On the eve of her team’s NCAA Tournament opener, University of Miami coach Katie Meier took the opportunity to look back at how far the eighth-seeded Hurricanes have come this season.
She recalled a Nov. 18 road game at Colorado in which the Canes scored one point in the first quarter — yes, one point — during a 67-61 loss. Miami went on to finish the season 22-10 and is back in the NCAA Tournament for the fourth year in a row — the only UM team, men or women, to reach that milestone.
The Canes will play No. 9 seed Quinnipiac at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Connecticut, on Saturday (1 p.m., ESPN2), a rematch of last year’s second-round match, which UM lost on its home court in Coral Gables. The winner takes on top-seeded and 11-time national champion Connecticut (32-0) on Monday.
“We’re very happy with the season we had, finished really well,” Meier said. “We scored one point in one quarter in Colorado. One point. I didn’t think I’d be sitting here right now with an NCAA name tag on my chest. We put the work in.”
She is particularly proud of seniors Erykah Davenport, Keyanna Harris, Khalia Prather, who came in together as unheralded freshmen and became the first players in school history to reach four consecutive NCAA Tournaments.
“None of them were top 50 recruits, it wasn’t our most highly-rated class, so that’s the best story ever,” Meier said. “They are the college experience. They’re what we celebrate in women’s basketball nationwide, faces on the campus that lead. They’re on SAAC (Student Athlete Advisory Council), doing community service like you wouldn’t believe. They’re successful. They have great GPAs and they return.
“They didn’t play a ton their freshman year, and they all had people in their ears telling them maybe they should transfer. But their families said, ‘No, you stay, and you’ll grow from it.’ The growth they’ve had as people and players … they’re very special.”
As for having to play Quinnipiac again, Meier said she finds it an “odd” pairing by the selection committee. But she is ready for another crack at the Bobcats, who beat Miami 87-78 at the Watsco Center last March, denying the Canes a trip to the Sweet 16.
This year’s Quinnipiac team is 27-5 and riding a 22-game win streak.
“Quinnipiac played phenomenal game last year,” Meier said. “The thing that jumps out when you do analytics is they had 24 assists on 28 field goals. Only four times did they do anything off the bounce, so as a coach you’ve got to address that and figure out how that stat doesn’t pop up again. Plus, the 15 threes. It was the perfect storm for us because some of their not-so-known 3-point shooters had big nights.
“We ran into a team that played incredibly well, and they’re capable of doing that again here and that’s the sport.”
She said although the loss stung, she moved on and focused on this year’s team.
“It wasn’t like some big ‘What happened?’ We got beat. They had better shot-makers than we did that day. This wasn’t some albatross that hung over my neck for a year,” Meier said. “That would be disrespectful to the program Trish (Tricia Fabbri) has built.”
UM players said they are “honored” to be playing at Gampel Pavilion, home of the UConn Huskies. Eleven championship banners hang from the rafters.
“It’s a place you grow up looking up to, so to play here is a huge honor and it also fuels you because you see what other schools have and we want to get to that level,” said junior Emese Hof.
Davenport agreed. “You watch UConn play other teams on TV, and you always wonder `What’s it like? How does it feel to play UConn?’ Not looking forward to playing them yet, but just being in their facility, playing on their hardwood, being in the ambiance of such a winning program is really a privilege.”