(AP) – When Miami lost to Iowa last March for a berth in the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16, Jessica Thomas had already run for the tunnel when coach Katie Meier pulled her back to the Hawkeyes’ rockin’ home court to watch the opponent celebrate.
That heartbreak and defeat is largely what has fueled the fifth-seeded Hurricanes to take a bigger step this time around in the tournament, and they’ll begin play Saturday at Stanford, California, against No. 12 seed South Dakota State in the Lexington Regional.
”We learn way more from losses and we take moments like that and that just drives us and we don’t stop working,” Meier said. ”The team left and I grabbed her back, I yanked her back onto the court and said, `You stand here and watch this.”’
Miami, ranked 19th in the nation, stumbled down the stretch this season with three losses in four games – all to Top 25 teams – before the ACC tournament. The Hurricanes (24-8) fell to Florida State in their regular-season finale before beating the Seminoles 74-56 in the ACC quarterfinals.
Meier, whose team then lost to Notre Dame in the semifinals, thought the victory over Florida State helped the Hurricanes earn a high seed for the NCAA Tournament.
”We kind of had an amazing season that was under the radar nationally. Our performance in the conference tournament really opened some eyes,” she said.
Miami is led by Adrienne Motley, who averaged 15.6 points to rank fifth in the ACC. Fellow junior guard Thomas is second on the team with 11.9 points per game and tops the Hurricanes with an average of 3.7 assists while also pulling down 3.7 rebounds a contest.
South Dakota State (26-6) is in the NCAA Tournament for the seventh time in eight seasons after winning the Summit League tournament. The Jackrabbits have lost their last six NCAA games after beating TCU in the first round in 2009.
Meier compared the way South Dakota State’s post players spread the floor to the Netherlands team Miami faced during its foreign tour last year.
”That’s pretty cool she compared us to them,” said Jackrabbits sophomore guard and leading scorer Macy Miller, averaging 15.3 points. ”I haven’t heard that one before.”
Miller was named the Summit League tournament MVP after averaging 18.3 points and 7.0 rebounds while shooting 63.3 percent overall and 63.6 from 3-point range in three games.
The winner of the first meeting between these teams will face host Stanford or San Francisco in the second round Monday.