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Comeback Canes Win Thriller to Open NCAA Tournament

Comeback Canes Win Thriller to Open NCAA Tournament

by Christy Cabrera Chirinos

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – For the Hurricanes, the dance will continue.

Behind a balanced scoring attack led by Haley Cavinder, Jasmyne Roberts, Destiny Harden and Lola Pendande, Miami erased a 17-point halftime deficit to beat Oklahoma State 62-61 in a thrilling NCAA Tournament opener on Saturday afternoon at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall on the campus of Indiana University.

The comeback is tied for fifth largest in Women’s NCAA Tournament history and the win means that for the second straight year, Miami will advance to the Round of 32.

The ninth-seeded Hurricanes (20-12) will now face host Indiana, a one seed that advanced after beating Tennessee Tech 77-47 earlier in the day.

Cavinder, in her first NCAA Tournament game, had a team-high 16 points and eight rebounds for Miami. Also finishing in double figures were Roberts, who had 12 points; Harden, who had 11 points and Pendande, who had 10 points.

“I think that’s what we need,” Cavinder said of Miami’s balanced scoring attack. “I think March is about depth. Our bench is very, very important to us. Anyone can come off. It’s hard to scout. Anyone can have a good game.”

Ahead of the game, Hurricanes head coach Katie Meier warned her team that more than a few tournament teams had played poorly in the opening minutes of their respective games, with nerves undoubtedly taking their toll on each of them.

Unfortunately, that may have been the case early for Miami, too.

The Hurricanes, who shot just 29 percent in the first half, endured multiple scoreless droughts, including one in the second quarter that allowed Oklahoma State to build a 37-20 halftime lead.

But the double-digit deficit did little to faze Miami in the second half.

“In the locker room, we talked a lot about sticking together as a team and not going down without a fight,” Roberts said. “We came out in the second half a lot more calm-minded and we came out with a lot more aggression and played a lot more like a team. We pressured the ball, we pushed the ball and we did what we’re great at.”

The Hurricanes turned up the defensive pressure in the third quarter, forced five Oklahoma State (21-12) turnovers in the period and methodically chipped away at the Cowgirls’ lead.

Led by Pendande, Miami scored 11 unanswered points in the opening minutes of the third before Oklahoma State’s Anna Gret Asi hit a 3-pointer with 5:06 left to stop the Miami run.

The Hurricanes, though, went on another run – scoring nine straight this time – to tie the game at 40 on a driving layup by Lashae Dwyer.

And while Oklahoma State scored two unanswered baskets to end the third, Miami opened the fourth quarter on a 13-2 run to build a 53-46 lead.

The teams would trade baskets, and even the lead, before a driving layup from Cavinder put the Hurricanes ahead for good with 2:55 left.

“It was so fun. I think that’s why you play the game,” Cavinder said. “Coming here, that was the goal, to get to March Madness and be able to advance. Just taking in this moment, being present…to have our team just come back, stay together and get the dub, it was perfect.”

Said Meier, “I’m getting texts saying ‘Great adjustments, great this, great that.’ I’d love to say that we made all these great adjustments. We played better. We played more together and they knew it and we knew it.”