Miami Hurricanes’ men, women both in Elite Eight an historic watershed for UM basketball | Opinion

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Well, this is a bit insane, right? The University of Miami -- for the past 40 years “the football school” -- climbed to the top of college basketball on Friday. On this day in history, UM owned the NCAA Tournament and March Madness. Might not last. Might not even last the weekend. But it happened. UM fans didn’t dream it. It was real.

The Hurricanes men’s team stunned No. 1 Houston Friday night in Kansas City, and comfortably, 89-75, to advance from the Sweet 16 to the Elite Eight and leave no top-seeds on the men’s side of this NCAA tourney.

That was just a few hours after the UM women upset Villanova 70-65 to also go Sweet to Elite for the first time in the history of that program.

Coach Jim Larranaga’s No. 5-seeded UM men will face No. 2 Texas on Sunday, two wins away from playing for a first national championship. Soon after that Sunday, the Canes women will face No. 3 LSU.

Both Miami teams are underdogs. Again. It might be disrespect. It’s definitely fuel.

Nigel Pack got the men to Eliteville with 26 points on 7-for-10 3-point shooting Friday; “He was ridiculous,” said his coach. And Isaiah Wong added 20 points. The small, four-guard Canes dominated the Cougars with speed, relentless defense and only six turnovers, while also pouring in 89 points against the second-ranked defense in college ball.

Larranaga has Miami back in the Elite Eight for a second straight season.

“Football school, basketball school, we’re a great academic institution,” the coach said. “We’re graduating all our guys. But I’m so proud of Katie Meier and her staff. Hats off to both the men and women’s basketball programs.”

The men’s team had been briefly stuck in a hotel elevator after a practice Thursday, and Larranaga joked his players needed to be “packed on defense like they were packed in that elevator.”

Shout-out as well to FAU’s men’s team for unexpectedly reaching the Elite Eight as a No. 9 seed facing Kansas State Saturday.

But it’s the double-advance of the Hurricanes that merits headlines. Do both Miami teams now have your attention?

If the women Canes did not after stunning No. 1 seed Indiana on the Hoosiers home court, maybe Friday did the trick?

Meier’s team -- lowest seed in the Sweet 16 and underdogs yet again -- eliminated No. 4 Villanova to reach the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament for the first time in the 41-year history of women’s hoops at Miami.

After the Indiana stunner Meier sent a one-word text to her entire team. It read #Believe

That’s getting easier and easier. The Canes too are now within two more victories of a chance to play for the national championship.

An unexpected hero, 5-10 sophomore guard Jasmyne Roberts, lifted UM to where it has never been before with a career-high 26 points. That included a layup and free throw for a 67-65 lead, and two late free throws for the final score.

“The whole team was on the Jaz train,” Meier said afterward. “Shes ‘Cool Hand Luke.’ She’s too young to know the movie, but that’s her new nickname now.”

Only the nation’s leading collegiate scorer, man or woman, Villanova’s Maddy Siegrist with 31 points, outscored Roberts.

“I can’t believe it. I can’t be cool right now,” Meier said. “This is awesome.”

The coach’s mother and her wife (Meier got married last spring) made the trip.

The season going Sweet to Elite is redemption in the making. Meier began the season suspended three games for her role in connecting a booster with two recruits, the Cavinder twins, in a Name, Image & Likeness deal, though she was guilty of no intentional wrongdoing. Now she exalts in creating history for the women’s program.

She looked moved nearly to tears as the game ended.

“I am just so grateful for the toughness of my team. They really are super women, good-hearted, wonderful people,” she said. “But if you’re gonna come after us, they’re gonna rise up. We got a spine. I have their back, and [the early-season controversy meant] they have mine. We deserve to be here.”

Meier had used a hammer-and-nail analogy in her pregame talk Friday before in the regional game in Greenville, S.C., telling her players, “Be the hammer to start this game.”

They were. They kept pounding and never let up.

They were pounding the paint and pounding the No. 4-seed Wildcats.

That was in the first half.

In the second UM got to know how the nail feels in a tale of two halves that found the Canes squandering as much as a 21-point lead and then successfully hanging on.

Miami’s women’s team was in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1992 before making even more history Friday in Meier’s deepest NCAA run in her 18th season at the school.

The Canes built a 54-33 lead early n the third quarter before a 23-2 Villanova run flipped the game.

“It got a little bit panicky for sure,” the coach admitted.

“We lost or composure for awhile,” Roberts said. “But we remained together as a team.”

Said senior Destiny Harden: “We’re one of eight teams left!”

I had asked Meier on Thursday if beating No. 1 Indiana to get to Friday’s Sweet 16 game had been the biggest win of her career. She wouldn’t say yes because biggest makes it sound final. She referred to that postgame on Friday when asked the magnitude of this win to reach the Elite Eight.

“I’m not gonna say this is the biggest win in our career, either,” she said. “We’re preparing to win again.”

So is Larranaga with his guys.

Both Miami basketball teams have never before this far in the NCAAs at the same time -- this close to breaking the school’s long national-championship drought in the sport.

The U is still a football school.

But not right now.