The University of Miami women’s basketball team struggled early on, but got hot just in time for March. The Hurricanes head into their Atlantic Coast Conference tournament opener having won four of their past five games.
As if that weren’t reason enough for the Canes to be excited about the postseason, they open on Thursday at 2 p.m. against rival Florida State in Greensboro, N.C. The winner advances to a Friday game against top seed and No. 2 ranked Notre Dame (29-0, 16-0 ACC).
The Hurricanes are 16-13, 8-8 in the ACC and the No. 8 seed in the conference tournament. Coach Katie Meier holds out hope for an NCAA tournament berth.
“We finished really strong, and that speaks to the resilience of this team,’’ Meier said.
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“We won five away games in the ACC, and that says a lot about the character and grit of this team. I think eight ACC teams for sure should make the NCAA tournament. A .500 record in the ACC traditionally should get you a bid. Whoever wins on Thursday, if that team wants to really make noise, beat Notre Dame on Friday and then they don’t have to debate anything.’’
The Hurricanes are led by freshman point guard Adrienne Motley, known to her teammates as “Money Mot’’ because she has proven to be a clutch player. Motley was named on Monday to the ACC All-Freshman team. She averaged 13.5 points per game, and though her play is usually “not SportsCenter highlight kind of stuff,’’ Meier said Motley is “absolutely the reason’’ they won some of their tough road games.
Other players who stepped up the past few weeks are sophomore forward Keyona Hayes, who averaged 20.5 points and shot 69 percent the past two games, and Necole Sterling, who had a career-high 16 Sunday against Pitt and averaged 10.4 points the last five games. Suriya McGuire has also played strong.
“The play of Necole Sterling is a great story and boosts us,’’ Meier said. “She was very, very significant in our recent wins. Certainly, our bench changed our fate.’’
Sterling came to UM from Gulf Coast Community College and took much of the season to get acclimated.
“Necole’s a kid who hung in there, flipped her mind recently and decided to accept our coaching and adjust instead of being frustrated by it,’’ Meier said.
The Seminoles are led by All-ACC senior Natasha Howard and speedy senior point guard Cheetah Delgado.
“This will be a good experience for a team like ours that has a few senior leaders combined with a lot of newcomers,” FSU coach Sue Semrau said.
“Facing Miami right away will be a challenge for our team, especially with the way they played against us last time. They are an aggressive team who comes at you hard. We are looking forward to the challenge and hopefully will be playing Friday.”