Rejuvenated Virginia readies for ACC Tournament
Cavaliers eye postseason run in Greensboro after upset win
Following a rejuvenating win in its regular season finale, the Virginia women’s basketball team heads to the ACC tournament in Greensboro, N.C. for a first round matchup against No. 11 seed Boston College Thursday. The Cavaliers will look to build off their momentum from topping Florida State at home Sunday by making a surprise postseason run.
“I think the general morale of the team is different,” junior guard Ataira Franklin said. “We’re a lot more excited, a lot more passionate, knowing that we really have an opportunity to come out and make a statement, make a run, and knowing that we can play with the top teams in the ACC despite limited numbers.”
The 72-60 win against the then-No. 24 Seminoles was possibly the team’s most complete performance since losing junior guard Kelsey Wolfe to a knee injury. Starting in Wolfe’s place, freshman guard Faith Randolph scored a career-high 19 points on 8-of-18 shooting from the field to lead Virginia. Randolph had struggled to earn consistent minutes this season, but her performance Sunday impressed her fellow players and the coaching staff.
“The first thing we said when we got back in the locker room was ‘Faith, you have changed,’” senior point guard China Crosby said. “We were so excited. As a freshman, you go through shooting slumps. But, just to see her happy, and to know that I believe in her and the whole team believes in her with her shots… we were just like ‘keep shooting, keep shooting.’”
Randolph’s outburst not only helped propel the Cavaliers to a victory, but it also provided some much-needed relief for Franklin, who has carried Virginia offensively in recent weeks. Taking the lion’s share of the team’s scoring load lately, Franklin has been essential, averaging 19.6 points per contest in her last five games. She was rewarded for her efforts Monday by being named to the All-ACC first team for the first time in her career.
“It’s definitely exciting, an honor, a blessing,” Franklin said. “It’s definitely a humbling experience to even be considered one of the top players in the ACC, so I was just really excited, and shocked and overwhelmed. You find out news like that, but it can’t go to your head because you have to turn around and play in the [ACC Tournament] among those great players.”
The win against Florida State gave the Cavaliers the No. 6 seed in the tournament and slotted them into the final game of Thursday’s opening round. The game against the Eagles will be the third meeting between the two teams this year, and it provides the Cavaliers with an opportunity for some redemption. After defeating Boston College 69-57 in Charlottesville Jan. 24, Virginia lost 61-49 in Chestnut Hill Feb. 14, its first loss in what would become a disappointing five-game losing streak.
“We’re definitely taking this game a little more personally,” Crosby said. “You’re going to see the best basketball from Virginia when we play against BC.”
The loss against the Eagles was one game in a string of inconsistent play from the Cavaliers in February, and their shortcomings that evening should provide a glimpse at what they need to do better this time around. Boston College went 8-for-18 from 3-point range in the game, including seven long balls from senior guard Kerri Shields alone. Playing without senior forward Telia McCall, the short-handed Cavaliers were unable to slow the Eagles defensively.
“We didn’t play our best basketball,” coach Joanne Boyle said. “We had a good night [in the first game against Boston College], but up there [in Chestnut Hill], Telia was out, we kind of had to change our lineup at the last second and we just didn’t play well. We didn’t play well on the road and we didn’t play well defensively. [There were] easy things that we can clean up.”
If the team gets by Boston College, it will set them up for a Friday matchup against third-seeded North Carolina, who defeated Virginia 71-60 Jan. 17 in Chapel Hill. The tournament will be the last in the careers of seniors Crosby, McCall and center Simone Egwu, and Crosby believes the Cavaliers can make noise in Greensboro despite losing five of their final six regular season games.
“We’re just excited about going down there and trying to make a statement,” Crosby said. “This ACC tournament is my last one, [Egwu’s] last one, [McCall’s] last one, so we’re all trying to go out there with a bang.”
Tipoff is scheduled for 8 p.m.