Miami Draws Maryland in Opener

University of Miami women's basketball coach Ferne Labati realizes what a strong showing in the NCAA Tournament would mean for the Hurricanes' program. "We want to be right up there with the premier teams and in order to do that you have to play well on this stage," says Labati. "Winning regular season and conference games is nice, but the only way we're going to get this program to the next level is by making a dent in the NCAAs."

The fifth-seeded Hurricanes (22-6) will get that chance starting Sunday when they meet No. 12 seed Maryland (17-12) in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Baton Rouge, La (6 p.m., ESPN 2). The Hurricanes, who lost to New Mexico in the first round of the NCAAs last season, will be making their sixth appearance in the tournament, while the Terrapins are in for the first time since 2001.

"I couldn't be happier about the No. 5 seed," said Labati. "It's March Madness and you just want to be there. Going to the NCAA Tournament gives them the opportunity of a lifetime because it's the opportunity to redeem yourself."

Just a year ago the Hurricanes played the Lobos right down to the wire before losing 91-85 in overtime. Now the Hurricanes, who lost to Boston College in the first round of the Big East Championships, can erase those memories with a victory over the Terrapins. Miami concluded the regular season by winning six of seven games. However the Hurricanes did not expect to be seeded high after losing to the Eagles.

"I think we're ready to play anybody at this point," says sophomore guard Tamara James, who has a team-leading 16.6 points per game. "We want to show people we're better than just getting in the tournament like we did last year and then losing in overtime. We want to go further. We know the expectations."

Labati said that the team needs solid play from senior forward Chanivia Broussard (14.9 ppg, 6.1 rpg, .484 field goal percentage) and point guard Yalonda McCormick (12.1 ppg, 5.1 apg) in order to score inside and spread the ball around, respectively. Maryland, coming off a defeat to Duke in the ACC Tournament semifinals, is anchored by the freshmen guard tandem of Shay Doron (13.7 ppg, 3.7rpg) and Kalika France (11.7 ppg, 6.0 rpg). Senior forward Delvona Oliver has added 10.6 points and 5.8 rebounds per game.

"We've seen them on tape," said Labati. "But I feel we'll be ready no matter who we play."

Miami, scoring 73.4 points per game this season, led the Big East in steals (12.11 per game) and finished second in assists (18.36 per game). The Hurricanes, 2-5 all-time in the NCAA Tournament, haven't reached the second round of the NCAAs since the 1992-93 season when they finished 24-7.

Miami is down in the all-time series 1-2 despite a 97-66 victory over Maryland in the championship game of the 2002 Gatorade Holiday Classic. The winner of Miami/Maryland will advance to play No.4 seed Louisiana State or No. 13 seed Austin Peay March 23. The survivor will head to the West Regional - starting Saturday March 27 - in Seattle, Wa.

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