‘Lady Canes kick off the season right

Saake leads ‘Canes to win
Guard’s 24 points sparks 84-79 exibition victory
The Hurricane women’s basketball team opened up their preseason on Thursday night against a Tournament of Champions team that featured two current WNBA players and three former UM stars. The ‘Canes got all they could handle from the Nike-sponsored squad, who refused to give up until the final buzzer.
Miami held on for an 84-79 win at the Knight Sports Complex as Meghan Saake led the scoring with 24 points on 11-17 shooting in 36 minutes of action. Her free throw with 44 seconds left that ultimately sealed the win for the ‘Canes, making the score 80-72 at that time. Shaquana Wilkins pitched in with a “double-double” of 15 points and 14 rebounds.
“This was a great opportunity for us to learn about our team,” said Coach Ferne Labati, now in her 15th season with the ‘Canes. “This gave us a chance to work on various rotations and it was a great time for a game that will give us an advantage going into the season.”
The Tournament of Champions team was able to battle back from double-digit deficits in both halves to keep the game tight until the last minute. They were led by forward Tracy Reid of the Phoenix Mercury, who scored 26 points, and former UM stars Jennifer Jordan (14 points) and Carla Curry (13 points).
“They were a real tough team and gave us a great opportunity to play a regulation game before the season starts,” Labati said. “We were able to work on different situations during the game and see how the kids work together.”
The game was very tight for most of the first half, with both teams trading baskets until the Tournament of Champions team built up a 15-10 lead with about 14 minutes remaining. The ‘Canes responded with a 9-0 run to take a 19-15 lead with 11 minutes left in the half. Led by Saake’s 15 first half points and great defense, the ‘Canes were able to increase their lead, entering the locker room with a 42-31 advantage.
The second half opened with a 22-13 Tournament of Champions run to cut the UM lead to 55-53. A nice post-up move by Wilkins put the ‘Canes back up by four and a Tamara James jumper complemented by a Wilkins lay-up increased the lead to eight with under 10 minutes remaining. James had a strong collegiate debut, finishing with 14 points.
The Tournament of Champions team responded quickly to the UM run with a Betty Lennox (who also plays in the WNBA) three-pointer, cutting the deficit to five points. Two Saake jumpers, a Melissa Knight jumper, and Yalonda McCormick steal and lay-up opened up a 77-65 lead for the ‘Canes. At that point, the Tournament of Champions team was forced to begin fouling and launching threes in late-game desperation.
A couple of Tournament of Champions threes in the last minute made the final score 84-79 but the Hurricanes definitely got their money’s worth from the Tournament of Champions squad. Both teams worked hard and provided the fans at the Knight Sports Complex with a high scoring, entertaining game.
Coach Labati feels that this game is an example of how hard the team is willing to work to improve upon last season’s 19-12 mark and WNIT bid.
“The Big East has more parody than usual this year,” Labati said. “We hope to play hard as a team and make a run at the Big East title.”
Many people say that you can never truly tell how good a team is going to be from an exhibition game. Even if this is so, judging by the effort of the “Canes Thursday night, this year’s squad should provide constant entertainment and a 100 percent effort every time they step out onto the floor.
Eric Kalis can be reached at elk777bc@hotmail.com