Miami returns to Big Dance

The UM women’s basketball team still has some work left before they can be considered as much of a Big East power as the Uconn’s and Rutgers. However, a new member of the team brought the ‘Canes closer to reaching that goal this past season.
In a year that saw Miami reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998, freshman forward Tamara James wasted no time making the jump from hard working rookie to Big East superstar. James, a native of Miami, led the conference averaging 21.0 points a game, while pacing the Hurricanes with 7.9 rebounds per contest. Her contributions helped Miami achieve an 18-13 record, and an impressive run in the Big East tournament.
“She’s a competitor,” Labati told the Miami Herald. “She wants to win. She believes in herself. She believes in the team concept. She wants the ball in critical situations. She can do so many things.”
James, named the ‘Canes starter at small forward to begin the season, made her presence felt immediately with a 20 point, 21 rebound performance in UM’s opening game 60-49 victory over South Florida. She continued to be a consistent scoring threat for her team, with efforts like a 36-point night in an 87-56 rout of Quinnipiac, and a 27-point evening in Miami’s 97-66 victory over Maryland.
Before the start of conference play, the Hurricanes got off to an 11-3 start, and while it helped to have the nation’s highest scoring freshman in their lineup everyday, there were certainly other players increasing their level of play. Senior Meghan Saake, a two-time Big East Defensive Player of the Year, continued to make plays on both ends of the floor, while junior Chanivia Broussard and sophomore Melissa Knight provided the ‘Canes some much needed depth off the bench.
Despite the presence of a consistent scoring threat, and better production from the bench, Miami still could not avoid falling into inconsistencies which have plagued the program over the past few seasons. Once Big East play rolled around, teams were finding ways to double-team James, and no one else’s shots were falling on a consistent basis.
Although Miami would lose several close games during that span, one player eventually helped taking the load off from James’s back. Sophomore Yalonda McCormick, who suffered through a disappointing rookie campaign, turned things around with a mature attitude and an improvement in all areas.
McCormick finished second on the ‘Canes with a 10.2 points per game scoring average, and also dished out six assists per contest. McCormick and Saake also formed one of the country’s devastating defensive combos. Saake added a 10.2 points per game average to the defensive highlights.
“Meghan Saake would be a great asset to any championship team,” Labati said. “She is fully dedicated to the game and it is great to coach a player like her. She gave us four years of dedication and hard work.”
Although the Hurricanes lose the services of Saake and Alicia Hartlaub, James and McCormick are back, along with eight other players from the 2002-2003 squad. Add to that a stellar freshman class, and Hurricane fans could be in for one of the most exciting seasons in quite some time.