Virginia to hit Clemson
Cavaliers seek season sweep against reeling Tigers, hope for .500 in conference
The Virginia women's basketball team will square off against the Clemson Tigers Sunday in the Cavaliers' first home game in nearly two weeks. Only five games remain in the regular season, and with Selection Monday a month away, the Cavaliers (17-8, 5-6 ACC) are looking to finish their season strong to bolster their NCAA tournament resume.
"I feel good about where we are at this point in the season," coach Joanne Boyle said. "Do we have a little weary legs? Yes. But as a whole, we're in great condition, and if we give them a day off here or there, we'll be good ... I've had teams that start to drag later in the season, but I think our momentum is carrying us upwards."
Though their games against ACC opponents have produced mixed results, the Cavaliers performed well at some points during their two most recent victories. Three Cavaliers scored double-digit points last Sunday against NC State, and the team netted 22 points off of 25 Wolfpack turnovers. Junior guard Lexie Gerson leads the Cavaliers with 82 steals for the season.
Though opponents have found weaknesses in the interior of Virginia's zone defense, the Cavaliers' defensive strategy has been a major factor in creating a conference-leading turnover margin of plus-8.8 turnovers per game.
"As long as we're getting deflections and transition [in the zone] that's good," senior guard Ariana Moorer said. "Obviously there are times when teams are going to pick you apart a little bit inside."
Virginia's effort on the defensive end led to similar results in a Jan. 29 victory against Florida State when the Cavaliers scored 28 points off of 23 forced turnovers and out-rebounded the Seminoles 36-34, a positive sign given the team's season-long rebounding struggles. Senior forward Chelsea Shine led the team with six boards in that game and has a team-best 150 on the season.
"We need our posts to step up," Boyle said after the Florida State game. "We can't rely just on our guards for scoring, and in the zone they were hiding a little bit. To me, what Chelsea really brought was getting her hands on loose balls to give us second chance opportunities. Four or five times she saved and gave us back possession, and that is what we need from our posts day in and day out."
Sunday's game will be the second time this season the Cavaliers challenge the Tigers (6-16, 2-9 ACC). The first contest resulted in a 54-47 Virginia victory as the Cavaliers picked up their first ACC win of the year Jan. 8. Virginia trailed the Tigers 25-23 at halftime but pulled ahead early in the second half and steadily gained separation from the Tigers the rest of the way. Shine led the team, scoring 13 points, followed by junior center Simone Egwu, who notched a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds.
Since the loss to Virginia, Clemson has gone 2-6, but did manage to pull off a stunning upset of No. 22 North Carolina in Chapel Hill. The Tigers, however, suffered a crushing loss to Maryland last night, 91-61. Clemson's only other conference win came against ACC bottom dweller Virginia Tech. The Tigers rank next to last in the conference in both scoring offense and turnover margin, two weaknesses which bode well for the Cavaliers, who are also second in the conference in scoring defense, sporting a stingy 53.6 points allowed per game.
The Clemson match-up also marks the third annual "Pink Zone" game, where the Cavaliers promote breast cancer awareness. The Cavaliers will dress in pink uniforms, and fans are encouraged to wear pink as well.
A Virginia win would put the team at .500 in the conference and keep alive the team's faint hopes of earning one of four first-round byes in the ACC tournament. "Every game is important, but we're just gonna come out and play Virginia basketball, and hopefully the results will follow," Gerson said.
Tip-off is scheduled for 2 p.m. Sunday at John Paul Jones Arena.