Miami women’s basketball primed to open ACC play in road atmosphere

Miami women’s basketball has dominated inside the Watsco Center.

Now, its next test will involve winning away from Coral Gables for the first time this season, and against an Atlantic Coast Conference opponent.

“We always say that road wins count double in this program, and an ACC road win would count as triple. They’re that hard,” Miami head coach Katie Meier said. “It’s just a matter of toughness and finishing games.”

The Hurricanes (7-3) begin ACC competition Sunday at 2 p.m. against the Virginia Cavaliers (3-8, 0-1 ACC), a team that saw its previous season cut short after five games due to COVID-19.

“[Virginia is] completely different,” Meier said. “If we had played them last year, I would have to burn the tape anyway because they have a revamped roster, a couple of returners.”

Virginia veterans Camryn Taylor and Amandine Toi each average over 13 points, and combined for 26 points in the Cavaliers’ first ACC contest Dec. 19, a 27-point loss to then-No. 2 NC State. Taylor also leads the Cavaliers in rebounding, averaging 6.3 rebounds per contest.

“They are way more physical than I was expecting them to be,” Meier said. “Their inside presence is amazing and they have a couple of really, really special perimeter players, so I think they’re like the league’s little secret. This is going to be a very important game for us.”

Losing by eight points in their first road game Dec. 2, Miami stood a few successful possessions from upsetting No. 8 Maryland in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. It also had the chance to topple No. 15 Duke at home on Dec. 19, a matchup canceled due to Miami missing too many players in COVID-19 health and safety protocol.

“Emotionally and mentally, nobody was ready for another year of the rescheduling, and a year of the ‘Who are we playing?’ and a year of the games [being] postponed, forfeited and canceled,” Meier said. “I think we’re going to see a little bit more of it, but obviously I don’t think it’s going to be as disruptive.”

Graduate guard Kelsey Marshall leads UM’s scoring with 14.5 points per game, needing only two 3-point field goals to become the program’s all-time leading 3-point scorer. The team’s scoring offense has increased to 66 points per game after the Hurricanes scored more than 56 points once in their first six games.

Meier said freshman guards Ja’Leah Williams and Lashae Dwyer have received “incredible experience and playing time,” during graduate guard Mykea Gray’s gradual return from an ACL injury and redshirt senior forward Destiny Harden’s absence. The Hurricanes still expect to propel their scoring output, nonetheless.

“We have the potential to be a very threatening team in terms of attacking the rim and playing fast,” Meier said. “Now, we just have to get our legs back and get everybody healthy and running because that’s a good 20 points a game for us. If we’re not running, we’re not scoring over 70.”

Utah transfer forward Lola Pendande continues to provide the bulk of UM’s rebounding, holding a team-high average of 6.4 rebounds. The Hurricanes rank 11th in the ACC in rebounding.

Meier also said on Tuesday the return of Harden, Miami’s leading rebounder and second-leading scorer last season, is “very close.” The former West Virginia transfer concluded produced a 27-point, 11-rebound outing in an ACC Tournament loss in March, but has yet to play this year due to a lower extremity injury.

As Miami makes final preparations for its conference opener, the Hurricanes have confidence that they can start a longer journey in the ACC by doing so on the road.

“I think this year, hopefully that we’re all back and healthy, that you can sustain or withstand, more so, the adversity,” Meier said. “It happens. It happens more on the road than it does at home, that’s just the way it is. And that’s just why I love this conference.”