For every hero created in the mania of the NCAA Tournament, there’s an outcast.
The twisted path to the Final Four is littered with shattered glass slippers, as the University of Miami women’s basketball team knows all too well.
The Hurricanes again failed to get past the first weekend of March Madness, losing to South Dakota State 74-71 in a first-round game on Saturday at Stanford University.
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Not what No. 5 seed UM was expecting against the 12th-seeded Jackrabbits.
UM, ranked 19th in the nation, was hoping for a trip to the Sweet 16 or beyond after going 3-4 and unable to win two games in a row in the tournament the previous five seasons. UM fell to 5-11 all-time in the tournament.
It’s not that UM took South Dakota State for granted. The Hurricanes doomed themselves with a horrid nine-point third quarter. Poor shooting and missed opportunities combined to turn a long trip into a short visit.
“We’re disappointed but not devastated,” coach Katie Meier said as the team boarded the plane to fly home Sunday. “We’re still juiced and energized and ready to play again. That’s what’s so disappointing. But I want to file this one and use it to make us tougher.”
UM led 39-37 at the half but missed seven layups, made only 2 of 17 shots and was outscored 18-9 in the third quarter.
“We will regret the missed chances at the rim, the chippies we couldn’t get to fall,” Meier said. “I loved our first half. But you can’t come out flat after halftime and waste five possessions in that type of game.”
Miami made 36.8 percent of its shots for the game, 28.9 percent in the second half. Miami’s aggressive defense forced 24 turnovers that yielded 22 points but that was not enough to offset inaccuracy from the field. Miami cut the deficit to three with 4:30 to go but could not capitalize on missed free throws by the Jackrabbits down the stretch.
“Our press was in their heads and there was a scenario for us to win,” Meier said. “It was a matter of the timeliness of the shots. We needed a little better shooting percentage. They move the ball extremely well and at times we lost our focus.”
All-ACC guard Adrienne Motley finished with 19 points, five rebounds and four assists but UM’s other four starters managed only 11 points combined points on 17-percent shooting. Jessica Thomas and Michelle Woods totaled nine points and hit only 1 of 9 three-point attempts.
“Jessica was disappointed in her stat sheet, but she played her guts out,” Meier said. “I can’t fault our effort.”
The silver lining was the play of freshmen Laura Cornelius (18 points, 4 of 6 on three-pointers) and Emese Hof (17 points, nine rebounds, four blocks) of the Netherlands, who came off the bench and almost rescued the Hurricanes.
Meier and her colleagues in the sport knew that South Dakota State was exactly the sort of crafty, gritty, underrated team that makes seedings meaningless.
“When the bracket came out I heard from a lot of people saying, ‘Wow, tough draw,’” Meier said. “South Dakota State was not truly a No. 12 seed. They are very good. They beat DePaul and Louisville, they played Notre Dame close, they had a strong season.”
UM was again made a tournament nomad, traveling farther than any of the other 63 teams. Meier said jet lag hurt, but she wasn’t using that as an excuse. UM bid to be a first- and second-round host, but needed a No. 4 seeding to earn the home court advantage.
UM has gotten stuck with unfortunate draws in the format of the women’s tournament, losing to host teams in 2012, 2013 and 2015. Last year, UM was a No. 11 seed, upset Washington in the first round, then lost to host and No. 3 seed Iowa in the second.
In 2014, UM lost at home to Stetson in the first round of the NIT. In 2013, UM lost to host Iowa in the first round, a year after being upset by host Gonzaga in the second round. In 2011, No. 3 seed UM lost to No. 6 seed Oklahoma in the second round in Charlottesville, Virginia. And in 2010, UM lost the NIT championship game to host California-Berkeley.
“If we had had the good fortune to be in the top 16 we would have been hosting over the weekend,” UM athletic director Blake James said.
James was looking forward to flying from the men’s team’s victory over Wichita State in Providence, Rhode Island, on Saturday to the women’s second-round game against Stanford on Monday. But South Dakota State got in the way of his plans.
Still, he was proud to have dual top-20 programs representing UM in the tournament.
“If you look across the country, our men’s and women’s basketball teams are as good as those of any other school,” he said. “That’s because the coaches connect with their players. Katie and Jim [Larrañaga] get their players to buy into their vision of the game.”
Meier can only watch and wish Larrañaga and his players luck. But, like Larrañaga does this year, Meier will have the core of her squad back next year, steeled by postseason disappointment and ready to hurdle the NCAA Tournament hump.