GREENVILLE, S.C. (AP) — The horn sounded and Miami coach Katie Meier turned to start jumping and hugging her staff as players and cheerleaders sprinted past for a meet-at-midcourt celebration. She soon made her way into the crowd to embrace players hollering with delight.
Soon she emerged through the other side to trade hugs and high-fives with a front-row section of Hurricanes fans.
An improbable and emotional ride to the program’s first Elite Eight appearance in the women’s NCAA Tournament was worth sharing with as many people as she could.
“I can’t believe it,” Meier said afterward. “I’m not going to act cool. This is awesome.”
Jasmyne Roberts scored a career-high 26 points — including a stick-back for the go-ahead, three-point play with 38.8 seconds left — to help Miami overcome blowing a 21-point lead and beat Villanova 70-65 on Friday, pulling the program to within a win of the Final Four.
Miami had reached the Sweet 16 only once before, in 1992. Now the Hurricanes will play Sunday for the Greenville Region 2 title against third-seeded LSU.
The ninth-seeded Hurricanes (22-12) looked dominant in building a huge lead, wobbly in blowing it. But they hung on down the stretch after Villanova made its push back behind the latest big-scoring effort from Associated Press first-team All-American Maddy Siegrist.
“I can’t even explain the feeling really,” guard Haley Cavinder said.
The celebration said plenty. While Meier made her way to the fans, Roberts stayed locked in a firm and emotional embrace with teammate Ja’Leah Williams. The sophomore guard picked a perfect time to come through with a huge performance by making 10 of 16 shots and all six of her free throws while pulling down nine rebounds.
“Cool Hand Luke is her new nickname. She doesn’t even know that movie,” Meier said, referencing the Paul Newman movie released more than three decades before Roberts’ birth.
Siegrist, the nation’s scoring leader, had 31 points, 13 rebounds and five steals for fourth-seeded Villanova (30-7). It marked her third 30-point outing in as many tournament games, pushing her to the No. 2 single-season scoring total in Division I history.
Yet it wasn’t enough down the stretch, with Siegrist coming up empty in a couple of key moments late. The first came when she posted up Destiny Harden inside, but a quality look on a turnaround hit the backboard before coming off the rim with her team down just 67-65.
Moments later, after a Miami free throw, Siegrist missed from the other side of the lane as Villanova had a chance to extend the game. Instead, Miami secured the rebound, and Roberts hit clinching free throws with 11.1 seconds left for a two-possession lead.
Miami originally appeared to be headed for a much easier finish.
The Hurricanes spent much of the first half using their athleticism and aggressiveness to take control, both in scoring off the dribble and attacking the glass. The Hurricanes led 46-33 by halftime then used a stunning 8-0 burst in the opening minute of the second half, ending when Harden scored on a drive through contact from Siegrist for a three-point play that pushed Miami to a 54-33 lead.
Villanova responded by throwing fullcourt pressure to get back into the game. The Wildcats scored 14 straight points to end the third quarter then took a 60-59 lead on Siegrist’s free throws with 5:31 left to cap a 23-2 run, a stretch that had Roberts saying the Hurricanes “did kind of lose our composure for a little bit.”
That set up a tense finish with neither team leading by more than two until the final 30 seconds. Villanova took its last lead at 65-64 when Lucy Olsen banked in a drive with 49 seconds left before Roberts answered with the and-1.
“My mistake,” Villanova coach Denise Dillon said. “We should have in the first half shown some more of the pressure, the press, but you think just a team that’s quick like that can take advantage. But again, just waited a little too late to make that run.”
Consider it the latest entry in a wild NCAA novel for the Hurricanes. They first rallied from 17 down to beat Oklahoma State. Then Harden hit the late shot to win at 1-seed Indiana and get them back to the Sweet 16 for the first time in 31 years.
Now they have a chance to play for — and celebrate — a whole lot more.
An emotional Siegrist fought back tears during her postgame news conference, and offered a hint of finality when asked about plans that could include returning to school or pursuing the WNBA.
“I’ve got to talk to my parents and stuff like that after,” she said. “But I couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunity to have played here. So many good people, and it’s really about the people. Take the basketball part out of it, like the memories and the people are something that I’m going to cherish forever.”
Siegrist closed with 37 straight 20-point games, which the NCAA said is the longest streak by any men’s or women’s Division I player this century. ... Christina Dalce had 13 points, eight rebounds and five blocks to help Villanova do a better job of battling Miami inside after halftime. ... Harden had 15 points and nine rebounds for Miami, which took a 43-32 rebounding advantage. ... The Wildcats made just 2 of 16 3-pointers.