University of Miami

Miami Hurricanes women get a No. 5 seed in NCAA Tournament

UM head coach Katie Meier (right) celebrates with players Keke Harris, Michelle Woods, Erykah Davenport and Emese Hof at the University of Miami Rathskeller on Monday, March 14, 2016.
UM head coach Katie Meier (right) celebrates with players Keke Harris, Michelle Woods, Erykah Davenport and Emese Hof at the University of Miami Rathskeller on Monday, March 14, 2016. pfarrell@miamiherald.com

For the second night in a row, the University of Miami Rathskeller was rocking with an NCAA Tournament Selection Show watch party. On Monday night, it was the women’s turn, and Hurricanes coach Katie Meier leaped out of her chair and roared when her team’s fate was revealed on national TV.

The 19th-ranked Canes were awarded a No. 5 seed — a spot higher than they anticipated — and will play twelfth seed South Dakota State in Palo Alto, California, on Saturday at 6:30 p.m. (ESPN2). If they win, they face the winner of the game between No. 4 seed Stanford and No. 13 San Francisco, both of whom would enjoy a home-court advantage.

It is the fifth time in the past six years the UM women earned an NCAA Tournament bid, and judging by Meier’s unbridled joy Monday night, it never seems to get old.

“The committee showed us a lot of respect,’’ Meier said. “We kind of had an amazing season that was a little under the radar nationally, so I think our performance in conference tournament really opened up some eyes. We passed the eye test for sure. I think that helped our seed. I thought they might bump us down to a six or seven, but we earned a five, and I’m really happy.”

Miami is one of four Florida teams to make The Big Dance. Florida State (23-7) and Florida (22-8) were also seeded fifth in their quarters of the bracket, and South Florida (23-9) got a No. 6 seed. The Seminoles play Middle Tennessee Saturday at 1:30 in College Station, Texas. The Gators play Albany on Friday at noon in Syracuse. And the Bulls play Colorado State on Friday at 7 p.m. at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion.

Miami is 24-8 and went 10-6 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Like the men’s team, the UM women reached the semifinals of the conference tournament. The Canes beat then-No. 14 Florida State 74-56 in the quarterfinals and then lost to NCAA Tournament No. 1 seed Notre Dame (31-1). The Fighting Irish sit atop UM’s quarter of the bracket, with Maryland No. 2 and Kentucky No. 3.

This marks the third time the UM men’s and women’s teams both were invited to the NCAA Tournament. Between the two teams, they have won a combined 49 games this season. If either wins at least one game, it will tie the all-time school record of 50 set in 2013.

Meier and her players said they can feel the growing buzz around the basketball program in recent months.

“There’s great energy in that building right now,’’ Meier said of the BankUnited Center. “For these two teams to bring this school to the national forefront in basketball feels really good. It’s great to have two nights of this. Having people cheer for you as you walk across campus, it’s special. There were dark times early on, so these are special moments.”

The two teams lifted weights together on Monday, and guard Adrienne (“Money”) Motley said players on the men’s and women’s teams were congratulating each other and celebrating each other’s success.

“Everybody’s starting to realize, us and the men, we’re a force to be reckoned with,” Motley said. “The five seed was great, amazing. I think we’re finally getting the respect we deserve.”

Last year, the Hurricanes were on the bubble, so Selection Monday was a stressful day. They wound up getting a bid, but lost in the second round to Iowa.

“Last year, that entire weekend [before the Selection Show], I was almost throwing up,’’ Meier said. “I had nine games that needed to go our way, and all nine did. Some went into double overtime.”

This year, she and her players woke up knowing they were in. They began Monday with a lighthearted practice that included dodgeball, whiffle ball and hungry hippos.

“They had worked so hard the past four days, given up half their spring break to come back for practice, so I wanted to remind them this is so fun,” Meier said. “But [Tuesday], we won’t play those games. Now that we have an opponent, we’ll get after them.”

She doesn’t know much about the South Dakota State Jackrabbits, except that they have been known to pull some upsets.

“They’re known throughout women’s basketball as that giant killer, so people will probably pick them in an upset, but we’ll make sure that doesn’t happen,” she said.

Although the Canes will have to travel across the country, they aren’t complaining.

“This group went to Paris and Amsterdam and Belgium, so what’s San Francisco?” Meier said. “We’ll be fine. It’s a great place.”

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