GREENVILLE, S.C. — If there’s one thing to be said about No. 9 Miami, it’s this: No team in the tournament has shown a better grasp of narrative structure.
The Hurricanes dug themselves into a 17-point hole in the first round against No. 8 Oklahoma State, requiring a comeback that left the game in question until the very last second. So, naturally, they never trailed at all in the second round against No. 1 Indiana—yet still never really broke away and escaped with the win by just two points. How best to follow that for the Sweet 16 against No. 4 Villanova? They already had the comeback win. They already had the steady, tremendous performance against a powerhouse, and any good storyteller knows better than to start recycling structures. It was time to introduce a new kind of drama.
So on Friday, Miami built a remarkable lead, coming out at its absolute best—fast and physical and seemingly unstoppable. The Canes were up by as much as 21 early in the third quarter. Then? They watched it all crumble, found themselves behind in the late, crucial minutes of the fourth quarter, and finally stepped it up to win, 70–65.
It was the Hurricanes’ most ambitious bit of theatrics yet. They pulled it off expertly.
The result is the first Elite Eight trip in program history.
“I told them in the locker room,” Miami coach Katie Meier said, “You are not going to apologize for blowing whatever the lead was. Because you earned that lead. And don’t you dare apologize… No. We’re in the Elite Eight. You’ve got to be crazy if you think we’re going to doubt ourselves.”
Miami looked nigh unbeatable for the entirety of the first half. The Hurricanes pushed the pace. They shot 60% from the field. Sophomore guard Jasmyne Roberts particularly shone: 12 first-half points on six-of-nine shooting. Miami dominated in the paint—Villanova seemed to have suddenly lost all idea of interior defense. It was all simply a show of force.
It seemed impossible to any version of this team losing. But a completely different version came out for much of the second half.
The Hurricanes’ poise was suddenly gone—Miami turned the ball over 14 times in the third and fourth quarters. Villanova capitalized on nearly every single one. (“It got a little bit panicky, for sure,” Meier sighed.) The Wildcats started pressing, disrupting the offense, and they began to string together stops. They went on a 14–0 run at one point. And the architect was, of course, their greatest weapon: The nation’s leading scorer, Maddy Siegrist, whose consistent, efficient production can make her almost impossible to defend against.
“Stopping somebody like that is almost impossible,” said Miami graduate forward Destiny Harden. “You've got to kind of respect her game. We always said, if she scores and we win, then it don't matter how much she scored. But you do have to respect a player like that.”
Siegrist finished with 31 points. That was enough to briefly give Villanova the lead back in the fourth quarter. But it wasn’t enough to walk away with the win.
It was Harden who provided the game-winner for Miami’s last dramatic win. But this time, it was Roberts, who scored five of the team’s last six points. When Harden missed a layup that would have put Miami up one with 41 seconds to play, Roberts grabbed the rebound, got the second-chance basket, drew a foul and sank the free throw.
When Roberts was on her back after the foul, Harden was the one who picked her up.
“I call her my twin, because I feel like we've got a similar game, and I've been in her head since the season started,” Harden said. “I see so much potential in her. Continuing to make her confident is what was going to continue to make us go further. But at the moment, it was just like, you won the game for us right there, once you hit the free throw, you could seal the game for us.”
Roberts did. (She made two more free throws in the final seconds to stretch the lead to five points—Miami’s biggest win of its three tournament games so far.) And when the final buzzer rang out, Roberts and Harden embraced in the middle of the celebration, foreheads touching. They didn’t make it look easy. But they sure made it exciting.
“If it’s a close game,” Meier said, “we feel like we’re going to win.”