The words “Sweet 16” may never have been uttered as the Miami Hurricanes were laying out their preseason goals. Winning the NIT Season Tip-Off definitely was one, Katie Meier said. A substantial run through March Madness — and maybe even the words “second weekend” — probably was, too. Mostly, Miami insists it took everything game-by-game throughout the regular season, as most teams try to.
It’s impossible to deny how much a Sweet 16 would mean to the women’s basketball program, though. The Hurricanes haven’t reached the second weekend of the NCAA tournament since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1999.
“In the beginning we said this is our goal and during the season we were just taking it one game at a time, but we’re getting closer to that goal right now and right now it is the next game,” post player Emese Hof said at a pregame press conference Saturday in Coral Gables. “Of course, it’s been something that everyone was driven to attain and I think we’re getting closer to it now. We have to fire it up a little bit more even to get there.”
For the third time in five years, Miami is on the brink of achieving something the program hasn’t done since 1992. The No. 4-seed Hurricanes will be back at the Watsco Center at 7 p.m. on Sunday for a second-round matchup against the No. 5-seed Arizona State Sun Devils with a rare trip to tourney’s second weekend on the line.
To get the opportunity, Miami (25-8) first needed to survive a scare at Watsco on Friday.
In each of the previous two years, the Hurricanes’ season ended with an upset loss during the tournament’s first weekend and the No. 13-seed Florida Gulf Coast Eagles nearly became the latest before Miami hung on for a 69-62 win despite seven second-half three-pointers by Florida Gulf Coast.
“We knew Golf Coast was coming out in the second half and you know last year is last year and we don’t care about that anymore,” guard Laura Cornelius said. “We know it’s March and every team is going to give their best shot against us.”
Arizona State (21-10) is the latest to stand in the Hurricanes’ way after the Sun Devils cruised to a 60-45 win against the UCF Knights in the earlier game Friday in Coral Gables.
Arizona State’s success lies in its efficiency. The Sun Devils rank No. 19 in the country with a 1.29 assist-to-turnover ratio, although UCF managed to force Arizona State into 18 turnovers in the first round.
“Very impressed with what Arizona State brings to the table,” Meier said. “Just an incredible team that probably was expecting to host. They had a season worthy of it, so, you know, it’s an evenly matched game and we’re excited.”
The coach said it’s hard right now to know exactly what a win, and second ever trip to the Sweet 16, would mean for the program — “The meaning comes later,” Meier said — but this is already, in many ways, been a historic season for her Hurricanes. Miami notched regular-season wins against the No. 1-seed Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Louisville Cardinals, and climbed as high as No. 14 in the national rankings.
The Hurricanes already have their most wins since 2012. Now they have a chance to solidify their position as one of the sport’s programs on the rise with a breakthrough trip to Portland for the regional semifinals.
“That would be awesome. It’s our goal right now,” Cornelius said. “It’s going to be one game at a time and we have Arizona State in front of us, and we’re going to do everything in our power to win that game.”