Senior guards Adrienne Motley and Jessica Thomas sat slumped over on the Watsco Center floor late Monday night, soaking in the saddest moment of their University of Miami careers as their coaches and teammates tried to console them.
For the second game in a row, the Hurricanes had gone down to the wire against a double-digit seed in the Women’s NCAA Tournament. This time, there was no miracle ending for the Hurricanes. Miami was eliminated 85-78 in the second round by the 12th-seeded Quinnipiac Bobcats, who had knocked out No. 5 seed Marquette in the first round.
Motley and Thomas could hardly watch as the visiting mid-major team celebrated on the Miami home court along with their pep band — dressed as ketchup, bananas, peanut butter and jelly, and Teletubbies.
The UM seniors 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. “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.
“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.’ ”
UM football coach Mark Richt had been at the student union Monday afternoon with Sebastian the Ibis, urging students to go to the women’s game. A spirited student crowd showed up.
But all their screaming and arm waving wasn’t enough to will the fourth-seeded Hurricanes to victory.
“I don’t think we did a whole heck of a lot horribly, they were just really special [Monday night]. … They’re going to have a lot of people on their bandwagon if they keep playing like that,” said Meier.
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’s bench erupted. But the celebration was short-lived. Bobcats guard Adily Martucci knocked down a three-pointer from the corner to open the lead back up to four.
It seemed every time the Hurricanes (24-9) made a run or a big basket, the Bobcats answered with a three to put the game just a little bit out of reach.
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.
Motley finished 2 for 10 for nine points and was still somber, a towel over her head, in the locker room.
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,” she said. “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.”