by: Camron Ghorbi
CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- A lot can change in two weeks.
Eleven days after allowing 46 points before halftime in a loss to No. 16 Tennessee, the Hurricanes put together a defensive first half for the ages en route to a 69-65 win over No. 6 Penn State at the BankUnited Center.
Most importantly, the Hurricanes might have finally found an identity.
"We had a mentality tonight that we want to be known for our defense," head coach Katie Meier said. "I think we can put a very quick lineup on the court, but I think [our] strength...really wore them down."
By halftime, the Lady Lions' dynamic duo of Maggie Lucas (21.2-point average) and Alex Bentley (13.2) had a whopping eight points combined. The Hurricanes may have been leading by only seven at the buzzer, but the mentality heading into the locker room oozed an unfamiliar confidence.
"In years past, if we hadn't hit some shots, it would have taken our defensive effort down," Meier said. "But tonight was the first time we missed some shots, and you could hear the bench, the coaches, people on the court, all saying, 'Let's do it with our defense.'"
Rewind to two weeks ago, and a night like Thursday might have seemed like a pipe dream. The Lady Vols shot 57.7% in the first half, entering the locker room up by 25 points. The Hurricanes, on the other hand, shot 20% in the frame.
"We've been very honest about us needing to form our identity," Meier said. "I haven't sat here and said that we were great yet. I haven't felt like we were meeting our talent level, with how we were playing."
But after the disappointing loss to Tennessee, the Hurricanes took wins over Florida Atlantic and Radford, holding those opponents to 27.9 and 31.3 shooting percentages, respectively. With the help of another good scouting report from assistant coach Darrick Gibbs, the Hurricanes made their point clear from the get-go: this isn't going to be easy.
"I think our identity is toughness. That makes a coach smile," Meier said. "We're very resilient."
Miami opened the game on an 8-0 run, forcing nine Penn State turnovers in just less than five minutes of action. The Lady Lions would finish the first half with 20 turnovers, two more than their season average and four more than their last game's total against Cal State Northridge. By game's end, Penn State had coughed up the ball a season-high 29 times.
"Miami is a really good defensive team," Lady Lions' head coach Coquese Washington said. "They're long, they're active, and they're athletic. They did a good job of getting their hands on balls, especially on our post-entry passes."
Though Penn State would come back and take a lead in the second half, late magic from the Hurricanes sealed a 69-65 victory - their most important of the season, in more ways than one.
"I know this team will not get too excited about the win," Meier said. "We feel like we left a lot of points on the board still...We're going to get right back to work, and that's what I appreciate about them."