The host Miami Hurricanes’ 67-54 women’s basketball victory over Pittsburgh on Sunday gave the home team hope that they can keep alive their streaks of four straight 20-win seasons and three consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances.
The Canes improved to 16-13 overall and 8-8 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Their next game is Thursday at 2 p.m. in Greensboro, N.C. against Florida State in the second round of the ACC Tournament.
“It’s fun to be in that conversation,” Miami Coach Katie Meier said when asked how many wins she thinks the Canes need in Greensboro this week to return to the NCAA Tournament. “At 8-8 in the ACC with two top-20 RPI wins, I hope we are at least on the fringe.
“The easy answer would be two wins because that means we would have to beat (Florida State and) the No. 1 seed, (29-0 Notre Dame). I think anyone that beats Notre Dame would have to be in since they haven’t lost.”
If Miami only gets only one win this week - and the NCAA takes eight teams from the ACC - Meier believes the Canes would be that eighth team.
That’s not a lock, but it still makes the FSU game a must-win for Miami. The Canes lost a home game to FSU on Jan. 9 but won on the Seminoles’ court Feb. 16, 73-70.
That FSU win was the start of Miami’s strong finish. After piling up a rash of losses, several of them against ranked teams, the Canes finished the regular season on a roll, winning four of their final five ACC games.
“Going into the conference tournament,” Meier said, “I don’t think anyone really wants to play us. We are getting more diverse offensively.”
That diversity can be good and bad. The negative is that there are no star players – no one averages as much as even 12 points per game. The positive is that the team has a lot of players who can step up on any given day. All nine players in the rotation have had at least one game in which they led Miami in scoring.
On Sunday, it was sophomore forward Keyona Hayes, who got 19 points to dismiss Pitt (11-19, 3-13) in a game that featured eight lead changes.
Pitt trailed by just five points with 3:19 remaining, but the Canes closed on an 8-0 run, including four points by Hayes. The Canes outscored the Pitt bench 28-5, getting a career-high 16 points on 7-of-9 shooting from junior wing Necole Stirling.
It was the final regular-season game for Canes seniors Krystal Saunders, a guard from South Broward who had 12 points, and Maria Brown, a forward from Monroe, La., who had two.
Saunders, a second-year starter, and Brown, a first-year starter, have been a part of more ACC wins than any other players in school history.
“They’ve responded (to the midseason slump),” Meier said. “(Those ACC wins) - that’s their legacy.”