It all comes down to this. Win or go home on the biggest stage in college basketball.
Miami’s women’s basketball team will open the NCAA Tournament with a battle against the South Florida Bulls on Friday. After its magical run in the ACC Tournament to get off the bubble, UM is set for its first-round matchup as an eight seed taking on a number nine with a chance to play the winner of the South Carolina-Howard matchup.
“It was an affirmation for us,” Miami coach Katie Meier said. “We had a solid resume, so we felt pretty good about our chances. When our name was called, it was such a happy moment with the team.”
March Madness will be a new experience for all but three Hurricanes. Guards Kelsey Marshall and Mykea Gray have represented Miami in the NCAA Tournament twice, while forward Maeva Djaldi-Tabdi went to the Big Dance twice during her time with Syracuse.
“This is my first March Madness and with the excitement around it, I’m ready to get on the court and compete in the biggest tournament in college basketball,” senior guard Karla Erjavec said.
Erjavec has enjoyed a solid senior season, her second with the Hurricanes after two years at Wyoming. Like Erjavec, Marshall knew this was the moment she was waiting for when she decided to return for her graduate season.
“I came back for this exact reason, and I am extremely grateful that Coach Meier let me come back,” Marshall said.
The Hurricanes have enjoyed a successful season at 20-12 overall while upsetting both Louisville and Notre Dame in the conference tournament. Both teams, as well as four other ACC squads, are suiting up for the NCAA Tournament.
USF, meanwhile, enters Friday’s contest with a 24-8 record, losing in its conference championship as well, falling to another Florida-based foe in Central Florida.
“We usually scrimmage with [South Florida], so we are pretty familiar with them,” Meier said. “They do a great job and are tough as nails.”
The Hurricanes have gotten red-hot down the stretch, winning eight of their final 10 games, including three in the ACC Tournament to help secure their tournament berth. The Bulls matched that number in their final 10 games.
“Our run in the ACC Tournament showed that we can compete with any team in the country, no matter their rankings, and we want to continue that in the NCAA Tournament,” Meier said.
Along with the wins over Notre Dame and Louisville, the Hurricanes took down the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets and Florida State Seminoles twice, as well as the Jackson State Tigers, all teams who are also competing in the NCAA Tournament.
The teams’ matchup begins at 11:30 a.m. on Friday from Colonial Life Arena in Columbia, South Carolina. The game will be broadcast on ESPN 2.