The University of Miami women’s basketball team seems to be finding its identity — and a knack for tough-nosed defense — just in time for the postseason.
When a team relies on two stars for so long, as the Hurricanes did on Shenise “Mo” Johnson and Riquna “Bay-Bay’’ Williams before they left for the WNBA last May, it takes a while for the rest of the players to figure out their roles. They got so used to deferring to their former leaders that when it came crunch time this season, they weren’t quite sure where to turn.
But coach Katie Meier likes what she has seen the past few weeks. The Canes (20-9, 11-7 ACC) won four of their past five games, including a historic 69-65 upset of No. 5 Duke. It was the only ACC loss of the season for the Blue Devils, who entered the game 26-1 overall and 16-0 in league play. That win, followed by a 64-46 road win at Virginia Tech, gave the Canes confidence heading into the ACC tournament.
No. 5 seed Miami opens Thursday with a noon matchup against No. 12 seed Virginia Tech (10-19, 4-14 ACC) in the first round in Greensboro, N.C.
The fact that the Canes just beat the Hokies on Sunday should work to their advantage. Meier said rather than focus on scouting Virginia Tech, the team was able to work on its own issues.
“I’m certainly going to turn it into a plus,’’ Meier said, of playing the same opponent twice in a row. “I think Virginia Tech’s staff has got a heck of an encyclopedia of film on us, and they can come at us in a different way, and I know they will make adjustments, and that’s a concern. But I also think at this time of year, it’s nice to be able to pay more attention to your team than you normally can do because the [scouting report] is fresh in their minds. It’s great to coach your own players instead of always coaching the other team’s strategy.’’
For the second year in a row, Virginia Tech finished the regular season with the team it plays in the first round of the ACC tournament. Last year, it was Wake Forest. This year, Miami.
“In terms of familiarity with them, we’re going in from the standpoint that we thought it was 35 minutes or so of competitive basketball against Miami,’’ Hokies coach Dennis Wolff said. “We’re going to try to lengthen it on Thursday and still be alive to play Friday.’’
The Canes are 2-8 in the ACC tournament since 2004. Last year, as the No. 2 seed, they lost to Wake Forest in the quarterfinals. The previous year, they reached the semifinals before losing to North Carolina.
“We’ve shown a lot of toughness in the last couple weeks,’’ Meier said. “We were an ever-evolving team, a lot of parts to figure out, a lot of roles to clean up and clarify. It’s been a great group, very adaptable, and just really honestly trying to play very, very smart style of play.
“There were a bazillion questions about our team going into the season, including who was going to be the point guard, and that’s a scary thing. But it’s been one of the most rewarding seasons I’ve had in the fact that the team fought its way out of that with work and self-analysis and honesty.’’