University of Miami

Adrienne Motley, Jessica Thomas rally unbeaten UM women past Illinois

UM guard Adrienne Motley, shown in previous game, scored 19 points as No. 21 Miami defeated 12th-seeded Pittsburgh 77-55 on Thursday, March 3, 2016 in the second round of the ACC Tournament in Greensboro, N.C.
UM guard Adrienne Motley, shown in previous game, scored 19 points as No. 21 Miami defeated 12th-seeded Pittsburgh 77-55 on Thursday, March 3, 2016 in the second round of the ACC Tournament in Greensboro, N.C. AP

Just when it looked like the University of Miami women’s basketball team was going to lose for the first time this season, along came Adrienne Motley, earning her “Money Mot” moniker with a three-pointer that put the Hurricanes ahead of the University of Illinois with six minutes to go.

The Illini led most of the game, went on a 20-2 first-half run, but Motley and fellow junior guard Jessica Thomas sparked the Canes to a 73-64 victory in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

After Motley hit that go-ahead basket, she turned to the BankUnited crowd of 910 fans, broke into a huge grin and raised her arms as they cheered.

“When Mot hit that, I thought, ‘That’s it, that’s the dagger,’ ” UM coach Katie Meier said. “I felt like we’d never lose the lead again.”

And they didn’t.

The Hurricanes, on the verge of breaking into the top 25 polls, improved to 8-0 — only the second time in school history they’ve started so strong. The last time was 2003-04, when they went 12-0 under former coach Ferne Labati.

Motley, who scored her 1,000th career point the previous game, was the game’s leading scorer with 24 points. She also had six rebounds and four assists.

“Mot always answers the bell,” Meier said. “You can see her look up, like, ‘Oh, we’re down eight,’ and she knows it’s her time. As I’m telling my staff, ‘Get me a shot for Mot,’ she’s already generating it herself.”

Motley said she saw her big three develop “in slow motion” as Thomas dished her the ball, and then “once it left my hand, it felt good … I got hyped and then it seemed like everyone was hitting.”

Thomas finished with 15 points, five assists and five steals.

UM’s Dutch freshman center Emese Hof stole the spotlight from the Illini’s USA national team center, Chatrice White. Hof had 13 points, including nine in a row in the second half to keep the Canes in striking distance. White, who averaged 20.3 points coming into the game, was held scoreless in the first half and finished with a season-low six points.

But the Hurricanes shot poorly — particularly from long range. They missed 17 of their first 19 three-point attempts and went 4-of-19 from beyond the arc for the night.

The game was tied 11-11 with 4:40 to go in the first quarter. The Hurricanes scored the next five points to lead 16-11, and then the Illini (4-1) went on a 20-2 run to take a commanding 31-18 lead.

UM managed to climb back into the game, scoring 10 of the next 12 points, but Illinois’ Cierra Rice ended the first half with a driving layup and the Canes went to their locker room trailing 35-28. Rice, a freshman, gave Miami fits all night. She led the Illini with 22 points on 8-of-14 shooting — nearly doubling her season average of 12.3 points per game.

“That was an unbelievable performance,” Meier said of Rice. “We spent a lot of time on Chatrice White, but Cierra Rice really had us. She was aggressive. They absolutely outhustled and outplayed us in the first half, but we responded.”

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