Miami aims to extend wild NCAA run, meets LSU in Elite 8
GREENVILLE, S.C. (AP) — Miami was only a few hours removed from pushing deeper in the women’s NCAA Tournament than ever before. Another big matchup loomed. Yet coach Katie Meier needed some time.
“First thing I said is, like, give me an hour to be human,” the coach said.
That’s why she followed the program’s first-ever trip to the Elite Eight by spending time with her mother and nieces in her hotel room afterward. It was an example of how the Hurricanes are savoring a wild March Madness ride even while determined to keep winning — next against LSU on Sunday to reach the Final Four.
The ninth-seeded Hurricanes (22-12) can join Arkansas in 1998 as the lowest-ever seed to get there.
“There’s a balance,” but I think just being where our feet are,” Hurricanes guard Hanna Cavinder said. “I mean, obviously we have a lot to celebrate, but we’re not done. And I think we all understand that.”
The Greenville 2 Region final presents the first ticket to Dallas for the national semifinals, and it’s a matchup between teams with vastly different postseason histories.
Third-seeded LSU (31-2) is one of eight programs to reach at least five Final Fours. Coach Kim Mulkey won three national championships at Baylor and is in her second year with the Tigers, who pushed past 2-seed Utah on Saturday to reach their first Elite Eight since 2008.
“You’d better listen,” Tigers star forward Angel Reese said. “Kim Mulkey not playing. We listen to her, we respect Coach. She knows better than anybody else.”
Still, Mulkey has cautioned her team is “overachieving” in its rapid rise so early in her tenure with nine new players, noting LSU “might be feeding that monster too quickly” with outside expectations.
Still, her players “want to please.”
“They allow me to coach them, and I’ve got some strong personalities on this team,” Mulkey said. “I’ve said it all along: I don’t care, just bring me a competitor. I can handle a strong personality. ... If they love basketball and they’re a competitor, I can coach them.”
For Miami, the rise is sudden: Its only previous Sweet 16 came in 1992.
The Hurricanes first rallied from 17 down to beat Oklahoma State. Then they won at 1-seed Indiana on a late shot by Destiny Harden. And they hung on late against Villanova despite blowing a 21-point lead.
“Every game gets bigger,” Harden said. “And we expect that. ... I think to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best.”
Reese will be the third straight Associated Press first-team All-American to face Miami in this tournament. Reese ranks among the national leaders in scoring (23.5, fifth), rebounding (15.6, second) and double-doubles (31, first).
The Hurricanes have beaten Indiana’s Mackenzie Holmes and Villanova’s Maddy Siegrist, the national scoring leader who had 31 points and 13 rebounds Saturday.
Reese had 17 points and 12 rebounds against Utah.
TOUGH CLUB TO CRACK
While eight teams seeded fifth or lower have reached a Final Four, only two — 5-seed Louisville in 2013 and 7-seed Washington in 2016 — have come in the past 17 tournaments. Top seeds made up 14 of 20 teams in the last five Final Fours, five were 2-seeds and one was a 3.
Miami could be the first to get there with more than 10 losses.
The Hurricanes entered the NCAAs having lost three of five, including a blowout loss to eventual No. 1 NCAA seed Virginia Tech in the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament.
Meier said “Camp Miami” changed that, referencing competitive back-to-basics workouts covering fundamentals and conditioning.
“We were going at each other. But it was fun,” said guard Jasmyne Roberts, who had a career-best 26 points against Villanova. “We all got our love back for the game a little bit because we were kind of drained.”
Among the questions leading into Sunday’s regional final: Who is rapper Lil Wayne rooting for?
The rapper FaceTimed with twins Hanna and Haley Cavinder to congratulate Miami after the Villanova win, with players in the locker room shrieking and gathering around the phone. The New Orleans native also tweeted a shoutout to Reese after LSU’s win.
“I think he likes women’s basketball and that’s a win for women’s basketball,” Haley Cavinder said. “Hopefully he comes to the game if he likes Angel Reese and our team.”
Mulkey generated a buzz with her her flamboyant look for the Utah win: a multi-colored patterned jacket that had bright pink feathers and frills running the length of both sleeves.
Mulkey said afterward she has a stylist who picks out her look.
“We know she’s coming with something spicy,” Reese said, adding: “It’s a surprise to her as well.”
And since Mulkey proudly proclaimed herself as nothing about social media, freshman guard Flau’jae Johnson later said: “They’re going to drag her on Twitter and she ain’t going to know.”
As for Meier?
“I don’t know what Kim is going to wear,” she said, “but I’m going to wear overalls.”
Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap
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