March 8, 2024 

Under Katie Meier, Miami’s success in March should no longer be a surprise

A year removed from an Elite Eight run, Meier's Hurricanes Marched on again Thursday

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Just seven ticks remained on the clock. North Carolina had possession and was down by a point, and everyone inside the Greensboro Coliseum on Thursday knew that Deja Kelly was going to have the ball in her hands. That included Miami coach Katie Meier, who issued a challenge to Ja’Leah Williams just before the final sequence of this second-round ACC Tournament contest unfolded.

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Williams had had two crucial turnovers in the previous 18 seconds of the game, as she was twice whistled for traveling. Meier said to her, “You’ll make up for it. You got it.”

Kelly dribbled along the top of the key for a moment, picked a spot and drove. Williams did her best to stay in front of her, and as Kelly and Williams arrived at the free throw line, Miami’s Jaida Patrick came over to help.

What happened next depends on who is telling the story. A Tar Heels fan would say that Williams and Patrick sandwiched Kelly and a foul should have been called. A Hurricanes supporter might argue that the two Miami defenders built a wall and Kelly was unable to penetrate it.

Opinions aside, this much is true: Kelly’s final shot did not find the basket and no foul was called. When the buzzer sounded and the dust from all the chaos settled, Miami stood as the victor, 60-59.

“Carolina did the right thing to go to Deja,” Meier said. “And Miami did the right thing to say no.”

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For the third straight season, Miami entered March projected to be a bubble team by a lot of bracketologists. And for the third straight season, it’s won at least one game at the ACC Tournament in Greensboro.

Folks should no longer be surprised by the seemingly unlikely heroics that Meier’s Hurricanes pull off every March. When the Canes win an NCAA Tournament game — or three, as they did last season as a No. 9 seed — there should no longer be shock; it should be expected.

This is simply what the Hurricanes do in the third month of each year.

“That’s Miami basketball,” Meier said after beating North Carolina. “And that’s why we’re an NCAA [Tournament] team, because we always show up in March and we always slam the door on people.”

Miami head coach Katie Meier holds one finger up as she sits at the podium and speaks with reporters at the Sweet 16 in 2023. A March Madness backdrop is visible behind her.
Miami head coach Katie Meier talks to reporters at the 2023 Sweet 16 in Greenville, S.C. (Photo credit: Mitchell Northam | The Next)

Long before Meier was a coach in the ACC, she was a player in it, winning the ACC Rookie of the Year award at Duke in 1986 and an All-American nod in 1990. In those days, the conference tournament was played in the Civic Center in Fayetteville, North Carolina.

“We had a pig-picking, and that was the big welcome dinner,” Meier said of the ACC Tournaments of old. “And my family came from Illinois and was like, ‘What is this?’ We had never [known] you’d just roast a pig and then rip the meat off.”

Pulled pork is in the past, and the ACC Tournament has now called Greensboro home for 24 of the past 25 years. The lone year it left the Greensboro Coliseum was in 2017, when the NCAA and the ACC pulled all of their postseason tournaments out of North Carolina in protest of HB2, also known as the state’s “bathroom bill.”

In 2027, the ACC will move its women’s basketball tournament to Charlotte.

“We are the standard of a postseason conference women’s basketball tournament, and it’s [a] credit to Greensboro and the ACC office that committed to women’s basketball,” Meier said earlier this week. “Greensboro is just so supportive of our product — and before women’s basketball was as hot as it is now. You know, they stepped up first … and it means a lot to me.”

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Meier is the ACC’s longest tenured coach, now in her 19th season. She arrived in Coral Gables in 2005, just after Miami’s first season in the league after leaving the BIG EAST.

And she’s had a lot of success in Greensboro, making it a special place for her and the Canes. In second-round ACC Tournament games, Miami is 6-3 under Meier. Overall, in its last seven ACC Tournament games, it’s 5-2.

In 2022, the Hurricanes won three straight games to advance to the final as a No. 7 seed — the lowest-seeded team to make the title game since 1992. Miami beat Duke, Louisville and Notre Dame along the way, thanks to some inspired play from wing Destiny Harden and guard Kelsey Marshall, before getting beat by NC State in the championship game.

