Virginia takes on in-state rival No. 19 Virginia Tech
Women’s basketball looks to make a statement against Hokies
Rivalry games in college basketball historically put pressure on teams to go out and perform their best, but when Virginia takes on No. 19 Virginia Tech Thursday, the stakes might be even higher for the Cavaliers (13-6, 2-4 ACC). A tough start to ACC play has the Cavaliers hungry for a big win, and the Commonwealth Clash against the Hokies (16-3, 3-3 ACC) is their next chance to get it.
“We try to treat it as any other ACC game, but any time these two teams play each other, there’s a lot on the line,” assistant coach Tim Taylor said. “Both team want to win this game more than the other ACC games.”
Virginia rebounded from three-straight losses at the start of ACC play with two wins but dropped a close game to Pittsburgh its last time out. Though the Cavaliers have played fairly well in each game, they still haven’t found a way to win consistently.
“Basketball is a game of possession, and in our wins, we’ve done a good job of securing possessions, limiting turnovers and rebounding the basketball on both ends of the floor,” junior guard Aliyah Huland El said. “But lately we haven’t done as well in those areas.”
Coach Taylor has seen flashes of great play from the team thus far, and he believes they can take a big step forward by correcting some in-game issues.
“I think we’ve been able to compete for a long time with some of the top teams,” Taylor said. “We’ve been starting to rebound better in these last few games. We just have to be mindful of taking care of the ball and limiting those 6-0 runs.”
The Cavaliers will have to continually play well if they want to have a shot at beating a juggernaut Hokie team. Though Virginia Tech has come back to earth in the ACC after being undefeated in non-conference play, this team is far different from the one that finished 18-14 overall and 5-11 in the conference last year. Virginia Tech coach Kenny Brooks has the Hokies off to their best start in years, earning them a No. 19 national ranking going into Thursday’s matchup.
“Winning breeds success, and [Virginia Tech] has a coaching staff that knows how to win,” Taylor said. “They’re playing with a lot of confidence. Kenny has brought that to the team, and I think that’s the biggest difference I’ve seen with them.”
Huland El also said Virginia Tech has a talented squad.
“They’re a hustle team,” Huland El said. “They’re very skilled on offense and defense, and their new coach has put them in the best position to score and succeed.”
Virginia Tech’s scoring has been led this season by sophomore guard Chanette Hicks, who is averaging 16.5 points per game. Perhaps the Hokies’ most versatile player is sophomore forward Regan Magarity, who is averaging a double-double this season. She set a new team record with seven-straight double-doubles in Virginia Tech’s loss against Florida State.
To have a shot at beating the Hokies, Virginia must have a better shooting performance than it did against Pittsburgh, when the team shot only 33.3% from the field.
“We’ve been shooting generally well this season — I think the last game was an anomaly,” Taylor said. “We just have to continue to take good shots and get those extra passes so we’re not forcing shots.”
The Cavaliers and Hokies played each other twice last season, with Virginia Tech coming out on top in both contests. The teams will once against play twice this season, and Virginia has the luxury of home court advantage this week.
“I think in any season you have to be able to hold home court, because you know you’re going to play better there,” Taylor said. “We’ve had some big road wins and let some get away, but we have to hold it down here.”
Winning at home Thursday would be crucial to turning Virginia’s conference hopes in an upward direction, especially with a brutal upcoming schedule. The Hokies are one of eight currently-ranked teams that Virginia will play in its final 10 games, so starting that stretch off on the right track Thursday will be crucial.
Thursday’s Commonwealth Clash matchup will more than just a usual rivalry game, as both Virginia teams will look to finally establish themselves as competitive in a loaded ACC field. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. at John Paul Jones Arena Thursday night.