Virginia begins ACC Tournament against Wake Forest
Cavaliers look to make postseason run
It has been a season of many great highs and great disappointments for the Virginia women’s basketball team, who now find themselves in the middle of the pack as the No. 8 seed in the ACC Tournament. The Cavaliers (18-11, 7-9 ACC) will face familiar foe Wake Forest (15-14, 8-10 ACC) in the second round of the tournament Thursday. The tournament will take place at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, S.C.
Virginia has been one of the streakiest teams in the ACC this season, as their big wins against ACC powerhouses have been offset by tough losses against the ACC’s top tier. The last five games of Virginia’s season have been a microcosm of the entire year. The team rattled off three straight wins — the second being a grand upset against No. 4 Florida State — only to lose its final two games against ranked Louisville and NC State squads. Besides the home upset of Florida State, the Cavaliers’ other statement win came against then-No. 19 Virginia Tech in a 76-27 dismantling at John Paul Jones Arena.
The end of the season was obviously a trough for the team and coach Joanne Boyle as they look towards the playoffs. Yet, Boyle said there is a fighting spirit within her team that must awaken in the ACC Tournament.
“When you go to the tournament, you’re going to war,” Boyle said after a season-ending loss to NC State on Saturday. “No team is coming in at this time and changing who they are. You’re not practicing the next day or day and a half. You are who you are. So before you talk about what you’re going to run, you have to know you’re about to go to war.”
As far as the Cavaliers’ identity, Boyle has stressed three key areas of the game as keys to Cavalier victories — defense, rebounding and taking care of the ball. In practice, the team has functioned much like their male counterparts on coach Tony Bennett’s squad. While they defend extremely well — their 55.4 point allowed per game is second in the ACC to Duke’s 55.1 — but have trouble scoring at times, mostly in four-minute segments.
Virginia’s main asset on offense is its versatility, with many Cavaliers able to contribute in scoring and on the glass. Senior guard Breyana Mason carried her double-digit scoring, with her experience at point guard crucial to helping the younger Cavaliers develop. She is joined on the wings by freshmen guards Jocelyn Willoughby and Dominique Toussaint, who were named to the ACC All-Freshman Team this week.
The Cavaliers’ guard trio all average over nine points per game, but junior forward Lauren Moses has quietly led Virginia with 10 points per game this season, and she is always a double-double threat with her presence on the glass. The team’s major x-factor in the tournament, however, will likely be sophomore guard J’Kyra Brown, who has come alive off the bench with a strong three-point shot and an ability to create on offense.
Looking to the matchup Thursday, the Cavaliers and Demon Deacons met only three weeks ago at JPJ, with Virginia coming out on top in a 60-57 overtime thriller. After allowing only 13 points to Wake Forest in the first half, the Demon Deacons came alive in the second half to tie the game at the end of regulation. Virginia won on the strength of a scoring eruption of 12 points by Toussaint in overtime, and its momentum carried into the statement win against Florida State later that week.
With the Cavaliers’ inconsistent play throughout the conference slate and its substantial reliance on youth, it is hard to predict how long they might go in the ACC Tournament. Mason has been through the postseason three times in her career at Virginia, and she said the Cavaliers should look at the looming opportunity the tournament presents.
“Everybody at this point is probably feeling a little tired or fatigued, but you just have to grind it out and keep going,” Mason said. “The great players and the great teams are going to be the ones who overcome it.”
Tipoff between Virginia and Wake Forest in ACC Tournament action is scheduled for 2 p.m. Thursday at the HTC Center in Conway, S.C.