It isn’t every day the defending national champion comes to town, so there was a palpable buzz for Thursday night’s game between the 25th-ranked University of Miami women’s basketball team and fourth-ranked Notre Dame.
A line formed at the Watsco Center ticket window, and the largest, liveliest student section of the season showed up to cheer on the Hurricanes, who fed off the energy to pull off a 72-65 upset.
When it was all over, the pep band and students stormed the court and swarmed the Hurricane players, who were dancing and hugging and squealing with joy. UM coach Katie Meier grabbed the microphone, thanked the crowd, and then handed it over to guard Laura Cornelius, who yelled, `How y’all doing tonight?’ and got the crowd fired up again.
It was the program’s biggest win since they beat then-No. 4 Notre Dame four years ago, and UM’s first-ever win over a defending NCAA champion.
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“They’re a great team, can score like crazy, but we never panicked, went deep into the shot clock to limit their possessions, and that was our game plan,” said Meier. “We were really committed. I think we’re a great team. Notre Dame’s a great team, too. I told the players, `Believe in yourselves.’ We executed, and played great basketball offensively and defensively.”
Miami led 36-34 at halftime, led 54-52 after three quarters, and Meier was hyped up even by her standards. As her players ran off the court at halftime, she slapped high fives with every one of them.
Meier’s excitement was understandable. Beating the Irish was something to celebrate. Notre Dame has been ranked in the Top 25 for 226 consecutive weeks, has an 85-5 league record since joining the Atlantic Coast conference, has been to 23 straight NCAA Tournaments and reached the Final Four eight times.
The Hurricanes held the Irish to their lowest point total and shooting percentage (37.3 percent) of the season.
“Credit to Miami, we just could not contain the ball and it cost us the game,” said Notre Dame coach Muffett McGraw. “Our offense was just off. They made really big shots. We have a really good inside game, but they had the better inside game. Really disappointing. They played harder.”
UM senior forward Emese Hof made her first six shots and scored a game-high 21 points. She also had a team-high 13 rebounds. When Hof knocked in a second-chance hook shot to give UM a 27-22 lead early in the second quarter, Meier turned toward the crowd and waved her arms up and down, urging fans to get even louder than they were.
“We felt like, `We got this, we got this,’ we believed in each other,” said Hof.
Beatrice Mompremier, the other half of UM’s formidable starting front court, had 18 points and 12 rebounds. Taylor Mason scored 13, Mykea Gray had 10, and Cornelius dished out a game-high six assists.
On the other end of the court, the Hurricanes found a way to stifle ACC Preseason Player of the Year, Notre Dame senior Arike Ogunbowale. She entered the game averaging an ACC-best 21 points per game, which ranks 11th in the nation. Against the Canes, she managed just 13 points on 4-of-15 shooting.
Jessica Shepard led the Irish with 17 points and 17 rebounds. Marina Mabrey and Jackie Young each scored 14.
“They wanted it more than we did,” said Shepard. “We have to find a way to make stops.”
Neither team shot well from beyond the arc. Miami was 3-of-16 and Notre Dame was 3-of-14.
Notre Dame had won the previous five games against Miami.
The Hurricanes (20-5, 8-2 ACC) play their next three games on the road at Pitt, Louisville and Virginia Tech before returning home for a Feb 24 game against Florida State. Notre Dame fell to 21-3 and 8-2 in the ACC.