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Pack, Heels lurk ahead

Virginia vies for critical ACC wins with seven conference games to go

The Virginia women's basketball team heads to North Carolina this weekend to take on two ACC rivals before returning home to face another pair of conference opponents next week.

With only seven games remaining on the regular season schedule, the outcome of each game impacts Virginia's seed for the ACC tournament, as well as the team's chances for a potential bid to the NCAA tournament or WNIT in March.

Despite a mediocre conference record, the Cavaliers (16-7, 4-5 ACC) are looking to improve on that mark and distinguish themselves from the crowded middle tier of the conference.

Virginia is currently tied for sixth place with NC State (14-8, 4-5) and Florida State (12-11, 4-5). North Carolina (16-5, 6-2), however, is ranked third in the ACC and is probably the tougher of Virginia's two opponents this weekend.

"We have seven games left now, so we talk about how important this game is [against Florida State], especially since there is a group of us bunched in the middle of the pack [in the ACC] and you want to separate yourself," coach Joanne Boyle said after the Cavaliers' win Sunday against the Seminoles. "To have a home game on TV against a really good team with a good RPI is a great time to separate yourself and we took care of business tonight."

The last two times the Cavaliers went on the road they lost to Maryland and then Georgia Tech. They are 4-3 on the road overall.

The Cavaliers' defense has performed well, averaging 53.4 points allowed per game and sitting just behind Duke's conference-leading mark of 53.2 points per game.

Virginia has also displayed consistency from the free throw line, making 72 percent of its attempts, the third-best percentage in the ACC. The Cavaliers had 25 opportunities from the charity stripe last time out and made 14 of 15 in the second half as they pulled away from the Seminoles.

The team needs to shore up its offensive performance, however. Virginia is dead-last in conference three-point shooting percentage, making only 26.3 percent of its shots from behind the arc. In contrast, both NC State and North Carolina rank in the top five in the ACC in this category.

Last year's game against the Wolfpack featured a closely contested quadruple overtime battle, which the Cavaliers eventually won 94-92. Senior guard Ariana Moorer broke the tie with a buzzer-beating running jumper.

Moorer proved her late-game confidence again last week when she capped off the game against Florida State with a big three.

"That was a crazy game," junior guard Lexie Gerson said of last year's contest with the Wolfpack. "I can remember each overtime and who made the basket and how it went down because it was a great game."

The Cavaliers hope to handle their business in regulation this time around.

"Four OT's, we were tired but we held our own in that game," Moorer said. "It won't be like that this game. We'll try to take care of it in regulation."

The Cavaliers will have to work hard to keep junior guard Marissa Kastanek from reaching the basket. Kastanek averages 12.9 points per game, just ahead of Moorer's 12.7 average, and has made 84 percent of her free throws. Last year she had a game-high 23 points against the Cavaliers.

Junior guard China Crosby contributed 19 points in that game, but will not be able to compete this weekend because of a season-ending injury she suffered earlier this month.

Moorer, Gerson and sophomore forward Ataira Franklin will carry the scoring load in her place, as they have done since her injury. Last Sunday Franklin tallied 11 points and six steals. Gerson has scored 34 points and racked up 12 steals in the past three games.

"Losing China is a really big deal, but we play for her every game," Gerson said. "We put her number on our shoes, and she's my right-hand man - I need her every game with me to tell me what I'm doing wrong, to help me out."

Virginia lost to North Carolina 64-52 last season but eked out an 82-78 triumph in double overtime against the Tar Heels the previous year.

Senior center Chay Shegog leads the Tar Heels with 16.6 points per game, which puts her second in the ACC. Her 52.2 percent field goal percentage is sixth-best in the conference.

The Tar Heels are currently riding a four-game winning streak, but Coach Boyle is confident Virginia will rise to the challenge.

"The North Carolina game is a challenge for us, but we always talk about being road warriors," Boyle said.

Virginia plays the Tar Heels tonight at 8:30 p.m. in Chapel Hill and the Wolfpack at 2 p.m. Sunday at Reynolds Coliseum.


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