Hurricanes advance to NIT Championship

Miami players celebrate after defeating Michigan 76-59 in the semifinal round of the Women's National Invitation Tournament NCAA college basketball game at Crisler Arena in Ann Arbor, Mich., on Wednesday, March 31, 2010. Melanie Maxwell // Associated Press

As they move into their final game, it seems like the Miami Hurricane women’s basketball team saved the best for last this season.

The Canes (22-13) moved on to the the NIT championship game after their 76-59 blow out against Michigan on Wednesday.

Just like they have done all season, sophomore sensations Shenise Johnson and Riquna Williams led the Hurricanes. Johnson accounted for 17 points, nine rebounds, seven assists and four steals in 36 minutes of action. Williams was dynamite, she had 26 points in 28 minutes of play. Williams connected on seven three-pointers and silenced the crowd at the Crisler Arena in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Head coach Katie Meier has called this her greatest season and it has been an extraordinary run for her team.

“It’s such a big honor,” Meier said. “There’s really nothing to say. It’s been a great run.”

Leading 37-33 at halftime, the Hurricanes dominated the Wolverines even more after they took the court in the second half. The Lady Canes connected on 16-for-34 from the field and shot from the three-point land 45 percent of the time. The defense was stifling as the Canes held Michigan to nine shots in the second half. Miami outscored Michigan 39-26.

Senior Charmaine Clark had all of her 10 points in the second half and collected 10 rebounds as well.

For the game, Michigan was held to 39 percent shooting and just 23 percent from beyond the arc. From the moment Williams came off the bench, she was a spark. Miami outscored Michigan’s bench 34 to 12 and out-rebounded the Wolverine’s 45-36.

Miami has had plenty of dilemmas this season. The lady Canes lost 11 ACC games and total of 13 losses. Now, the Canes are in the NIT Championship game and the only ACC team still playing.

“We could have folded a long time ago,” Meier said. “We had some tough losses. But these girls have taken advantage of being able to rewrite the script. It’s been beautiful.”

Throughout the NIT, Johnson and Williams have carried the Canes, who had never won two postseason games in the same season before this incredible run. The duo combined for 57 of the team’s 73 points against Providence in the semifinals. Johnson scored a career-high 33 points and had 10 rebounds and Williams accounted for 24 points off the bench. The two combined for 11-for-16 in the first half while the rest of the team was 0-for-13 from the field.

Meier has guided the Canes to their ninth 20-win season in program history and the first since the 2003-2004 season when the Canes advanced to the NCAA Tournament.

Miami will play the winner of California and Illinois State who square off Thursday at 7:05 CST.

Lelan LeDoux may be contacted at