Enjoying the comforts of NCAAs at home was a goal for Miami
CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) Miami's first team meeting of the season was highlighted in part by coach Katie Meier talking to the Hurricanes about hosting three tournaments this season.
The ones around Thanksgiving and Christmas were certain.
The third one - the NCAAs - was going to take some work.
''We all came to Miami because we wanted pressure and we wanted big moments,'' Meier said. ''Here it is.''
Their chance comes Saturday, when fourth-seeded Miami (23-8) meets 13th-seeded Florida Gulf Coast (26-8) in a first-round NCAA Tournament game. That matchup is preceded by fifth-seeded Marquette (25-7) taking on 12th-seeded Quinnipiac (27-6). Saturday's winners meet Monday for the right to go to the Stockton Region semifinals next weekend.
Miami is in the NCAA field for the sixth time in the last seven seasons, and is hosting for the first time since 1993. Florida Gulf Coast made the NCAAs for the fourth time in six years, Quinnipiac for the third time in five seasons and Marquette - coached by former Miami assistant Carolyn Kieger - got in for the first time since 2011.
''It is like Christmas Eve, and I cannot wait to open up that present that's sitting under the tree,'' Meier said.
The Hurricanes didn't exactly get a pushover to start this NCAA quest. FGCU has made more 3-pointers this season than any other team in the NCAAs, and is 24-3 in its last 27 games - more than shaking off a 2-5 start.
''We had so many new players,'' FGCU coach Karl Smesko said. ''Our assistants did a great job. ... We definitely needed the assistants' help to get people progressing and get the attitude of, `Yeah, this isn't where we want to be as a program.'"
Marquette has been one of the best turnaround stories in the nation, and in her third season Kieger has taken a very young team and gotten it onto the big stage. To her, the Golden Eagles' unpredictability is a strength.
''We're very hard to scout,'' Kieger said. ''When you watch us play, I would not want to be an assistant coach for another team. `What are they running?' Sometimes I don't even know what we're running.''
Quinnipiac has the longest winning streak of the four teams, having won 10 straight.
''A lot of teams that we do play from bigger conferences, they do have trouble pronouncing our name,'' Quinnipiac guard Carly Fabbri said. ''They don't really know where we're from, even though we have, you know, been a midmajor power for the past couple of years. If anything it's just an extra push.''
Here's some of what to know going into these games:
LONG LAYOFFS: Of the four teams, only FGCU hasn't had double-digit rest days. Miami hasn't played since March 4, Quinnipiac won the MAAC on March 6 and Marquette claimed the Big East on March 7. FGCU won the Atlantic Sun crown on Sunday. ''I think we're ready to go,'' Miami guard Adrienne Motley said.
NAME GAME: Erika Davenport will start for Marquette in Saturday's opener. Erykah Davenport will start for Miami in the second game. If the Golden Eagles and Hurricanes both advance to Monday, there's a good chance the Davenports - both are post players who pronounce their first names the same way - will guard one another.
WEATHER MATTERS: It snowed Friday at Marquette and Quinnipiac spent some of the week dealing with a foot of snow - a storm that shut down roads in the Northeast. But the South Florida weather was a delight for both. ''They weren't going anywhere for spring break,'' Quinnipiac coach Tricia Fabbri said of her team, ''but we still were able to get to Miami.''
WINNING BOOT: Kieger has been wearing a walking boot during games in recent weeks, part of her recovery from a torn Achilles. Since ditching a walker and going to the boot, Marquette is 8-0.
UNFAMILIAR FOES: There's no real head-to-head histories to speak of going into these first-round matchups. Miami and FGCU have played only once - Saturday marks the seventh anniversary of that meeting, a 70-57 Hurricanes win at home in the opening round of the WNIT. Marquette and Quinnipiac have never played.