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Miami, Arizona State face early tests in Coral Gables

(AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

By TIM REYNOLDS

AP Basketball Writer

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) When the NCAA women's tournament returns to Coral Gables on Friday night, the higher seeds didn't exactly get rewarded with the easiest of matchups.

Such is life at this time of year.

Fifth-seeded Arizona State (20-10) will play No. 12 UCF (26-6) in the opening game of the night, followed by fourth-seeded Miami (24-8) playing 13th-seeded Florida Gulf Coast (28-4) in the second matchup. Arizona State got the privilege of flying across the country on short notice to face a UCF club that drove down to Coral Gables in three hours, and Miami will meet an FGCU team that is on a 19-game winning streak.

"It's March," Miami forward-center Emese Hof said. "So every game is going to be tough."

That's a lesson learned in every tournament, and never needs a reminder.

FGCU gave Miami all it wanted when the teams last met in the first round of the 2017 tournament, losing 62-60 in a game where a non-call at the end still has the Eagles grumbling. And given the way that the NCAA likes to keep teams close to home when possible, FGCU coach Karl Smesko knew long before the brackets came out Monday that he was headed to Miami for the tournament opener.

"We've got a great challenge ahead of us playing a great team in the University of Miami," said Smesko, whose team averages 11 made 3-pointers a game this season - second-best in the nation. "And we're excited for the opportunity."

If so inclined, Arizona State and UCF both could be crying foul.

The Sun Devils are the lone non-Florida team in Coral Gables, though coach Charli Turner Thorne proudly pointed out that her team will have some fans flying to Miami for these games - part of the Portland Region. And UCF, even with an RPI of 15 and 26 wins, not only had to sweat out an at-large berth but wound up being the last team in the field.

"They're a veteran team like us," Turner Thorne said. "A lot of similarities. Great defensive team, veteran team. Should be a really fun game."

UCF is the only school in the country in a New Year's Six bowl game, the NCAA men's tournament and the NCAA women's tournament this academic year. Knights coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson - she just goes by "Coach Abe" - is in her third year at the school, and has UCF in the tourney for the first time since 2011.

"Our players, this is a new beginning from them," Abrahamson-Henderson said. "Especially for our seven seniors, they're super excited. This is one of their goals this year. They accomplished it. This is going to be a great opportunity for us."

Here's more of what to know before the games in Coral Gables:

19 IN `19: FGCU is one of four women's Division I teams that has not yet lost in 2019. Baylor is 22-0 since New Year's Day and has the nation's longest winning streak at 23 in a row. Quinnipiac has won its last 21 games, all of them since Jan. 1. Rice has won 21 straight, 19 of them coming since the calendar flipped to 2019. And the Eagles are 19-0 since their 57-41 loss at Duke on Dec. 30.

OOPS: UCF is the third school that Abrahamson-Henderson has taken to the NCAA Tournament as a head coach. With Albany and Missouri State preceding UCF, she's in a small club. The NCAA says only 14 other coaches before this year have been to the Division I tourney with three or more schools.

ROSTER CHANGE: Of the 18 players who appeared in the FGCU-Miami game two years ago, only four remain. Miami has Hof, Laura Cornelius and Sarah Mortensen. FGCU has Tytionia Adderly.

SIX STRAIGHT: Arizona State has now been to six consecutive NCAA tournaments, and will be looking for a sixth consecutive first-round win. Results of that span - the Sun Devils made it to the Sweet 16 in 2015, and lost second-round games in 2014, 2016, 2017 and 2018.

HELLO: Friday's game will be the first meeting between UCF and Arizona State. Miami and FGCU - separated by two hours of interstate - have only played twice, and both previous meetings were in the postseason. The Hurricanes won both, the first coming in the 2010 WNIT and then the NCAA game two years ago.

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Updated March 21, 2019

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