Looking to Make More History

Looking to Make More History

by Christy Cabrera Chirinos

GREENVILLE, S.C. – A little more than three weeks ago, the Hurricanes were humbled.

They had been far from their best during a painful, 26-point loss to Virginia Tech in the ACC Tournament and as they returned to Coral Gables, the Hurricanes were left wondering if they had done enough to earn a berth in the NCAA Tournament.

As they waited nine excruciatingly long days to find out, they looked inward.

Ahead of Selection Sunday, head coach Katie Meier challenged her team, physically, mentally and emotionally during a series of practices and workouts she and the Hurricanes had dubbed “Camp Miami.”

It wasn’t exactly pleasant. There were no campfires, no singalongs, and no water balloons.

But it made a difference.

“We were honest with each other. We looked at ourselves in the mirror and said ‘This is not who we are. We’ve got to fix some things. We have a week before Selection Sunday. It’s time to make Miami better and the whatever happens, happens after that,’” guard Karla Erjavec said. “We put in the work. We made sure Miami got better; our chemistry got better. We learned a little more about every aspect of this team…It was intense practices and being transparent.”

Said guard Lashae Dwyer, “Camp Miami was tough. It was hard, tiring, intense. But at the same time, I think we needed that. I think we needed something to get us to come together and build our chemistry and bring us to where we’re at right now.”

Where the Hurricanes are right now is the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.

For the first time in program history, Miami is one win away from advancing to the Final Four and the ninth-seeded Hurricanes have the opportunity to try and secure that berth Sunday night when they take on third-seeded LSU at Bon Secours Wellness Arena in South Carolina.

It won’t be an easy task.

The Tigers have lost just two games this season. They’re led by a first-team Associated Press All-American in Angel Reese. And they’ve been on this stage before, with LSU (31-2) having played in the Elite Eight nine times and the Final Four four times, with three national titles to show for it.

Still, the Hurricanes (22-12) have plenty of confidence.

They enter Sunday’s game knowing they’ve already beaten two No. 1 seeds this year – Virginia Tech during the regular season and Indiana in the tournament’s Round of 32.

They’ve faced – and contained – All-Americans Mackenzie Holmes of Indiana and Maddie Siegrist of Villanova and they’ve consistently proven they can keep pace with some of the nation’s top-ranked teams.

That’s made it easier for the Hurricanes to drown out some of the noise about their series of upsets in the tournament.

“That’s not in our bubble at all. If that kind of stuff was going to get in our bubble, I think it would have happened [before], when we had this week right now,” Meier responded Saturday when asked if her team was affected by its seeding as a nine team. “We know what we need to do. We know we have a very short time. We’re pretty locked in…Jay Bilas is a dear friend. He texted me this morning and he said, ‘you need intensity without tension’ and I was like ‘what a great quote.’ I just told my team that in the locker room. Like, you’ve got to play intense, but without tension. That’s what we’re going to try to do.”

Said guard Haley Cavinder, “We’ve proven we can win in close games. We can come back from 17. It’s a 40-minute basketball game and we’re going to play. That’s the mentality we have at Miami. Being able to close out close games, come back from a 17-point deficit and then understanding it’s a 40-minute game and they can come back. We always tell ourselves [to play] like we [have a] down-20 mentality. I think that’s allowed us to be successful in this tournament. And it’s March, so we’re trying to win every game no matter what it is.”

Two of the major reasons the Hurricanes are where they are now? The play of guards Jasmyne Roberts and Destiny Harden.

Roberts, a sophomore who made the first start of her career in January and has since become a regular in the starting lineup, is averaging 18.0 points and 7.3 rebounds in the tournament, while Harden is averaging 14.5 points and 6.67 boards per game.

Each has had a game-winning moment in the tournament, Roberts converting on a 3-point play with 38.8 seconds left against Villanova in the Sweet 16 and Harden hitting a game-winning jumper in the paint with 3.3 seconds left to get past Indiana in the Round of 32.

“They’re resilient competitors, people that at the end of the day just want to win and are willing to do anything that it takes for Miami in general to win,” Erjavec said. “They’re big competitors and them being confident helps the whole team. We rely on our whole team, but they always come through in the biggest moments and it’s just amazing for us.”

Still, as well as Roberts and Harden have played throughout the tournament, the Hurricanes know they’ll need a complete effort from everyone that steps on the floor against LSU if they want to continue their dream season in Dallas at the Final Four.

And they’ll more than likely, once again, rely on the multiple defensive schemes that have helped them get to this point – that, and the confidence they’ve built throughout their history-making run.

“We have a tough matchup coming up, but we’re tough too,” senior forward Lola Pendande said. “We’ve been in situations like this. We’ve played teams like this, and this is a team that’s pretty similar to our game, too. It’s not going to be an easy game. It’s going to be a dogfight and it’s been a dogfight since we started. I’m pretty confident in our team. We’re going to go out there, compete like we have been so far and see what happens.”

Said Roberts, “They’re a great team. I mean, they’ve lost two games this whole season. So that says a lot about them. They have a great player in Angel Reese. But we really pride ourselves on defense. That’s what’s gotten us here and what continues to keep us going…I think we’re two similar teams when it comes to our playing style…We’re just going to go out there and compete and we’re going to play so hard. We’re going to compete to win. That’s what coach taught us: don’t compete just to be out there, compete to win…We’re going to be Miami and whatever happens, happens.”