- College football reporter.
- Joined ESPN.com in 2008.
- Graduate of Northwestern University.
When Haley Cavinder stepped to the foul line Monday night, twin sister Hanna looked on from Miami’s bench, completely confident in what would happen next.
Miami led No. 1 seed Indiana 66-65 in the second round of a 2023 women’s NCAA tournament game at raucous Assembly Hall. After Indiana missed a runner, the Hoosiers fouled Haley Cavinder with 12.7 seconds left. She had set an NCAA single-season record for free throw percentage last season at Fresno State (97.3%) and entered Monday’s game leading Miami in free throw percentage (88.6%).
Still, Haley had never taken foul shots under more pressure. Miami was trying to reach the Sweet 16 for just the second time in team history and the first since 1992.
“When Haley went to the line, I was like, ‘It’s a sealed deal,'” Hanna told ESPN on Wednesday night. “Haley’s made for that.”
Haley calmly sank the free throws. Then, she did something her twin didn’t expect. Indiana’s student section had been chanting, “TikTok,” a nod to the Cavinders’ massive TikTok following, and Haley brought her fingers to her lips. Shhhh.
“She’s not the one to shush a crowd,” Hanna said. “I was like, ‘OK, you tell ’em. Let ’em know.’ I was proud of her and proud of our team.”
Miami went on to win 70-68 after Destiny Harden’s game-winning basket with 3.5 seconds left. Haley Cavinder’s shushing, along with Harden’s shot and F-bomb in her postgame interview, will be among the memorable moments of this year’s tournament. The ninth-seeded Hurricanes, who have won their two tournament games by a combined three points, face No. 4 seed Villanova on Friday (2:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) in Greenville, South Carolina.
A win would send Miami to its first Elite Eight and continue the season for the Cavinders, who are playing in their first NCAA tournament.
“It’s something we dreamt about for such a long time,” said Haley Cavinder, who leads Miami in scoring (12.6 PPG) and ranks second in rebounding (4.9) and assists (2.5). “I know that sounds kind of corny, but every basketball player wants to play at the highest level, the highest stage.
“We used to watch these games all the time, so being able to actually play in a Sweet 16 game is something I definitely check off my bucket list. … It’s very special.”
Haley was a three-time All-Mountain West selection at Fresno State, winning the league’s player of the year award in 2020-21 and its freshman of the year award in 2019-20. Hanna earned all-league honors her first two seasons and started three, alongside Haley. But Fresno State, which lost in the second round of the 2021 WNIT, never advanced to the NCAA tournament during their time there.
Last April, the Cavinders transferred to Miami, a move that resonated much more for its impact in name, image and likeness than in basketball. Hanna and Haley, who have 4.5 million TikTok followers and multiple lucrative NIL agreements, had become the faces of the NIL movement. Miami, meanwhile, had not hidden its desire to become a haven for athletes looking to maximize their value.
The twins saw Miami as a platform to grow their already surging brands. They also saw an opportunity to fully achieve their basketball goals. Hanna called transferring “that leap of uncomfortableness,” but the result, reaching the NCAA tournament and the Sweet 16, has been worth it.
“We used to always go and watch March Madness games with our mom,” said Hanna, who averages 3.9 points per game off the bench for the Hurricanes. “To think we’re in it now, in the Sweet 16, is full circle. This is why we sacrificed so much for this sport.”
The sisters have heard chants like the one at Indiana all season. Hanna said fans have chided her about her scoring average. There also have been positive responses during games. Opposing student sections like Indiana’s often bring up their social media activities, which the sisters find amusing.
“I know I gave them a reaction; usually I don’t,” said Haley Cavinder, a second-team All-ACC selection. “Obviously, we’re very known in the TikTok world and the influencing world, which I am very happy about, so I don’t really care. I knew it was coming, and I was like, ‘I’m gonna shush ’em.'”
“I’m just glad we won after I did that.”
Despite the cross-country transfer and arriving with attention, the Cavinders described their integration to Miami’s team as seamless. Haley loves playing alongside Harden — “the pride of our team,” she said — and other standouts, such as sophomore guard Jasmyne Roberts and senior forward Lola Pendande. Harden ranks second in scoring (12.1 PPG) and leads Miami in rebounding (5.8).
The twins could opt for another year of eligibility because of the NCAA’s COVID-19 waiver and will consider returning to Miami for the 2023-24 season. They have other opportunities beyond college basketball, including the WWE, which signed them to an NIL agreement in 2022.
But the Cavinders are trying to embrace the moment and the historic opportunity that awaits Friday as Miami tries to take a step closer to the Final Four.
“That would be insane,” Hanna said. “It’s a huge thing, but I try not to make it bigger than it is. Our club coach always reminded us, ‘You’re still playing the same game that you’ve been playing your whole life. It’s the same hoop, same ball.'”
Although the Cavinders are still generating TikTok content during the tournament, they aren’t anticipating anymore on-court displays Friday like Haley’s at Indiana.
“Nothing except celebrating at the end,” Hanna said.
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