There is something special brewing in the athletics department at the U. It’s not that spring football begins later this month, or that baseball season looms just one week away. It’s the fact that the women’s basketball team has a chance to go the NCAA Tournament for the first time since their 2003-2004 campaign.
The Canes (16-7, 3-5) are poised to make a run down the stretch. They have quality wins over No. 10 Florida State and No. 18 North Carolina. The Canes have also played three other top-25 ranked teams and lost by an average of just seven points. The Canes have only lost once all year by double digits.
Fifth-year head coach Katie Meier has done more with less and maximized talent better than anyone in the ACC. She is a competitor who expects to win despite the fact that 80 percent of the team is underclassmen. Meier has never uttered the words “young” or “inexperienced.”
What makes this Canes team special is that others are stepping up besides the dynamic duo of sophomore guards Shenise Johnson and Riquna Williams. Johnson is the reigning ACC Player of the Week after she notched 25 points, 10 rebounds, eight steals and six assists against highly-touted UNC. Johnson is in the top 10 in the ACC in seven statistical categories. Meanwhile, the weapon on the other wing, Williams, is second in the ACC in scoring, averaging 19.9 points per game. But it’s the other players who have risen to the occasion. Miami is undersized at the power forward and center positions, but their heart and determination are immeasurable.
Senior forward Diane Barnes stands at just 6 feet 2 inches, but is sixth in the ACC in rebounds per game averaging 8.0.
Freshman forward Morgan Stroman has been superb to say the least. She is averaging 8.0 points per game and 6.2 rebounds. She has also made clutch free throws when called upon.
And freshman guard Stephanie Yderstrom has been lethal from the wing, averaging over eight points a game. She is a scrappy player who never is afraid to draw a charge.
Miami plays fundamentally sound basketball. They are first in the ACC in assist-to-turnover ratio and third in turnover margin. The chemistry is at an all-time high and the team is not afraid of any opponent.
They played a tough out-of-conference schedule which prepared them well for the ACC, the fiercest conference in women’s basketball.
Last month I had the privilege of traveling with the women’s team for WVUM radio to announce the Maryland game in College Park. Miami snapped the Lady Terps 48-game home winning streak. But what impressed me was not the ability to win in a hostile environment, but the team’s preparation.
The team watched film on the bus, on the way to the hotel from the airport and even during the pregame meal.
Their morning shoot around was intense and the scouting by the assistant coaches was perfect.
The Canes have a favorable schedule down the stretch. They have six ACC games left and three are televised.
This team has all the tools, and more importantly heart and self-confidence, to continue to shock the Coral Gables community and make a name for the program nationally.
And don’t expect this squad to be a one-hit wonder. Of the four recruits for the 2010 class, all of them are nominated to play in the McDonald’s All-American game this April.
Justin Antweil may be contacted at email@example.com.