Bursting the bubble?

The University of Miami women's basketball team arrived in Piscataway, New Jersey for the Big East Championships in need of some ‘W's' to further validate their argument of belonging in the NCAA Tournament. And so far the Hurricanes have delivered.

Miami (18-11, 8-8), one of several Big East teams sitting on the 64-team bubble when the conference tournament began last Saturday, has done nothing to hurt their chances of playing past the league championship with two straight victories – including an upset win over nationally ranked Rutgers in the quarterfinals- over the weekend to advance to the semifinals and possibly open some eyes within the NCAA's selection committee.

Up next: The Hurricanes face No. 3 seed Villanova (23-5, 12-4) at 7 p.m. (BETV) tonight in the Louis Brown Athletic Center at Rutgers University in one of two semifinals with the winners playing in the championship game tomorrow night. Top-ranked Connecticut (30-0, 16-0) will meet No. 5 seed Virginia Tech (21-8, 10-6) in the other half of the semifinal bracket.

"We're obviously playing with a lot of confidence right now," said UM coach Fern Labati after the Hurricanes got past the Scarlet Knight 77-74 after converting three free throws in the final eight seconds of the contest. Miami freshman Tamara James hit two technical free throws –that resulted from an ill-advised timeout called by Rutgers point guard Cappie Pondexter. "Most of these games come down to the wire and the girls showed what they're made of by keeping their focus down the stretch," Labati added.

Another strong defensive performance and clutch shooting from James- the Big East's leading scorer- was enough to stake the Hurricanes to a fast start and hold off the Scarlet Knights. But despite Miami's seven-point lead late in the game Rutgers could have sent the game into overtime with a three-pointer by Pondexter- the shot fell short. Miami – ranked first nationally in steals- forced 14 turnovers in the first half to take early command of the game.

The Hurricanes, who defeated Syracuse in the opening round, must now focus on the Wildcats who are led by the senior duel of Trish Juhline and Katie Davis. Juhline, averaging 17.9 points and 3.3 rebounds a game, is a capable threat from the perimeter (36 percent from three-point range), while Davis (15.9 ppg) is the only other Villanova player averaging double-figure points scored. Villanova defeated Miami 61-55 in February.

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