SHAFFER: Women’s basketball presents double-trouble

Cavaliers’ sophomore duo is storming through the ACC


Sophomore guard Dominique Toussaint and fellow sophomore guard Jocelyn Willoughby have taken on huge roles in tandem with the Virginia women's basketball team.

Benjamin Burke | Cavalier Daily

The Virginia women’s basketball team got off to a slow start this season — to say the least. At the start of this year, the Cavaliers had NCAA Tournament expectations following a superb showing from their freshman class last season and plenty of returning upperclassmen.

In a recent stretch of inspired play, Virginia (16-9, 9-3 ACC) opened in-conference play with an impressive five-game winning streak and currently sits at nine ACC wins.

While anyone on the Cavaliers will tell you they could not have achieved their recent success without a total team effort, many of their victories can be attributed to a pair of sophomore studs controlling the flow for the team.

Sophomore guards Dominique Toussaint and Jocelyn Willoughby are a dynamic force for Coach Susan Boyle and the Cavaliers, controlling the pace of the offense and providing incredible poise early on in their college careers.

The pair received All-ACC freshman team honors following their standout opening campaigns. Willoughby returned as the team’s leading scorer and rebounder, averaging 9.8 points and 6.2 rebounds per game. Toussaint poured in 9.5 points per game and proved she had the clutch gene to lead Virginia through tough closing stretches.

Even with the Cavaliers’ rough start to non-conference play, Toussaint consistently led the team in scoring, reaching double-figures in nine of the first 13 games. Toussaint averaged a team-high 11.7 points per game during that opening stretch. Willoughby was stellar in her own right, providing a force on the boards from the guard position and putting up 10.4 points per game.

The scoring prowess of the duo might not even be their most impressive strength, as they constantly hound defenses and force numerous turnovers and bad possessions.

“As a player, I think being able to change defense and keep opposing players on their toes is great for us,” Willoughby said after a victory over Clemson. “Just our energy and effort for us when we are locked in and communicating, personally there is nothing better than seeing the other team confused and a little fear in their eyes. That is what happens when we change our defenses, when we are all locked in. It definitely helps us to get turnovers and we convert those to points.”

As the ACC schedule came around, the standout sophomores knew they had to step their game up and also get the team more involved to come away with a better result. Throughout the beginning stretch of ACC play, Willoughby and Toussaint have provided timely scoring, and continued to grab rebounds and distribute the ball at an impressive level.

“I think Dom [Toussaint] does a good job,” Boyle said after a 62-50 win over Pittsburgh in their first ACC matchup “She has a good feel for the game, so when it is her time to score, she’ll find a rhythm in her scoring. When she feels like her shot is not on or we are looking for something else, she can distribute it. You look at players in the conference and, to me, she is one of the most complete guards in the ACC.”

Other Cavaliers have been able to get into a groove as a result of the sophomores’ stellar play. It took senior guard Aliyah Huland El a good chunk of the season to find her shot, but recently she has been able to take over more of the scoring load receiving more open looks as a result of the defenses shifting towards Toussaint and Willoughby.

The confidence the sophomore guard’s show presents an understanding of the game well past their ages, evident in late game situations where they remain as composed as can be.

Boyle noticed the potential Virginia possessed when Willoughby fires on all cylinders after a win against Clemson for their fourth straight ACC-victory at the time.

“I think, like Jocelyn [Willoughby] said, she’s put in a lot of work and sometimes for shooters, it is a mental game, you can get in a little bit of a slump,” Boyle said. “I think she has really worked hard to get herself to where she is and the balance that we have going in, you just never know.”

Just last week in a huge rivalry game against in-state opponent Virginia Tech, with the time winding down and Virginia trailing 62-59, Toussaint made a huge layup to bring the Cavaliers within one point. After taking a 63-62 lead, Willoughby forced a huge jump ball turnover and then was fouled on the ensuing possession, providing Virginia with a crucial free throw to ensure a two-point lead — which ended up being the difference in a 64-62 victory.

After the contest, Boyle had some inspiring words regarding the play of her sophomores down the stretch.

“They went up three, but I think that is where the resilience really came in,” Boyle said. “That was the point where we could have stopped, but our players had no quit in them at that point. If we can continue to do that, show that kind of resilience, that is what tournament teams do.”

If Virginia continues to see stellar performances from their starting sophomore guards throughout the rest of ACC play, they are a guaranteed lock for the NCAA tournament and have a chance to go as far as Toussaint and Willoughby can take them.

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