For the first time since Katie Meier’s inaugural season as the Miami Hurricanes women’s basketball coach, the Canes are in the Women’s National Invitation Tournament (WNIT) “sweet 16,” the remaining number of teams in the tournament.
It has been five years, but the Hurricanes are savoring every moment of it and hope this is just a sign of good things to come.
The Canes (19-13) look to carry their momentum into Thursday night’s contest against NC A&T (20-13) in the third round of the WNIT. The game will be hosted at the BankUnited Center starting at 7 p.m.
“We’re very excited,” senior forward Diane Barnes said. “My sophomore year and junior year weren’t the best years. But we worked together throughout these past couple of years to accomplish something.”
The inexperienced squad was determined to show their real identity after losing six of their final seven games to end the season including a 66-65 heartbreaker to Wake Forest in the first round of the ACC Tournament. The Canes came out surging in the WNIT and won two postseason games for the first time in school history.
“We are really excited to be alive still,” Meier said. “We played two great games so far this postseason and it’s been a lot of fun. We have had a lot of balance and our depth has been great. We are getting contributions from everyone.”
Miami knocked off Florida Gulf Coast 70-57 in the opening round. The Canes were led by sophomore sensation Shenise Johnson. The first-team All-ACC selection notched her 13th 20-point game this season as she led all scorers.
Miami used a well- balanced scoring attack last Sunday afternoon to defeat the University of Florida Gators 77-64. Johnson led her squad with 19 points, but also chipping in were senior forward Charmaine Clark, sophomore guard Riquna Williams and senior forward Diane Barnes with 16, 15 and 11 points respectively.
Johnson, an All-American candidate, tallied her ninth double-double of the season as she hauled in 10 rebounds.
Eighty percent of the team is underclassmen, but it’s the two veterans that have taken on the burden of being a leader during this postseason run.
“The seniors have been playing their tails off,” Meier said. “For Charmaine Clark and Diane Barnes, this is a tribute to them. They are playing their best basketball. They are running the huddles and getting in peoples’ faces for me. They have earned this run and we are going to try and keep it alive for them.”
This will be Meier’s second time taking the Hurricanes to the sweet 16. Five years ago she guided the Canes to the round of 16 but she had inherited the team from former head coach Ferne Labati who had run the women’s basketball program for the 17 prior years before Meier landed in Coral Gables.
Meier refuses to take credit for reviving the women’s basketball program.
“It’s their run,” she said.
“It’s all about them. I’m just behind them cheering them on and pushing them.”
But the Hurricanes are not going to be satisfied with just making it to the sweet 16. They know they have a tough task at hand as the Aggies are a quick and athletic team.
“NC A&T is one of the highest scoring teams in the tournament. They scored against Wake Forest and that had our attention because we had a hard time scoring against Wake Forest,” Meier said. “It’s going to be up-tempo. They have two special guards. They are a lot of fun to watch on film. They should be in the NCAA Tournament and might have pulled a first round upset.”
Justin Antweil may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
IF YOU GO
What: WNIT Sweet 16
Where: BankUnited Center
When: Thursday at 7 p.m.