The University of Miami womens basketball team scrapped and clawed, and was down by just three in the closing minutes against 18th-ranked Florida State on Thursday night.
But the Seminoles wound up winning 68-63, and the long and short of it were Natasha Howard and Cheetah Delgado.
The Hurricanes knew that long-limbed 6-3 Howard would present a major problem. In two games last week, she went 24 for 29 for a combined 53 points.
Her hot hand continued at the BankUnited Center. She hit eight of her 10 first-half shots and finished with 27 points and 18 rebounds, matching career highs. A Herculean effort, is how UM coach Katie Meier described Howards night.
Were not surprised we got manhandled by Natasha Howard, Meier said. We talked about it, spent a lot of time on it. At a certain point, to neutralize her advantages inside, weve got to hit threes. Weve got to hit more than five threes to beat what were going to face in the next couple of months.
Howard took control of the boards from the start, and because the Canes struggled from the perimeter 5 for 21 from three-point range she rarely felt compelled to wander away from her comfort zone.
We do know we have some issues as far as athleticism and offensive rebounding, but Natasha Howard needs to be worried about guarding our three-point shooters, we need to pull her away from the basket, and in order to do that, weve got to drain some of those looks.
No matter who they put on her, Howard had her way. Trailing 60-57 with 2:33 to go, UM had a chance to grab a rebound off a Howard missed layup, but she got it, put it in, and the FSU lead grew to five.
Shes relentless to the glass, Meier said. We had a body on her, but just didnt have a big enough body on her. Or, she was quicker than the body we put on her.
Meanwhile, the smallest player in the game, 5-2 FSU guard Yashira Cheetah Delgado, demonstrated how she got her nickname, racing up and down the floor at breakneck speed. With 1:27 to go, and trailing by three, UMs Caprice Dennis missed a three-pointer, Delgado got the crucial rebound and scored the next basket. She finished with 10 points and 10 assists. Morgan Jones had 17 points for FSU (14-1).
The first half was extremely tight, with the Canes and Noles tied four times. A Krystal Saunders three-pointer, followed by back-to-back baskets by Jassany Williams gave UM (9-6) a seven-point lead and the Hurricanes led 33-31 at halftime.
Saunders led UM with 16 points, Dennis had 15 and Williams had 12.
I dont have any thought except incredible missed opportunity, Meier said. We were in position to grind that game out, hit a couple of those big shots at the end and I think we come away with the win. But we didnt, and they, true to form, got a crucial offensive rebound put-back that sort of broke our back.
• Meier was honored before the game for being named co-USA Basketball Coach of the Year along with University of Florida coach Billy Donovan. Meier led the U.S. Under-19 team to a gold medal at the world championship last summer.