Miami Ready for a Return to the Big Stage

March 19, 2011


By Scott Zavitz

CORAL GABLES, Fla. – The team met one final time at 2:15 p.m. Friday afternoon before walking out of the women’s basketball offices at the BankUnited Center to be greeted by an enthusiastic crowd of well-wishers there to send them off.

What was said in the gathering will stay inside the team confines, but the players that emerged from the meeting room were a determined bunch that knows it is going on a business trip, despite the fact their fellow students are on Spring Break.

Miami has been flying under the radar all season and that’s just fine for the Hurricanes. However, this team is aware of the moment and when President Barack Obama filled out his women’s bracket on ESPN, this `Canes team took notice.

Asked if the `Canes were going to prove the Commander in Chief wrong, Riquna Williams answered, “We have to. We have to earn his respect, he is the President.”

The Hurricanes have taken an `Us Against the World’ approach all season and that, along with the talents of Shenise Johnson, Morgan Stroman, Williams and company, have led to an already historic season that includes a share of the Atlantic Coast Conference regular season title. But for Katie Meier and her team, that isn’t enough.

“We are over that excitement now,” Meier said on making the tourney field. “We really are in a business mode. We are ready.”

At the beginning of the season, Miami was just hoping to get the opportunity to play in the NCAA Tournament after a great WNIT run in 2009-10. Now UM has become a force that other teams aren’t comfortable playing against or even preparing for.

The Hurricanes defense is one of the nation’s best in forcing turnovers, in fact, it ranks second among all Division I teams with 13.9 steals per game. In all, Miami has forced a school record 24.9 turnovers per game and has scored 26.5 points per game off of them.

“We have to play Miami basketball,” said All-ACC third teamer Stroman.

So far this season, Miami basketball means making its opponent uncomfortable, especially with its defense. Stroman knows all too well about defense. The 2009 McDonald’s All-America selection led the ACC and ranks fifth in the nation with 3.3 steals per contest. She also tied Johnson for the team lead with 10 double-doubles on the season.

The `Canes will face Garner-Webb in their first NCAA Tournament game in seven seasons and with a win could be playing a No. 6-seed Oklahoma team that has reached the national semifinals in each of the last two seasons and is one of just six programs that has reached the Final Four three times in the last decade.

In a Dayton bracket that has been dubbed by many as backcourt heavy and the most difficult rout to Indianapolis – with the likes of Tennessee, Notre Dame and the aforementioned Sooners – Miami features two of the best guards in the nation.

Williams, the ACC scoring champion at 21.7 points per game and Johnson, the ACC Player of the Year have led the Hurricanes all season long and that will not change just because the stage is now bigger. In fact, the duo that was tabbed `Fire and Ice’ prior to season saw their scoring averages increase in conference play.

In their two ACC Tournament games, Johnson scored a combined 44 points and grabbed 27 rebounds and Williams scored over 20 points in each contest – the 19th time this season that the explosive guard has scored 20 or more points.

As always, everything will be decided on the court this weekend and after a two week layoff after its loss to North Carolina in the ACC semifinal, the `Canes are ready to just get back on the court against an opponent.

“This last week has been rough,” said Stroman. “We have been practicing, getting better as Miami. We are just ready to play now.”