Last year, the women’s basketball team received an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament and lost a hard-fought game against New Mexico in the first round. This year, the team is looking to advance deeper into the tournament and threaten mighty Connecticut in the Big East.
The ‘Canes return four starters to this year’s squad, including the Big East’s leading scorer in Tamara James. James is only a sophomore, but she has already established herself as one of the best players in the conference.
“James is a very special player and she has gotten better,” Head Coach Ferne Labati said. “She is a difference-maker and she is working really hard at completing her game, and improving on her defense.”
This year’s team might be the most talented offensively that the University of Miami has had in a long time. The Hurricanes have five starters who are capable of scoring.
“All of our starting five have the ability to score double figures so we have a great nucleus and a ton of weapons at our disposal,” Labati said.
The Hurricanes believe that they are capable of being a Sweet Sixteen or even Final Four team. The key will be winning close games, something that the team struggled to do last season.
“I think we are easily a Sweet Sixteen or Final Four team,” James said. “We have a lot of seniors on our team and they want to go far, so they are playing with everything they have every game. So our goal right now is to go out and play every game like it is our last game.”
In order for the ‘Canes to return to the NCAA Tournament and advance deep into the tourney, they will need to work on the little things that they struggle with. Rebounding, turnovers, and team defense are weaknesses that the team displayed last year and in the first two preseason games.
“Our team needs to work on the little things like boxing out and helping each other on defense,” point guard Yalonda McCormick said. “We need to go the extra mile to take that extra step.”
The ‘Canes truly believe that they can contend in the Big East conference. In order to do that, they will have to beat out the UConn Huskies, who have been the Big East powerhouse over the last decade. Last year, the Hurricanes were ahead of UConn early, but the Huskies ended up winning the game fairly easily as the ‘Canes fell apart down the stretch.
“Last year, we got ahead and when they started coming back, we thought to ourselves, this is UConn,” James said. “We all have different opinions now because we have seen them get beat, so we know they are beatable even if they are a tough team to defend.”
When the Hurricanes are watching television on Selection Sunday, they do not want to be a bubble team. They want to know that their name will be called, having already clinched an NCAA Tournament berth.
“We want to be in the tournament when we are watching TV,” Labati said.