University of Miami

UM women get rematch in NCAA opener — a date with No. 1 overall seed UConn could be next

University of Miami women’s basketball players and fans react at the NCAA basketball selection show viewing party at the Rathskeller on UM’s Coral Gables campus on Monday, March 12, 2018.
University of Miami women’s basketball players and fans react at the NCAA basketball selection show viewing party at the Rathskeller on UM’s Coral Gables campus on Monday, March 12, 2018. sballestas@miamiherald.com

The University of Miami women’s basketball team didn’t have to wait long to find out its NCAA Tournament fate Monday night. Within minutes of the start of the Selection Show, the “U” logo flashed on the screen as a No. 8 seed and the Canes’ unexpected first-round opponent left some mouths agape at the Rathskeller campus sports grill.

The Hurricanes (21-10) are headed to Storrs, Conn. for a rematch against No. 9 seed Quinnipiac (27-5), the team that knocked Miami out of last year’s tournament in the second round. Tipoff is Saturday at 1:30 p.m. (ESPN2) at Gampel Pavilion.

The winner would likely get overall No. 1 seed Connecticut (32-0) in the second round — on the Huskies’ home court. UConn plays 16th-seeded Saint Francis in the opening round. The Huskies are going for their fifth national title in the past six years and 12th overall. Last year, their 111-game win streak ended at the hands of Mississippi State in the Final Four.

Although the grudge-match angle against Quinnipiac was hard to ignore, UM coach Katie Meier refused to bite.

“Obviously, that’s what they’d like me to comment on, but I will not,” said Meier, whose team became the first in school history — men or women — to make four consecutive NCAA Tournaments. “It’s a new year. It’s a new team. It’s a new experience for my players playing in the NCAA Tournament, and I’m not going to minimize that by just talking about a grudge match.

“It’s a huge platform, national stage, women’s basketball’s biggest show and we need to show up and play great. The crowd will help us whether they’re for us or against us.”

Meier said she found the pairing “odd.” Quinnipiac, which is in Hamden, Conn. and will likely have a big fan turnout, beat Miami 85-78 last year on the Hurricanes’ home court.

“You have an experience to play in the NCAA and usually you’re playing a different team every year and going to a different spot, but that’s what we got, so that’s what we’ll do,” Meier said. “The storyline, I understand it, but I’m not commenting on it. We do know their style and system and we’ll use that to our advantage.”

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From left, University of Miami women’s basketball players Laura Cornelius, Shaneese Bailey, Erykah Davenport, head coach Katie Maier, and Emefe Hof react at the NCAA basketball selection show viewing party at the Rathskeller on UM’s Coral Gables campus. Sebastian Ballestas sballestas@miamiherald.com

Emese Hof said “my mouth dropped, it opened up a little bit,” when she saw Quinnipiac as the opponent. “I’m happy. We’re in. We’re playing. We’re dancing. We’ve been waiting a whole year.”

Hof said there will be extra motivation playing the Bobcats again. “Of course, it always carries over. Getting knocked out of any tournament, it sits in your clothes (a Dutch saying). You always remember that. It’s in the back of your head, so it’s extra fuel. But we’re going to approach it like any other game.”

Senior Erykah Davenport said: “We want to embrace the moment, playing in the Big Dance, not taking it for granted, not one game, not one quarter, not one second. Be locked in because the next game isn’t promised.”

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University of Miami basketball team player Mykea Gray hugs head coach Katie Meier after the public selection of the NCAA at Rathskeller in Coral Gables on Monday. Sebastian Ballestas sballestas@miamiherald.com

Asked if the loss to the Bobcats carries over, Davenport said: “For sure, for sure. That happens naturally, but it’s not like, ‘Oh, we’re going to get them back.’ It’s not that type of approach.”

It is the seventh time in the past eight seasons, the University of Miami women’s basketball team is headed to the NCAA Tournament. Miami is 6-12 all-time in NCAA Tournament play and has reached the Round of 32 in four of its last six berths.

Davenport said it was very special knowing her senior class is the first to reach four NCAA Tournaments in a row. “It’s a blessing. It’s amazing how times have changed. Four years ago, we were sitting in the film room on the bubble, didn’t even know if we were going to get in. And now we’re at the Rat having a celebration, so I couldn’t be more excited.”

Meier called it “very, very special” to see this group of seniors reach the NCAA Tournament every year.

As for playing in Storrs, Meier said: “It’s like playing in Madison Square Garden. We’ll celebrate that, for sure.”

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