UNC ends Canes’ ACC tourney hopes

Morgan Stroman recovers during the Florida State game won previously during the season.
Morgan Stroman takes a minute to recover during the Florida State game won previously during the season. Steven Levy//The Miami Hurricane

At the beginning of the ACC women’s basketball tournament on Thursday afternoon, the Hurricanes believed that they could win the program’s first title since joining the conference in 2004.

North Carolina had other ideas.

Miami (27-4), the No. 2 seed in the tournament, fell behind early and had trouble keeping up with six-seed North Carolina, falling to the Tar Heels 83-57. The loss eliminated the Canes and has left them with over a week to prepare for the upcoming NCAA tournament.

“[North Carolina] dismantled us. They did it very maturely, they did it very athletically, they did it very smartly, they did it very physically,” head coach Katie Meier said. “And they did it with finesse as well. They were just absolutely awesome tonight.”

The game started with strong defense from both squads, but both teams struggled to get any consistency offensively. The score was tied at 16 with 11:16 left in the opening half until North Carolina went on a 27-13 run to lead 43-29 at the half.

ACC Player of the Year Shenise Johnson struggled in the first half. She was limited to two points after shooting 1-for-8 but managed to recover in the second half, finishing the game with 19 points and a game-high 14 rebounds. Junior Riquna Williams added a team-high 21 points, but it wasn’t enough as the Tar Heels shut down the rest of the Canes defensively. Sophomore Stefanie Yderstrom did not score a point the entire game.

“They made all the right reads. They’re very long, very physical,” Johnson said. “They tip every pass, block every shot underneath and force you to settle for 3’s. They did a great job of covering us tonight. All my credit goes to North Carolina.”

For the Tar Heels, it began and ended with center Jessica Breland, who scored a game-high 28 points and always seemed to be around to destroy any momentum the Hurricanes might have had. Breland, who came back this year after missing last season while recovering from cancer, even got Meier’s attention.

“Even I had a couple of wow moments out there with [Breland] tonight,” Meier said. “We’ve got a heck of a spirit, and it takes a lot to break our spirit, but we were broken a couple of times by just the time when she made unbelievable baskets.”

The Canes managed to advance to Saturday’s semifinals by defeating N.C. State on Friday night, 93-85. In that game, Johnson sparked Miami’s offense, scoring 25 to go along with 13 rebounds.

With Selection Sunday just under a week away and the Canes virtually guaranteed a spot in the NCAA tournament, all that remains is for Meier and her team to wait and see where they are selected to play. Most early tournament brackets have them projected as high as a second seed or as low as a fourth seed.

Still, after Saturday’s loss, don’t expect the team to sit idly by.

“I think North Carolina did a great job exposing us. I feel like they punched us and we stayed down,” Johnson said. “That’s not the Miami that we are and that’s not the Miami that we’ve showed all season. I just think we need to get better, figure out what we want to do as a team.”

Ernesto Suarez may be contacted at esuarez@themiamihurricane.com.