In the 2023 ACC Tournament, Miami notched a win over Boston College in the second round to pad its NCAA Tournament resume. The Hurricanes entered the Big Dance as a No. 9 seed, and after squeaking out a one-point win over No. 8 Oklahoma State, they stunned No. 1 Indiana on its home floor in Bloomington, then beat No. 4 Villanova to earn their first-ever spot in the Elite Eight. Eventual champion LSU beat Miami in the regional final in Greenville, South Carolina, but Meier’s team held the high-powered Tigers to their lowest scoring total of the season (54 points) and their worst shooting percentage (30.2%).

Miami wing Destiny Harden tilts her head up and yells as she flexes her arms down in celebration.
Miami wing Destiny Harden celebrates her game-winning shot against Louisville in the ACC Tournament in Greensboro, N.C., on March 4, 2022. (Photo credit: Mitchell Northam | The Next)

With more than 430 career wins and 11 NCAA Tournament appearances to her name, Meier was already respected by her peers. She was named the AP Coach of the Year in 2011 after guiding Miami to a regular-season ACC crown and the 2013 USA Basketball Coach of the Year after leading the U19 team to a gold medal and a 9-0 record at the FIBA World Championships. Admiration for Meier has only grown since taking Miami to the Elite Eight.

“Katie Meier has a way of getting her guys to compete. They’re great in tournaments … There’s no one who respects what Katie Meier has done in Miami more than me,” North Carolina coach Courtney Banghart said earlier this week. “These guys are there to rock fight. These guys are competitors. Katie Meier gets them ready to compete.”

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Miami lost at UNC earlier this year, but the game was similar in that the Hurricanes fell behind by a lot early, then clawed their way back. In Chapel Hill on Jan. 25, they trailed by 19 points and lost by just five. On Thursday in Greensboro, they were down by 14 in the second quarter and won by one.

During a timeout on Thursday, Meier reminded her team about that comeback in Carmichael Arena, telling them, “We were way worse than this in Chapel Hill.”

It instilled a bit of calmness in players like Shayeann Day-Wilson and Lazaria Spearman.

“I just told my team, we’re not going to keep on missing forever, so just stay confident,” said Day-Wilson, who led Miami with 13 points and five assists.

Spearman, who had 12 points and 10 boards, added: “I just told my teammates, ‘We’re in practice right now. This is practice. We know how we’ve got to get three stops and we’re out.’”

In the second half, Miami held UNC to 7-for-30 shooting from the floor and 2-for-11 from 3-point range. And they mostly stopped Kelly — who leads the nation in free-throw attempts with 221 — from getting to the charity stripe. Kelly took just one free throw against the Canes, the fewest she’s taken against an ACC opponent all season.

“Our goal was to keep Deja Kelly off the free-throw line,” Meier said. “And this is enormous that she only had one free throw.”

Miami also didn’t let Kelly impact the game with her passing, as she finished with zero assists. UNC is 8-10 this season when Kelly has less than three assists.

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The Hurricanes move on to Friday’s ACC Tournament quarterfinals, where they will face a top-seeded Virginia Tech team that could be without its best player. Center Elizabeth Kitley was recently voted ACC Player of the Year for a third time, putting her in an exclusive class that includes the likes of Alyssa Thomas and Alana Beard. But she did not participate in the Hokies’ practice on Thursday in Greensboro after exiting Virginia Tech’s loss to Virginia in the third quarter on Sunday with an apparent injury to her left leg.

Kitley’s presence is a big reason why Virginia Tech has experienced all the success it has over the past two seasons — an ACC Tournament title and Final Four run last year and an ACC regular-season crown this year. She’s the only player in the country this season averaging at least 22 points and 11 rebounds per game.

“You never see a post player with such a short time per touch, and that’s kind of a soccer term that’s become a basketball term. You can do whatever scheme you want to, but she thinks and moves the ball quicker than your scheme,” Meier said of Kitley. “And that’s why I think she’s the class of the posts in America right now, because you can play through her, and then she still drops 30 [points] on you.”

But Meier isn’t focused on who may or may not play for Virginia Tech on Friday. She walked past the Hokies after beating Carolina, smiled at Kitley and wished her well.

The Hurricanes are focused on themselves and making this March another magical one for Miami.

“It’s March. You can’t go back and rewrite yesterday or a week ago or a month ago,” Meier said. “But you sure as heck can define yourself from now on. And that’s where we’re at.”

Written by Mitchell Northam

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