“You’re not just gonna knock us out. We’re gonna battle.”
Those words from head coach Katie Meier encapsulate this season for the Miami women’s basketball team. Despite not being ranked in the top 25 all year, the Hurricanes defeated some of the best teams in the country, including a double-digit victory over No. 1 seed Virginia Tech in the regular season.
Still, the ‘Canes entered the NCAA tournament as the ninth seed in the second Greenville, South Carolina, region. Most believed Miami’s ceiling to be a second-round exit, and after narrowly defeating Oklahoma State in the Round of 64, it faced the difficult task of taking down the second–ranked team in the nation.
But the Hurricanes shocked the world by defeating first-seeded Indiana 70-68 in the Round of 32 to advance to their second Sweet 16 in program history, and the first under Meier.
Miami is one of four programs with both basketball teams in the Sweet 16 this year after the men also beat Indiana to advance to the NCAA tournament’s second weekend.
“The excitement about basketball in general has lifted both programs,” Meier said about the success of the men’s and women’s teams.
A game-winning shot by forward Destiny Harden with 3.5 seconds lifted Miami over the Hoosiers in a nail-biter. Harden was excellent in the Round of 32, with an efficient 18 points and three 3-pointers. However, a team effort on both sides of the floor was required to take down a talented Indiana squad that had only lost three games all season.
“March is definitely a place you want to be playing at and anything can happen,” Harden said on her emotions following her game-winning shot. “Just being grateful for the moment and being humble.”
Fellow forward Lola Pendande led the ‘Canes in scoring with 19 points on 7-of-9 shooting, and sophomore guard Ja’Leah WIlliams notched 16 points on 50% shooting.
As a team, Miami was extremely efficient shooting the ball, particularly from behind the arc, as the Hurricanes made eight of their 14 attempted 3-pointers. This allowed the Hurricanes to jump out to a quick lead in the first half, which Indiana would not be able to overcome.
Defense was also key in the victory, as the ‘Canes forced tough shots for Indiana all night, leading to just a 41% shooting clip for the Hoosiers. In fact, all of Indiana’s starting lineup shot below 50%, apart from forward Mackenzie Holmes. The combination of a complete offensive and defensive effort in the first half gave the Hurricanes a 12-point cushion after two quarters.
It looked like Miami was in complete control of the game following a dominant first half, but Indiana bounced back in the third quarter. The Hoosiers outscored Miami by 11 in the third, and it seemed as if the Hurricanes’ upset hopes were about to be dashed.
However, in a tightly contested and exciting fourth quarter, the ‘Canes pulled out the victory in a great showing of resilience in the biggest moments. Against one of the best teams in the nation, while almost sacrificing a double-digit lead, Miami stayed calm and collected.
“My team is just playing with a ton of grit, a ton of tenacity,” Meier said. “We got a spine about us; it’s hard to knock us out, and to have that feeling about your team, that’s a great feeling to have in March … We’re going to play until the buzzer sounds and not get rattled.”
If the ‘Canes can continue to play like that, there’s no telling how far they can go in March.