Miami earns first NCAA bid since '98

Miami earns first NCAA bid since '98

March 17, 2003

CORAL GABLES, Fla. — When her team beat Rutgers in the quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament last week, Miami coach Ferne Labati boldly predicted that the win would turn out to be the one that clinched an NCAA spot for the Hurricanes.

Turns out, she was right.

The Hurricanes received an at-large bid Sunday into the NCAA women’s basketball tournament, marking the first time since 1998 that Miami was awarded a spot in the 64-team field.

“Everyone talks about that watch, about how you’ve got to get that watch,” said senior guard Meghan Saake, referring to the commemorative timepiece all NCAA Tournament participants receive. “Well, we’re getting that watch. And we deserve it.”

Miami (18-12) was seeded No. 11 in the Midwest region and will play at No. 6 New Mexico (22-8) on Saturday. New Mexico, which is 9-1 in its last 10 games, earned its bid by winning the Mountain West Conference tournament.”Our kids played really well at the end of the season,” Labati said. “We played a lot of great games at the end of the year and that showed our kids deserved to be in.”

The Hurricanes believed they deserved a spot in last year’s NCAA field, after going 18-11 in the regular season and reaching the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament.

This year, again with 18 wins but having gone one round deeper into the conference tournament, Miami was especially hopeful for an NCAA spot.

“I absolutely felt that if we got to the (Big East) semifinals, that would be enough,” Labati said.

Three straight road wins to open conference play, the last of them an 80-70 win at Notre Dame on Jan. 11, gave Miami an eight-game overall winning streak and an 11-3 record.

But the Hurricanes won only five of their final 13 regular-season games. Still, the two wins in the Big East tournament — including the quarterfinal win over No. 20 Rutgers on the Scarlet Knights’ home floor — was good enough to override the stumbling finish to the regular season in the collective mind of the selection committee.

“That certainly put them in good position,” Cheryl Marra, the chair of the women’s selection committee, said referring to the conference quarterfinal win. “In addition, they had three very good wins against some of the top teams. We had to see how they did throughout the season and Miami had three very good wins.”

Miami is one of seven Big East teams in the tournament. The Southeastern Conference was the only other league to receive seven NCAA berths.

Besides Miami, the Big East has Connecticut, Villanova, Boston College, Notre Dame, Rutgers and Virginia Tech. The Big East was ranked as the third-best in the country this season.

Only four other tournament teams — Boston University (16-14), Texas Christian (19-13), Virginia (16-13) and Southwest Texas (18-13) — have more losses than Miami. Of those, only Virginia received an at-large spot.

“This year, the fact that we made it further in the Big East Tournament helped us greatly,” Saake said. “We know we’re a good team. The Big East Tournament was a start over for us. And this is another whole new ballgame.”