COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina coach Dawn Staley sees something familiar in her second-round NCAA Tournament opponent, Miami.
The No. 8 seed Hurricanes (21-12) are hot — winning nine of their last 11 after a 12-10 start— and tested. Sunday’s game will be their third in their past five against a team that earned a No. 1 seed in this year’s tournament. Miami beat Louisville in the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament quarterfinals and lost to North Carolina State in the title game.
“We ran into a team like that in the SEC championship,” Staley said.
That would be Kentucky, which handed the Gamecocks (30-2) one of their two losses this season in the Southeastern Conference final.
The Wildcats exposed some problems with a South Carolina team that looked ready to run through the women’s tournament after beating 11 opponents ranked in the AP Top 25 and three of the other seven highest tournament seeds to become the bracket’s top overall team.
The Gamecocks are struggling to finish games. Kentucky outscored them 21-7 in the fourth quarter. And they have shot better than their 43.1% season average just once in the past seven games.
Staley is pushing her team to finish strong, and in the first round, South Carolina outscored Howard 19-13 in the fourth quarter even though it was leading 60-8 at the end of the third and cleared the bench.
Staley isn’t harping on the shooting, figuring at this point in the season and at home there isn’t a lot that can be changed.
“We’ve got to trust that it will correct itself,” said Staley, whose team shot 35.4% against Howard, its fifth-worst shooting performance of the season.
“I felt we took good shots, they just didn’t go in,” she said.
Staley is trying to make her eighth Sweet 16 in nine NCAA appearances at South Carolina. Miami coach Katie Meier has been to eight tournaments, seven with the Hurricanes, and never made it past the second round.
But this Miami team appears to be clicking. The Hurricanes shot 53.6% in Friday’s win over South Florida and have shot better than 40% in nine of their past 11 games.
And there is the ACC Tournament experience of playing some of the best.
“I don’t feel intimated. We’ve been in his situation,” Miami forward Lola Pendande said.
Meier said this might be the best time to play a team as talented as South Carolina. She has video of a season’s worth of games to see what works and what doesn’t. And her team knows what to expect.
“Maybe that’s just the DNA of our team,” Meier said. “Just bring it on and we’re going to fight every time we get an opportunity to play.”
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