Team faces off against formidable opponent
Cavaliers play No. 11 North Carolina Thursday in Chapel Hill
The Virginia women’s basketball team faces one of its most brutal tests of the season Thursday as it heads to hostile Chapel Hill to take on No. 11 North Carolina.
It has been nearly three years since the Cavaliers (11-5, 3-2 ACC) last beat the Tar Heels (17-1, 5-0 ACC), and that February 2010 victory was Virginia’s only win in the series in the last 17 meetings. Last year’s matchup featured a heartbreaking double-overtime 78-73 loss at home. That memory is helping drive the team this time around.
“I’m excited for the pressure that they’re going to bring and about the game,” senior guard China Crosby said. “Knowing that we were just that close to them last year gives us a little more motivation.”
North Carolina has been tenacious on defense this year, allowing just 55.1 points per game and averaging an ACC-best 14.9 steals per game. The Tar Heels’ defensive scheme is predicated on throwing their opponents out of rhythm. But the Cavaliers are determined to keep their composure against the pressure.
“We’re putting in a couple of new plays, but the main focus is staying poised,” Crosby said. “That’s what we did [in our Jan. 10 win] against Georgia Tech and their pressure, and that’s the kind of poise we need to have against North Carolina, and it starts with me. If I’m flustered in their traps, then everybody else is flustered.”
Offensive execution was key to Virginia’s win against NC State Sunday. The Cavaliers’ 78 points scored was their second-highest output so far this season and the highest conference total under coach Joanne Boyle. Boyle’s squad is not necessarily built for high-scoring affairs, but the Cavaliers will need to put up points against the Tar Heels, one of two remaining undefeated teams in ACC play.
“If we continue to be the aggressor, then we’ll score those 78 points, or those easy 10 or 15 transition points that we can get,” Crosby said. “If we back it out and get stagnant, that’s what they want us to do, so we just need to be aggressive and hopefully those points will come for us.”
Virginia may have an edge against North Carolina on the glass, where the team has outrebounded opponents by 6.7 boards per game. Although the Tar Heels feature nine players on their roster listed at six feet or taller — including 6-foot, 6-inch senior center Waltiea Rolle — the Cavaliers have been the superior team on the glass.
“We know that they’re not as good at rebounding as they were last year,” senior forward Telia McCall said. “We know that we can rebound. We’re not going to go down not playing Virginia basketball, we’re going to go down and play our game.”
McCall has averaged a team-high 8.4 rebounds per game, good for fifth in the ACC, and her play has been crucial of late. The 6-foot, 1-inch McCall has notched double-doubles in three consecutive games and has shined in her first season as a starter.
“[McCall] has been tremendous. We’re not the deepest team, we’re not the most athletic team in the conference, but as long as everyone is fulfilling their role, we’ll be successful,” junior guard Ataira Franklin said. “She’s stepping in and filling that role.”
North Carolina comes into the game riding a 10-game win streak, including a 60-57 victory against then-No. 8 Maryland Jan. 3. Virginia’s resume would receive a major boost with an upset against the Tar Heels, giving the squad the statement conference victory that it lacked a season ago when the team fell short of an NCAA tournament bid.
“Last year, when we didn’t make the NCAA tournament, one of the things they were saying was that we didn’t have a signature ACC win,” Franklin said. “Any time that you can go and just beat a top team in the conference, it’s definitely a confidence booster, and just the fact that it’s on their home floor would be a great steal for us.”
Tipoff is set for 6:30 p.m.