Against LSU, Lola Pendande will be key to Miami Hurricanes women’s Final Four hopes
For Miami coach Katie Meier, there’s been one constant as the No. 9 Hurricanes have gone on this improbable March Madness run, where they are now preparing for the program’s first-ever Elite Eight appearance.
What’s been consistent for Miami in all of its triumphs has been the steady play of Lola Pendande.
“I’m going through them right now in my mind, but any big win we’ve had, there’s a Lola stop that gives me faith,” Meier said Saturday morning. “There’s a Lola stop that ignites our team.”
Indeed, the 6-foot-4 senior from Spain has been crucial to Miami’s success in the NCAA Tournament. Through the Hurricanes’ three consecutive victories over higher-seeded opponents, Pendande is averaging 11.6 points, 6.3 rebounds and a block per game.
But often, what Pendande brings to the floor doesn’t always show up in the stat sheet. Her presence – her tall stature, lanky arms and long curly dark hair – can be intimidating to opponents as they drive into the paint against Miami. Even if she doesn’t swat a shot into the stands, Pendande is making her opponents change their approach.
“She’s pretty cerebral, a lot goes on inside her head. She’s really thinking about the game. She’s really following the scouting report,” Meier said. “There’s something she does that just anchors us.”
If Miami aims to upset No. 3 LSU on Sunday in the regional final at Bon Secours Wellness Arena in upstate South Carolina, Pendande’s play will likely be a crucial component of the recipe that would pave the way for the Hurricanes to advance to the Final Four for the first time ever. In the post, Pendande will often be matched up with Tigers’ junior forward Angel Reese – an AP All-American First Team selection who is fifth in the nation in scoring and second in rebounding with 23.5 points and 15.6 boards per game.
Reese, who transferred into LSU last offseason from Maryland, had 17 points and 12 rebounds before fouling out in the Tigers’ Sweet 16 win over No. 2 Utah. It was Reese’s 31st double-double of the season, which tied her with Mississippi State’s Teaira McCowan for the SEC’s record for the most in a single year.
The good news is, Pendande and the Hurricanes are no stranger to playing against ultra-talented players. When Miami toppled No. 1 Indiana in the second round of the tournament, it had to beat Mackenzie Holmes, a fellow First Team AP All-American selection. And in the Sweet 16, the Canes had to slow down Villanova’s Maddy Siegrist, the nation’s leading scorer.
This will be the third straight game Miami has faced a team armed with a First Team AP All-American player.
“We have a tough matchup coming up, but we’re tough, too. We’ve been in situations like this,” Pendande said. “We’ve played teams like this, and this is a team that is pretty similar to our game, too. It’s not going to be an easy game. It’s going to be a dogfight, and it’s been a dogfight since we started.”
In that win over Indiana, Pendande was UM’s leading scorer with 19 points. She also had seven rebounds and two blocks. Against Villanova, she had six points and six boards, but played 26 minutes of relentless defense too.
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And Pendande’s size often allows her to box out multiple defenders, paving the way for her teammates to get rebounds. In each of Miami’s three NCAA Tournament wins so far, they’ve won the rebounding battle by an average margin of 6.6 boards per game.
“I think Lola is a big part of our success. I don’t think she’s talked about enough,” Miami forward Destiny Harden said. “I think the Indiana game, she really showcased her skills, offensively and defensively, and I think a lot of people overlook that. But I believe she’s been one of our top players on the team.”
Pendande transferred to Miami two years ago after playing her first two seasons of college ball at Utah. On the season, she averages 8.2 points and 4.4 rebounds per game while shooting 51% from the floor. Along with Haley Cavinder and Ja’Leah Williams, she’s one of three Hurricanes to start every game this season.
Should Miami win on Sunday, not only will it be the first Final Four appearance ever for the Hurricanes, but they will be the lowest seed to advance to the national semifinals since Arkansas – also a No. 9 seed – did in 1998.
To beat LSU, the Canes will need everyone – especially Pendande – to play their very best.
Said Meier: “There’s going to have to be quite a few Lola stops.”