Perfect Timing For Canes

It's hard to walk into Ferne Labati's office these days and not be greeted with a smile. Not surprising, considering the University of Miami women's basketball team just finished treating their coach to the Hurricanes best regular season record in over a decade. The Hurricanes (22-5, 11-5 in the Big East) punctuated the regular season with an impressive victory over Providence to secure the program's top regular season mark since 1992-93.

UM, 6-1 in their last seven games with the only defeat coming at Notre Dame, has scored 81 or more points in five of the previous seven games.

More importantly the Hurricanes will be heading to the Big East Tournament - March 6-9 - as the No. 4 seed and a first-round bye next to their name. The last time the Canes were seeded this high entering the league tournament was in 1999. The Hurricanes split two games before losing in the first-round of the National Invitational Tournament.

But one of the things that Labati had been stressing to her team the last several weeks was a strong finish in order to secure a top-seeding in the NCAA Tournament.

"I've always said how important it is to be playing solid basketball towards the end of the regular season," Labati said. "I've told our players over and over the importance of leaving no doubt in the committee's opinion. And I think we did a good job of that this time."

After being selected as an No. 16 seed last season, Labati finds a sense of comfort knowing the Hurricanes won't have to worry about that this time around. The only thing Labati and her players are concerned with now is trying to get better.

"Its nice to know that we can focus on basketball and not concern ourselves with, are we or aren't we going to get in," says Labati.

Labati has senior forward Chanivia Broussard and sophomore Tamara James to thank - among several others - for the team's current position. Broussard, who lost her starting role last season after dealing with injuries and suspension, has averaged 15.1 points and 6.2 rebounds per game in 26 starts this season. Broussard credits her improved work ethic for the turn around.

"I'm having a lot more fun," said Broussard. "I'm just focused on being the best basketball I can be."

James, the Big East Freshman Player of the Year last season, leads the Hurricanes with 16.9 points a game.

Labati said recently that she believes the Hurricanes are one of 10 teams in the nation that could make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. But she also knows that major contributions will be needed from the Hurricanes guard tandem of Yalonda McCormick and Melissa Knight.

"We can't get ahead of ourselves," says Labati. "But we will definitely need smart play from our guards and a monster tournament from Chavinia.

The league tournament starts Saturday at the Hartford Civic Center in Connecticut. UM will play the winner of Boston College/Syracuse on Sunday. The Hurricanes, who defeated both teams during the regular season, lead the all-time series against Boston College (15-7) and Syracuse (17-6), respectively.

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