Cavaliers clash with Maryland
Boyle and team look to topple No. 8 Maryland, earn second win against ranked opponent this season
The Virginia women's basketball team gets one of its last chances to knock off a ranked opponent and prove it belongs in the NCAA tournament tonight, as it hosts No. 8 Maryland at John Paul Jones Arena.
The Cavaliers have not beaten a top-25 ranked opponent since earning a stunning upset against then-No. 3 Tennessee Nov. 20. With that win, the Cavaliers improved to 5-0 for the first time since 1997 and gave first-year coach Joanne Boyle her first victory against a ranked opponent as Virginia's head coach. Boyle is still searching for win number two.
Virginia lost 79-53 against then-No. 24 Texas in its first game after the marquee victory and has since lost all five conference games against ranked opponents. To punch its ticket to the NCAA tournament, Virginia will likely need one more headline-grabbing victory, but the Cavaliers are running out of chances with just four regular season games remaining before the conference tournament.
"I don't know, that's up for the committee to decide," Boyle said of whether her team needs a second win against a ranked opponent. "We'll just do what we do, and that's play basketball. We have 18 wins so we're right there and we just have to keep pushing forward."
The Cavaliers missed an opportunity to take down Maryland when they met earlier this year, squandering a four-point lead in the second half to lose 68-61. Virginia slowed the Terrapins powerful post tandem of sophomore forward Alyssa Thomas and junior forward Tianna Hawkins, who combined for just 14 points on 5-of-17 shooting.
Maryland outrebounded Virginia 43-33, however, leading to 16 second-chance points. The Cavaliers are just eighth in the ACC with a -0.6 rebounding margin this season.
Thomas leads the ACC with 17.0 points per game and was one of just six underclassmen to be named to the John R. Wooden Midseason Top 20 list, which identifies players under consideration for the national player of the year award. Thomas has earned three ACC Player of the Week awards this season, but this week's honor went to Hawkins, another member of Maryland's dominant frontcourt. Hawkins leads the nation in field goal percentage at 63.3 percent and is second in the conference with 9.4 rebounds per game.
"I think the game will come down to style of play," Boyle said. "I think the type of defense we run kind of neutralizes their inside game a little bit."
Maryland opened the season 16-0 but has since gone just 5-4, including two losses to No. 6 Miami and a stunning upset loss to Virginia Tech. The Terrapins blew a six-point lead to the Hurricanes Sunday and are in danger of ceding a potential first-round bye in the ACC tournament awarded to the top four teams in the conference. Maryland is tied with Georgia Tech for third in the ACC with an 8-4 conference mark but leads North Carolina by just one game.
Cavaliers senior forward Chelsea Shine and senior guard Ariana Moorer are also pondering the team's postseason fate, as their collegiate careers come to an end. The pair has not been to an NCAA tournament since their sophomore season, but both Shine and Moorer are looking past the obvious postseason implications of tonight's game.
"We had five games left and we're checking them off one by one," Shine said after beating Clemson Sunday. "Checked Clemson off and all we're focusing on now is Maryland."
The last time Moorer and Shine appeared in the postseason, they played a supporting role to the Cavaliers' one-woman force, guard Monica Wright. Wright often launched upwards of 25 shots per game as she averaged a team-record 23.7 points while becoming the leading scorer in Cavalier history with 2,540 points.
In 2011-12, however, the team has belonged to Shine and Moorer since junior guard China Crosby suffered a season-ending injury Dec. 20. Her absence sliced an already thin repertoire of offensive weapons for Virginia, but the team has weathered the loss by becoming one of the most frantic and unrelenting defensive units in college basketball. Buoyed by the emergence of junior guard Lexie Gerson, the Cavaliers rank fifth in the nation with 13.9 steals per game and lead the ACC with only 52.9 points allowed per game.
"This team enjoys playing defense, getting steals, getting tips," Shine said after Sunday's victory. "We came out and our goal was to do the little things and everything else will follow ... When we're flying around like we were tonight this is an unstoppable team."
Although a loss tonight would not be the final blow which seals the Cavaliers fate - they still have the ACC tournament to prove their mettle - a win would be a major step toward securing a positive decision come Selection Monday.
"It definitely is a goal of mine to get back [to the NCAA tournament] - but one game at a time," Moorer said. "That's how we think about everything. We're not looking down the stretch; we're just looking at the next opponent"