom led all scorers with 18 points, and freshman forward Keyona Hayes had a double-double with 11 points and 15 rebounds.
“Keyona is phenomenally talented,” Meier said. “It’s just a question of whether we can keep her motor up.”
Yderstrom and Hayes’ strong outings were counterbalanced to some extent by what happened to senior forward Morgan Stroman and sophomore guard Michelle Woods.
Morgan, the Canes’ leading scorer and rebounder, fouled out and played just 17 minutes. She was held to 3 points and 6 rebounds. Woods, who is the Canes’ third-leading scorer, went scoreless, missing all five of her shots.
Meier said Stroman was the victim of some “bad breaks” but added that Woods was one of the players who lost focus.
”We are usually good about making adjustments,” Meier said. “At halftime (Friday, the players) nodded, and then they completely blew me off. That can’t happen, or we won’t win another game.”
Saturday’s Wisconsin game is the last one in this calendar year for the Canes, who are ranked 28th in the nation.
After that, they play host to Clemson on Thursday, starting a stretch of 17 consecutive ACC games. Six of those games are against teams currently ranked in the top 25, including home-and- home games with No. 4 Duke and No. 21 Florida State. Miami will also visit No. 9 Maryland and play host to No. 16 North Carolina.
So far this season, the Canes are 1-1 against top-25 teams, beating Penn State and losing to Tennessee, both at home.
The Canes’ only stinker came at unranked Rutgers, where Miami lost 42-34, turning the ball over 21 times and shooting just 32.7 percent.
Meier said the remaining schedule is “overwhelming”, but Yderstrom said she can’t wait.
“I think we’re ready,” she said. “After Christmas break, we had intense practices. The first half here was really good. This is going to be fun.”