Women’s basketball takes on No. 16 Miami on road
Virginia aims to keep NCAA Tournament hopes alive against ranked opponent
It has been a season of many ups and downs for the Virginia women’s basketball team. But, with its goal of making the NCAA Tournament still in reach, the team is looking to get on a roll at the end of its season. The Cavaliers (15-8, 4-6 ACC) travel to Coral Gables, Fla. Thursday to take on the Miami Hurricanes (17-6, 6-5 ACC) for its next challenge.
Last week’s two game slate was a microcosm of Virginia’s boom-or-bust season, with the team winning an overtime thriller against Georgia Tech Thursday before losing to a dominant Duke squad Sunday. Problems arose when the Cavaliers let up a large second half lead to the Yellow Jackets due to turnovers.
“I thought we played very well in the first half against Georgia Tech,” coach Joanne Boyle said. “But [in the second half], we got stagnant and did not do well moving the ball, so we struggled to score.”
The turnover issues carried over to Virginia’s matchup against Duke.
“In the Duke game, again, we came out of the gates okay, but they caused turnovers with their zone,” Boyle said. “I think the theme goes back to taking care of the ball and getting movement against the zone.”
The Cavaliers average 65.5 points per game but could only muster 51 points against Duke and needed overtime to get 65 points against Georgia Tech against some tough zones. Boyle said she always preaches to her team that defense creates offense, and the Cavaliers have taken that message to heart in trying to improve.
“I just want to be able to shut down their key players, keep them from scoring [and] make them have a worse shooting percentage,” freshman guard Dominique Toussaint said. “I think that’s going to lead [to] better rebounding on the defensive end, which will lead [to] offensive scores.”
Though she is only a freshman, Toussaint has settled nicely into a starting role with the Cavaliers, and she has seen her game steadily improve with increasing play time. Her team-leading 16 points against Georgia Tech and 10 points against Duke earned her ACC Freshman of the Week honors — an accolade that Cavalier freshman guard Jocelyn Willoughby won the week before.
Boyle has found two reliable starters in Toussaint and Willoughby — who are both only in their freshman years. This will bode well for not just the future, but also for the rest of this season.
“[Toussaint and Willoughby] have played a lot of minutes from day one, and they’re growing,” Boyle said. “Any time you can give young [players] minutes, they can mature, and you hope they can learn from mistakes and see success.”
Maturity and experience will be invaluable for the freshman duo as they take on a high-energy Miami team on the road. The Hurricanes hung tight with the ACC frontrunner Florida State in a close 81-66 loss, and before that rattled off three-consecutive wins.
“Miami is one of the more athletic teams in the conference — they want to make [the game] a track meet,” Boyle said. “We need to keep the game at half court but still push up tempo. It’s more of taking care of the ball, limiting turnovers and keeping them to one shot.”
The turnover battle may be the deciding factor in the game. Although the Hurricanes force 18.4 turnovers per game, they also give the ball up 16.7 times per game. Virginia’s ability to exploit this weakness, along with limiting its own mistakes, could make for a Cavalier upset.
The Cavaliers will need to play at a high level to beat many of the teams they face in the final few weeks of the regular season — knowing an NCAA Tournament bid could be in jeopardy if they slip up. This sense of urgency could fuel the Cavaliers as they face some tough assignments.
“Going into the tournament you just have to have consistent play, and you have to go out each night to try to build some momentum going into the tournament,” Toussaint said. “We’ve just got to pick it up,”
Tipoff against Miami is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday in Coral Gables, Fla.