Team eyes ACC Tourney
Sixth-seeded Virginia battles 11-seed Boston College at Greensboro tonight
The Virginia women's basketball team may have solidified its NCAA Tournament resume with a three-game winning streak to wrap up conference play, but the Cavaliers can leave nothing to chance in tonight's opening round match-up of the ACC Tournament against 11th-seeded Boston College.
Virginia (21-9, 9-7 ACC) finished in a tie for fifth in the conference with North Carolina (19-10, 9-7 ACC) but drew the sixth seed because of its head-to-head loss against the Tar Heels. With a roller-coaster regular season finished, the team looks to advance past the ACC Tournament's opening round for the first time since 2009.
"There's been a lot of adversity this season," senior forward Chelsea Shine said. "It's been a great journey so far, and I think the team has done such a great job sticking with each other and sticking with the coaches. [The] coaches are behind us, and we're behind the coaches and with that dynamic of trust and respect, we can do a lot."
Virginia bested Boston College (7-22, 2-14 ACC) 69-58 in Charlottesville Jan. 21 during a back-and-forth affair which featured six ties and 10 lead changes. Sophomore guard Ataira Franklin led the Cavaliers with 21 points, and junior guard Lexie Gerson had a breakout performance defensively with six steals as the Eagles committed 20 turnovers. During that game, Virginia began a trend which has since become increasingly familiar but no less unorthodox, as it was out-shot 49 percent to 38 percent but still coasted to victory.
The team's formula has focused on winning the hustle stats and letting the scoreboard take care of itself. In the win against the Eagles, the Cavaliers took 14 more shots than their opponent by amassing a plus-15 turnover differential and overcoming an early deficit to control the rebounding battle, 34-33.
"We talk about all the little things and one of those things is just the toughness factor and getting rebounds," coach Joanne Boyle said.
Sophomore forward Katie Zenevitch leads the Eagles with 10.6 points per game and sophomore forward Kristen Doherty follows closely with 10.2.
When the Cavaliers last faced Boston College, however, it was backup sophomore guard Shayra Brown who put her stamp on the game. Brown came off the bench to score 25 points on 10-of-11 shooting, making all three of her three-point attempts.
With a new coach Joanne Boyle at the helm, Virginia has concentrated on defensive tenacity and has rarely allowed breakout performances like Brown's. Part of the team's makeover has included employing zone defense almost exclusively this season, and the results have been unequivocally positive. The team has an ACC-best mark of 53.2 points allowed per game and has held 22 opponents to fewer than 60 points, matching the school's all-time record set in 1974-75 and 1980-81.
The downside of even the most effective zone scheme, however, is a spread-out defense vulnerable to offensive rebounding, which has plagued the Cavaliers all season long. Should Virginia again top Boston College, the team will face the No. 3 tournament seed Maryland (25-4, 12-4 ACC), a squad which took full advantage of the Cavaliers' rebounding woes in the teams' second meeting.
Maryland swept the season series and handed Virginia its only double-digit home loss of the season Feb. 16, a 73-56 setback for the Cavaliers. The Terrapins corralled an unseemly 22 offensive rebounds - just four fewer than the total number of rebounds for Virginia.
Despite its potential drawbacks, Boyle has stayed firm in her defensive philosophy. As the only new piece on a veteran squad devoid of freshmen, Boyle risked alienating the team with her demands, but the Cavaliers' seniors have backed their new coach.
"Any time there's a big change like that, a lot of eyes look to you to see what you're going to do," Shine said. "I think it was important for [senior guard Ariana Moorer] and I to make sure that our teammates knew that we had completely bought in to the system so there was kind of that example there for them to follow."
Franklin and Moorer earned All-ACC Honorable Mention and All-ACC Second Team honors, respectively, Monday, and Boyle knows her seniors' complete commitment will drive the team's success during the ACC Tournament.
"When you have seniors who buy in, it makes everything so much easier because they just bring the younger teammates along," Boyle said. "They just kind of set a precedent that they wanted to have this year be special for them and they have put everything in at practice"