Roberts leads Miami Hurricanes women to Elite Eight for first time in program history

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Destiny Harden and Haley Cavinder stood over Jasmyne Roberts, talking to her, slapping her in the chest. The sophomore guard for the Miami Hurricanes had just sank a floater while being fouled to give No. 9 Miami a lead over No. 4 Villanova with 37 seconds left in the Sweet 16 of the Women’s NCAA Tournament.

“Honestly,” Roberts said. “I was just telling myself, like, ‘These are the biggest free throws of your life, you’ve got to hit these.’ ”

Roberts got up, took a deep breath and knocked down her free throw. Moments later, Cavinder sank one too, pushing the lead to three points with 20.9 seconds remaining. Villanova’s next possession ended with a missed shot that Roberts grabbed out of the air. She was fouled, and again — cooler than a milkshake in a snowstorm — Roberts connected on both shots.

“At that moment, it was just like, [Roberts] won the game for us right there,” Harden said. “I’m proud of her.”

For the first time ever, Miami is going to the Elite Eight. The Hurricanes won their third straight tournament game over a higher-seeded opponent, taking down the Wildcats 70-65 in Bon Secours Wellness Arena on Friday in upstate South Carolina.

On Sunday, the Hurricanes (22-12) will face No. 3 LSU (31-2), which beat No. 2 Utah, 66-63.

“We had some really special performances,” said Miami coach Katie Meier, who was a bit soaked during her press conference from the postgame celebration. “I just am so grateful for the toughness. They’re really super women. My team, they’re good-hearted, honorable women. They are wonderful people. But if you try to come after us, we’re going to rise up.”

Coming into the game, the most talented player on the floor was Villanova’s Maddy Siegrist — an AP First Team All-American, a finalist for the Naismith National Player of the Year, and a likely top-five pick in this year’s WNBA Draft. But Siegrist alone could not will the Wildcats (30-7) to a victory over Miami. She got her stats, 31 points and 13 rebounds, but as a team, the Hurricanes were often just faster, stronger and more aggressive than the Wildcats.

And Siegrist — often guarded by Harden — needed 29 shots to hit her scoring total.

“I respect her game, so we knew that she was going to come out and score. … Stopping somebody like that is almost impossible,” Harden said of Siegrist. “We always said, if she scores and we win, then it don’t matter how much she scored.”

Roberts finished with 26 points on 10-of-16 shooting from the floor and a perfect 6-of-6 from the charity stripe. She also had nine rebounds and two assists.

“Cool Hand Luke is her new nickname. She doesn’t even know that movie,” Meier said of Roberts. “Her efficiency numbers are incredible. The team was like, ‘Jas, let her eat, she’s beasting, she’s bullying.’ The whole team was on the Jas train.”

Harden added 15 points and nine boards, while Cavinder chipped in seven points and three assists.

Villanova led by one point after the two sides traded buckets for the first six minutes of the game, taking a lead on Siegrist’s first three-pointer. But after a timeout, Miami embarked on an 13-6 run to close the opening quarter, taking a six-point lead into the second. Harden scored seven points in the game’s first 10 minutes.

Miami went on to lead by as much as 21 points in the third quarter, beginning the period with an 8-0 run that was punctuated by Harden sinking a lay-up while being fouled. Ja’leah Williams had poked a possession away from Villanova’s Lucy Olsen and then gave the ball up to Roberts who assisted Harden on the two-on-two fast break.

“It was just the isolation, the one-on-one attacks,” Villanova coach Denise Dillon said. “We weren’t doing a good job containing the basketball, and I thought we were doing a worse job of being in help-position.”

Mar 24, 2023; Greenville, SC, USA; Villanova Wildcats forward Maddy Siegrist (20) dribbles against Miami Hurricanes forward Destiny Harden (3) during the NCAA Women’s Tournament at Bon Secours Wellness Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 24, 2023; Greenville, SC, USA; Villanova Wildcats forward Maddy Siegrist (20) dribbles against Miami Hurricanes forward Destiny Harden (3) during the NCAA Women’s Tournament at Bon Secours Wellness Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

But Miami’s large lead eventually evaporated. Villanova would finish the third quarter on an 18-3 run and took a one-point lead with 49 seconds to play in the fourth, but Miami grabbed it back thanks to Roberts.

“Leads are hard to protect against great teams,” Meier said. “We were protecting instead of staying forward, and that’s a credit to [Villanova]. That was good coaching.”

Miami’s pressure defense seemed to give the Wildcats lots of problems. Villanova entered this game ranking first nationally in assist-turnover ratio with a mark of 1.64, and the Wildcats were 40th in total three-pointers made. Against the Canes, Villanova shot just 2-of-16 from behind the arc and had 13 assists to 11 turnovers.

Key for Miami was also its ability to dominate the glass, another facet of the game that can largely be decided by effort and strength when a sizable difference in height isn’t a factor. UM won the rebounding battle 43-32.

While Virginia Tech, Notre Dame and Louisville are still alive, Miami’s victory ensures that an ACC team will appear in the Elite Eight for the 21st consecutive tournament.