GREENSBORO, N.C. — Miami was down big late against fourth-ranked Louisville, looking wobbly, tired and on its way out of the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament.
Then Destiny Harden took over.
Sparking one of the most improbable and stunning comebacks in the tournament’s history, Harden scored the game’s last 15 points and hit a turnaround jumper at the horn to stun No. 4 Louisville 61-59 in Friday night’s ACC Tournament quarterfinals.
The second-seeded Cardinals led 59-44 with 5:44 left, only to see the seventh-seeded Hurricanes stage a frantic rally that abruptly turned what looked set to be a Louisville win into a wild reversal.
Harden did it almost single-handedly, matching her career high with 27 points on 11-for-15 shooting with 10 rebounds for Miami.
“The performance by Destiny Harden is one for the ages,” coach Katie Meier said, herself still trying to process what had just happened. “It’s one for the ages.”
There was little sign that the Hurricanes (19-11) even had a shot to rally, to the point that even Meier thought her team looked “dead in the water” against a team that had ranked among the nation’s elite all season.
Then everything changed, thanks primarily to a redshirt senior who stayed on the attack and proved unafraid to take the big shots – and even more unwilling to miss.
“I just think it’s March basketball,” Harden said, “And you’ve got to do everything you’ve got to do to win.”
Harden had hit just one second-half shot before going 6 for 6 in the final 4:02. The first huge shot was a game-tying 3-pointer from the left wing with 31 seconds left.
Then, after the Cardinals committed a shot-clock violation, Miami got the ball back with 1.7 seconds left. Kelsey Marshall sent a one-bounce pass to Harden on the right side, with Harden catching and elevating over Hailey Van Lith for a corner shot from a step or two in front of the arc.
“The 3 definitely felt good,” Harden said. “The last shot… it felt good, but I prayed for it to go in.”
The ball caught all net as the horn sounded, with Van Lith immediately raising both hands to her cheeks in disbelief. That’s when orange-clad Hurricanes players began sprinting onto the court and right by Van Lith to run in convoy with Harden across halfcourt and to the far baseline before heading toward the locker-room tunnel.
The scene also included the team mobbing Meier as she did a postgame TV interview as they returned to the court, with players motioning to the crowd and throwing up “The U” hand signs to revel in the improbable moment.
Chelsie Hall scored 13 points to lead the Cardinals (25-4), who missed their last five shots and had five turnovers to watch the lead vanish amid Harden’s onslaught. But all-ACC performers Van Lith (2 for 10) and Emily Engstler combined for 10 of the Cardinals’ 21 turnovers, which tied the team’s season high.
“I wouldn’t say being down on ourselves is a bad thing because we have to be down,” said Louisville’s Kianna Smith, who had 10 points. “Like, that was awful. There’s no question about it.”
Miami: The Hurricanes had won five of six to close the regular season and likely put themselves on the right side of the NCAA Tournament bubble. They beat 10th-seeded Duke in Thursday’s second round, then followed with an even bigger win.
“Safe to say we’re off the bubble?” Meier said to start her postgame news conference.
Louisville: The Cardinals entered the tournament with a top-2 seed for the fifth straight season and with three straight wins, including last weekend’s blowout win at Notre Dame that saw the Cardinals lead 41-3. Yet for the second time this year – the other being No. 3 North Carolina State’s wild second-half comeback to win the lone regular-season meeting – Louisville proved unable to protect a big lead.
“We took some real poor shots, didn’t defend, didn’t guard,” coach Jeff Walz said. “Everything that we needed to do to allow them to come back in the game, we did.”
Miami is in the ACC semifinals for the fourth time since joining the league for the 2004-05 season, most recently with consecutive trips in 2016 and 2017.
As for Louisville, this is the first time that the Cardinals have failed to reach the semifinals since joining the league for the 2014-15 season.
Miami trailed 52-38 entering the fourth quarter before outscoring Louisville 23-7 the rest of the way. According to ESPN Stats & Info, that matches the largest deficit entering the fourth overcome by any league team this season.
The other was N.C. State’s win against Louisville on Jan. 20 after trailing by a nearly identical score (51-37).
Miami: The Hurricanes advanced to Saturday’s semifinals to face No. 20 Notre Dame, which beat No. 25 Georgia Tech on Friday night.
Louisville: The Cardinals will have to wait and see where they are seeded in the NCAA Tournament.