University of Miami football coach Mark Richt was at the student union patio Monday afternoon with Sebastian the Ibis, urging students to go to the Watsco Center Monday night for the UM women’s basketball team’s NCAA Tournament second-round game against Quinnipiac.
Free pizza was promised by UM coach Katie Meier, and a larger-than-usual number of students showed up. But all their screaming and arm waving wasn’t enough to will the fourth-seeded Hurricanes to victory. Miami was eliminated 85-78 by the 12th-seeded Bobcats, who had knocked out No. 5 seed Marquette in the previous round.
Anybody who thinks the women’s NCAA Tournament lacks depth and excitement was not at the Watsco Center over the past three days. For the second game in a row, the Miami game went down to the wire against a double-digit seed. This time, there was no final-second game-winner for the Hurricanes.
This time, it was the visiting mid-major team celebrating on Miami’s home court, and the Quinnipiac pep band — dressed as ketchup, bananas, peanut butter and jelly, and Teletubbies — dancing as the buzzer sounded.
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Across the floor, UM seniors Adrienne Motley and Jessica Thomas were in tears as their coaches and teammates consoled them. They had big plans for the end of their Hurricane careers. Instead, they will be home for the rest of March.
“I just honestly didn’t think this would be the last time I’d play for Katie Meier,” said Thomas, who scored a career-high 25 points. “Disappointed because I know how much we wanted it. As seniors we wanted to take this program somewhere it’s never been, so when that buzzer went off and you try to fight til the end, but when it went off, I really didn’t see this conversation I’m having right now happening.”
A half hour after the game, the players were still crying and hugging in the locker room.
“That was just a great performance by Quinnipiac, just phenomenal,” Meier said. “The assisted field goals, 24 assists, boy, did they find and hit. It wasn’t lack of effort (on our part). A couple of occasions perhaps lack of discipline, over-excited; but it still takes incredible composure to hit it. We’d scramble them up, and they stayed very calm.
“I am very sad because I love my team so much and I’m sad because the community showed up for us, the university stepped up for us and I feel bad. I really wanted this to say, `Thank you.’
“I don’t think we did a whole heck of a lot horribly, they were just really special tonight...they’re going to have a lot of people on their bandwagon if they keep playing like that.”
Meier said Quinnipiac coach Tricia Fabbri was “being so classy” after the game, shaking every UM player’s hands and Meier told her to go celebrate her special moment with her team.
The Bobcats led by as many as 13 points in the second half, but with one minute to go, Motley — who had struggled all night — made a pair of free throws to cut Quinnipiac’s lead to 75-74.
Miami fans leaped out of their seats and roared, and the UM bench erupted. But the celebration was shortlived, as Bobcats guard Adily Martucci knocked down a three from the corner to open the lead back up to four.
It seemed every time the Hurricanes made a run or a big basket, the Bobcats answered with a three to deflate the UM hopes and put the game just a little bit out of reach.
UM senior point guard Thomas, the smallest player on the court at 5-6, broke her career mark on her final basket in a UM uniform with 7.5 seconds to go. She scored 17 in the first half. Fellow senior Keyona Hayes put up 21 points on 8-of-12 shooting, three short of her career high.
“We didn’t overlook them, but we thought we would go farther than we did,” Hayes said. “I’m sad that this is the last time we’ll wear a UM jersey.”
Motley finished 2-for-10 for nine points and was still somber, a towel over her head, in the locker room.
“They were just hitting, and I was like, ‘Wow,’’’ Motley said. “Every time we’d get a defensive stop, they’d get a big three. They were really on fire and unfortunately, we couldn’t stop that. I just hope this program continues to build.”
Meier broke down talking about her seniors after the game. “I’m going to try to talk about my seniors, but I’m not going to get through it because they’re awesome. Maybe I’ll text you all and tell you how I feel about them. Great careers, special, special people. They carried the banner and did everything I needed from them...I love them, we’ll be in each other’s lives forever, and this isn’t the end of our journey together, but this is the last time I had the honor and pleasure to coach them, and that hurts a lot, too.”
Senior forward Morgan Manz led the Bobcats with 22 points and was 6-of-8 from three-point range.
Just like against Florida Gulf Coast in the first round, the Canes were scorched by three-point shooters on Monday. Quinnipiac went 9-of-13 from beyond the arc in the first half alone and had pulled ahead 43-36 at the break. Seven of the threes came from the Bobcats bench — three from Manz, and two apiece from Sarah Shewan and Carly Fabbri, daughter of Bobcats coach Tricia Fabbri.
The Bobcats finished with 15 three-pointers.
The Hurricanes, who went 1-for-14 from three-point range in the first-round against Florida Gulf Coast, made up for all of those misses on Monday night. They made five of seven threes in the first half. Thomas made three and Key-Key Harris made two.
But Thomas’ and Harris’ efforts were not enough. This was the Bobcats’ night. Miami finishes the season 24-9, and the Bobcats are 29-6.
Even before the game, Quinnipiac had already made history as the first female program in any sport at their school to win an NCAA tournament game. By beating 25th-ranked Marquette, the Bobcats became the first Quinnipiac basketball team — men’s or women’s — to beat a nationally-ranked opponent.