Women’s basketball feels pressure to perform

The women’s basketball team is set to kick off its first season in the ACC tonight when it takes on Gardner-Webb at the Convocation Center. Coming off of consecutive appearances in the NCAA tournament, hopes are high for Head Coach Ferne Labati and her somewhat inexperienced squad.

“We are relatively young and don’t have a lot of kids who have played quality minutes for us in the past,” Labati said. “We want to have a very strong season in the ACC and get to the NCAA tournament once again.”

Miami will be without two of their best players from last year’s 22-7 team. Shaquana Wilkins and Chanivia Broussard each graduated. The duo combined for nearly 27 points per game. The team will also be without senior forward Melissa Knight, who will miss much of the season with a knee injury.

Labati thinks she has players who can step into the big roles that need to be filled.

“The kids are going to have to step up as a committee; it’s not just two people that can do it,” Labati said. “We have to work really hard to be the best we can be.”

The Big East was an extremely tough conference last year in women’s basketball, and the road doesn’t get any easier now in the ACC. Looking up and down the schedule, there are no easy games when it comes to league play later on in the season.

“When it comes to the ACC, we have to work extremely hard to evaluate every team and how they play,” Labati said. “There are no easy teams in this league, so we’ll be prepared.”

As for the non-conference portion of the schedule, Miami plays tough road games against Texas Tech and Oregon, as well as home games against UCLA and TCU.

“We’re going to be facing a bunch of early season challenges,” Labati said. “But I think we’re ready for them.”

Returning to this year’s team as the senior leader is point guard Yalonda McCormick. She started all 29 games last season and averaged 12.1 points and 5.4 assists per game. Leading scorer Tamara James will also be back. James was able to average 16.6 points per game in her sophomore campaign, but will be asked to move back to forward this season.

McCormick said that this team will be able to win despite its youth.

“Right now we have some young players,” McCormick said. “All we have to do is get them some experience and we’ll be fine.”

The opening night starting lineup will be a game-time decision, but Labati was pretty sure this week about who it will be. McCormick, James, junior Tatjana Marincic, senior Fallon Phanord and freshman Albrey Grimsley could be the combo Friday night to start things off. Grimsley looked extremely sharp from long range, going 9-for-12 from beyond the arc. She could be just the scorer that Labati needs on this team.

The ‘Canes are ranked fourth in the preseason ACC Coaches poll and McCormick knows this team can be one of the best in the league.

“We want to let everyone know that we’re better than what they say we are,” McCormick said. “We want to prove people wrong that doubt us.”

Douglas C. Kroll can be contacted at d.kroll@umiami.edu