Women’s basketball takes on Georgia Tech at home
The Cavaliers hope to take down conference foe Yellow Jackets
The Virginia women’s basketball team gets a break from its gauntlet of ranked opponents when it takes on Georgia Tech (13-8, 2-6 ACC) Thursday at John Paul Jones Arena.
The Cavaliers (14-7, 3-5 ACC) come into the game off of a tough loss to then-No. 8 Notre Dame Sunday. Despite the loss, the team played tough throughout and took many positives from the experience.
“Even though we got down in that game and had to come back three times, [the team’s] body language and effort really showed that they were in it,” coach Joanne Boyle said. “It was a tough environment with 9,000 fans, so I was really pleased with our effort and how we kept our heads in the game.”
Despite the tough play, Boyle highlighted improvements that needed to be made moving forward while reflecting on the game.
“We just have moment when we’re tired and we don’t do a great job of understanding time and score,” Boyle said. “We’ll take a quick shot at an inopportune time, turn the ball over. We just need to work on closing out games and playing better in four-minute segments.”
One critical aspect that has helped keep Virginia in games is its balanced scoring since the start of ACC play. Four Cavaliers reached double digits against Notre Dame — a now common occurrence for the team. Freshman guard Jocelyn Willoughby, whose team-leading 16 points and nine rebounds earned her ACC Player of the Week honors, said she is grateful for the amount of scoring depth the Cavaliers have shown thus far.
“It’s really nice because there’s not any pressure on one person to feel that they have to score,” Willoughby said. “And you know that you have a balanced attack on the offensive end [which is] a really nice thing to have.”
Boyle said sees a lot of value in the Cavaliers’ scoring balance and thinks it can create a big problem for the rest of the teams they face.
“Any time you have good balance on offense, you’re harder to scout [and] you can’t just lay off of one person,” Boyle said.
The Notre Dame matchup was just one out of eight ranked teams that the Cavaliers play in their final 10 games — a brutal stretch that began against Virginia Tech last week. As a veteran coach, Boyle has been through this gauntlet before and knows what it will take from her team to get those big wins.
“I think as long as our effort and rebounding are there, we can play with anybody in the conference … we just need to be able to finish out games,” Boyle said. “Our defense, rebounding and effort feed into our offense. Having five out of our last eight games at home will help as long as we can hold down our home floor.”
Willoughby offered a similar assessment, stating that a high effort level is key to winning.
“The biggest key is bringing energy and effort every day so we can get those rebounds and loose balls each game, which bring extra plays and more valuable possessions,” Willoughby said. “Not every shot is going to go in, but if you control defense and effort [the game] will go smoothly.”
Even though Georgia Tech isn’t a ranked team, Boyle knows that the Yellow Jackets will be a tough out because of their aggressive style of play.
“[The Yellow Jackets] are scrappy, they play physical, and they’re a great rebounding team, especially on offense,” Boyle said. “They’re one of the most physical teams in the conference, so matching that intensity with defense and rebounding will be the key.”
The Yellow Jackets are a mediocre shooting team, averaging 39 percent from the field, but they create many opportunities with their rebounding game. Sophomore guard Kaylan Pugh leads the team with 11.8 points per game, and junior forward Zaire O’Neill follows her closely with 11.6, proving that the Yellow Jackets have scoring options on the inside and outside.
Despite the tough challenge that Georgia Tech brings, Virginia has the luxury of playing on a home court that was electrifying in the team’s monster win against Virginia Tech last week.
“I think our audience has been following us and seeing our growth over the last few games,” Willoughby said. “I’m really excited for these next few games.”
Boyle sees the Georgia Tech game as one that can spark a streak for the Cavaliers.
“We’re a complete team, and we’ve got a lot of pieces,” Boyle said. “We’ve still got a lot of work to do, we have a lot of growth, but we have the pieces here to really make a run in February.”
Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. at John Paul Jones Arena.