Katie Meier on UM women’s team reaching first Sweet 16 in 31 years: “They’re warriors”

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Katie Meier always tells her players to minimize post-game celebrations, but the University of Miami women’s basketball coach made an exception on Monday night.

Her ninth-seeded team had just upset the top-seeded Indiana Hoosiers 70-68 on their hallowed home floor to send the Hurricanes to their first Sweet 16 in 31 years, so Meier gave them permission to go a little crazy.

The coach, her players, and staff screamed their lungs out, jumped up and down with their arms around each other, and danced at midcourt.

“I always tell my team, `Act like you’ve been there before’, but we haven’t, so we kind of acted foolish and we are really happy, and we enjoyed it,” said Meier, who reached the first Sweet 16 of her career. “Tried to be respectful, but that was a really big moment for us, and it was fun, and it was time to just let the pure joy spill out and enjoy it and take the momentum into the Sweet 16.”

The Hurricanes had been to the Sweet 16 only once, 1992, under former coach Ferne Labati.

Miami (21-12) will now face No. 4 seed Villanova (30-6) in the Greenville Regional 2 on Friday at 2:30 p.m. The game will air on ESPN.

The Monday victory was even sweeter because Indiana had been unbeaten at Assembly Hall, there was a sellout crowd of over 14,000 made up almost entirely of Hoosier fans, and it came a day after the UM men’s team reached the Sweet 16 by beating Indiana.

It is the first time both UM teams made the Sweet 16 the same year. The men play top seed Houston Friday night at 7:15 in Kansas City.

Lola Pendande led the Hurricanes with 19 points and seven rebounds against IU. Destiny Harden, the team’s heart and soul, finished with 18 points and scored the winning basket, and Jasmyne Roberts added 16 points. Haley Cavinder had nine points and a team-high eight rebounds.

“I’m so proud of these two ladies here (Pendande and Harden) that are just so tough,” Meier said. “They’re warriors. They don’t break. They are honorable in their loyalty to each other, to this program, and especially to me. They stand up. They take the burden. They take the weight on their shoulders, and they don’t back down.

“We needed every one of those characteristics even compete in this game, let alone win it.”

Pendande added: “It feels amazing. It doesn’t feel real still. When we were done with the game I was like, `Oh, my God, I can’t believe it. Like we’re here. We’re really here’. Props to my team. The coaches did a really, really good job on the game preparation.”

The Hoosiers battled back from a 41-29 halftime deficit to tie the game 68-68 with eight seconds to go on a three-pointer by Yarden Garzon. Miami took a timeout, and Meier gave her players a quick pep talk.

“I saw a little bit of a shoulder drop when they hit the three to tie it, I was like, `Wait a minute.’ Like my personality came out. `There are six seconds left. We have the ball at Indiana. Why are we pouting?”

`If I’d have told you this yesterday, you’d be like, yay, let’s go’. So that kind of shook them up a little bit. A lot of faith. We talk about faith a lot. Not religiously, I’m talking about faith which is just confidence with a lot of patience, and we needed it. Your confidence can kind of come and go, but faith has some patience to it, and I thought we were very faithful tonight.”

Winning at Assembly Hall made the win extra meaningful for Meier.

“I’m from Illinois. This place, the basketball that’s been played in this -- it’s emotional,” Meier said “I mean, basketball runs deep in my family I told you, to beat them here with that great crowd, and for it to mean so much to my team and to be able to do that is incredible.”

“And then for our university, our men’s program, we’re close. So, it’s really cool. You don’t think basketball right away when you think about Miami.”

That may be changing.