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Miami prepared to battle Virginia Tech in ACC Tournament

Winning its last three games, Miami hopes to advance past the first round of the ACC Tournament this year.

NCAA Womens Basketball: North Florida at Miami-Florida
Taylor Mason dribbles the basketball during the first half at the Watsco Center on Nov. 28, 2020 (Coral Gables, Fla.)
Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

A three-game win streak was just what Miami women’s basketball needed in order to close out the regular season on a high note.

Miami defeated Boston College, Wake Forest, and Clemson in a 10-day time span, totaling an 8-10 record in conference play on the 2020-2021 season.

The ACC Women’s Basketball Tournament, convening Wednesday (March 3) through Sunday (March 7), gives the Hurricanes a chance to continue their established momentum against seventh-seeded Virginia Tech (13-8, 8-8 ACC).

“We played a full regular season and we never missed a game [due to COVID-19 restrictions],” Miami head coach Katie Meier said. “And in fact, I think we’re a little bit [behind] in the standings because we played more games than other [teams], we’re behind them and that’s crazy how that worked out. But the truth of the matter is, you’re in this profession for a higher purpose, and I cannot believe what it took from my players and my staff and the doctors, administration, and the medical advisory group and everybody to keep Miami [basketball] safe. So, that is a victory beyond all else, and then to have a really nice, almost a .500 ACC season given that is huge.”

Miami, averaging 66.1 points per game, will face a Virginia Tech team that defeated the Hurricanes 75-55 in Coral Gables, Florida on Feb. 11. Redshirt junior guard Destiny Harden totaled 20 points and 12 rebounds, though the combination of Virginia Tech center Elizabeth Kitley and guard Aisha Sheppard, who each scored 19 points, was too much to overcome in the second half.

Beating a Clemson team, which started the season at 8-1, and North Carolina twice each, as well as Wake Forest, Miami managed to win eight conference matchups, some of which were Top 60 NET ranking wins.

“I think it’s great,” said Meier on the team’s late-season success. “I think it’s a function of the schedule as well. I think we’ve come off of that ridiculous stretch where we had four games in seven or eight days. It’s one of those things where you’re just trying to win the game that’s in front of you, and I think that we have, given the opportunity. We won more ACC games this year with a lot going against us than we did last year.”

Harden, who was tabbed ACC Player of the Week on Monday, averaged 18 points and 4.5 rebounds versus Wake Forest and Clemson. The Chicago native remains the Canes’ leading rebounder, averaging 5.1 per game, while pacing her team in field goal shooting at 49.1 percent.

“Just staying motivated, just staying with the rhythm [and] still trying to get my teammates involved with every single game,” said Harden on her team-leading performances. “Continuing to play Miami ball and listening to the coaches, and just go based off the scouting.”

Senior guard Endia Banks has also scored in double figures in each of Miami’s three recent wins, remaining another scoring threat for Meier.

“We plan on just keeping it up,” Banks said. “We talk a lot in the locker room about how we’re going streaking, and we’re going to just to try to keep continuing to push through all of the adversity that we’ve come to and just keep getting wins.”

Though they remain 11-1 when scoring 65 points or greater, the Canes actually have a different focus when it comes to defeating their conference opponents.

“We don’t have a target number,” said Banks on the team’s scoring offense. “Coach always tells us if we have 15 assists or more, we’re going to win the game because we’re sharing the ball, the ball’s moving quick and fast, and it’s not sticking to anybody.”

Defensively, Miami has stood at fourth in the ACC when defending 3-point shooting having held teams to a 23.9 percent clip. Such a figure comes with the right levels of energy even in the midst of a global pandemic, nonetheless.

“It’s hard,” said Meier on maintaining the required physical and mental aspects of the sport. “I’m not gonna lie and say that this has just been a normal year. It has been very, very hard and there were times when we were just staring at each other like ‘I asked you to run this race, but we don’t know how long it is.’ You just didn’t know and so you just had to put your fear aside and somehow find courage. It was scary to love basketball because you just didn’t know if it was going to be taken away. So, the fact that we’re playing with joy and that we love the game that takes a lot of courage because we were very vulnerable this year.”

The Hurricanes and the Hokies will tip off from Greensboro Coliseum (Greensboro, N.C.) on Wednesday at 6 p.m. The game will be broadcast on the Regional Sports Networks.