March Madness is full of heartbreak.
And Sunday evening the fourth-seeded Miami Hurricanes experienced the painful feeling once again, falling 57-55 to the fifth-seeded Arizona State Sun Devils in the second round of the NCAA Tournament at the Watsco Center.
With the Hurricanes and Sun Devils tied 55-55 with 10 seconds left, Miami secured a defensive stop and was a bucket away from punching its ticket to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1992.
However, after a timeout, Endia Banks’ inbounds pass was taken away by Arizona State’s Robbi Ryan near midcourt. Ryan raced down the floor and missed a layup with five seconds remaining, but drew a foul from Emese Hof.
The Sun Devils’ junior guard nailed both free throws, but Miami was hopeful for March magic.
Instead, the month’s misery continued.
Hof caught the ball in the low post, spun toward the basket, but her shot attempt clanged off the backboard and danced across the rim before falling to the hardwood, ending the Hurricanes’ dream season.
“We got a stop we needed, we had the ball and I thought Laura was open early and we missed her early and we tried to force it in there, and that’s one mistake,” Miami coach Katie Meier said. “But we still could have recovered from that, and had a chance to keep living there with that last play, which was great. It was a two formation. We had Laura off the play and we were taking either one, going to over time or winning. It was exactly what we wanted.”
For Arizona State (22-10), the win advances the Sun Devils to their first Sweet 16 appearance since 2015. For the Hurricanes (25-9), the loss marks the fifth season in a row Miami has failed to escape the first or second round of the NCAA Tournament.
“I think we played a heck of a basketball game and it’s really tough to lose like this at home,” UM guard Laura Cornelius, who notched a team-high 15 points, said, fighting back tears. “The season has definitely been one of the most fun seasons I’ve ever played in my life. I will go to war any day with my teammates. I love my seniors. I love every single person on this team. We played our hearts out. We had a wonderful season, some great wins, tough loss, but overall, we loved each other along the way. But right now, it’s hard to look back at that, but it will come.”
To make matters worse, the Hurricanes had multiple chances in the closing minute to end their 27-year Sweet 16 drought.
With the game tied at 55 with 44 seconds remaining, All-ACC First Team honoree Beatrice Mompremier missed a layup under the basket. Arizona State grabbed the rebound, but missed two opportunities to take the lead.
UM’s 5-foot-4 guard Mykea Gray, who scored 13 points, corralled the loose ball, but the heartbreak ensued.
“I think our last two shots were Bea and Emese, if that’s correct? I executed plays for exactly that purpose,” Meier said. “You know, call me an idiot. I know they weren’t having a great game, but my God, and you’re crazy if I’m not going to those two kids in that moment, and I did. Both of them went in and out. I love both calls. I’d do it again.”
Mompremier finished with 22 rebounds, the most by a Hurricane in an NCAA Tournament game, but struggled shooting. Mompremier and Hof were held to six points each.
Meier credited the Sun Devils’ defense.
“What a gritty effort by Arizona defense,” Meier said, who fell just shy of her first career Sweet 16 appearance. “That interior defense and their team defense was amazing. It’s a tough team to prepare for in a day, I can tell you that much. But I love the composure of my team. We weren’t gating what we normally got all year. We just checked down. I thought we had great patience. I thought we had great maturity. I thought our guys said, okay, we’re pretty good, too, and we’ll take this game on.”
Although the Hurricanes failed to advance past the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament yet again, Miami caps off a magical season filled with huge wins over top-five teams like Notre Dame and Louisville, and plenty of other highlights for the tight-knit group.
Even while reeling from one of the toughest losses of her career, Meier took solace in the special impact that this particular bunch, one her all-time favorites, has made on her heart.
“Off the court, it was like a vacation,” she said. To be around them, to be on a road trip with them, it’s people you want to be around, right. I love them. We had a lot of fun,” reflected Meier. “Emese and Khalia [Prather] are, if you don’t have the pleasure of knowing them, they are two of the best student athletes that have ever graced this community and their footprint on this campus, they have put their footprint over everything. My heart, they just stomped all over my heart with tons of love. They are in there forever.”