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Women's basketball hosts Canes in home finale

Team celebrates departing seniors, seeks return to .500 record

The Virginia women’s basketball team plays its last home game of the season Thursday against Miami, as both teams aim to finish with winning records. The Cavaliers (13-14, 6-8 ACC) were one game above .500 last week before their matchup against two ranked ACC opponents, North Carolina and NC State.

Coach Joanne Boyle stressed defense to her team heading into the last four games of the season, and the Cavaliers held UNC’s freshman standout guard Diamond DeShields to zero points in the first half, allowing only 13 all game. However, Virginia failed to produce enough points to upset the Tar Heels in an erratic offensive performance.

“We’re not consistent,” Boyle said. “You know, we have to be a consistent team. We’re better at home than we are on the road, and we’ve got to buck up.”

The Cavaliers’ field goal percentage was better on Sunday against the Wolfpack — 51 percent versus the 32.8 percent posted against the Tar Heels — but the Cavaliers came up just short on the road, losing 68-66.

“I think the progress for us as a team is, can we sit down and guard, rebound, and [do] the little things on offense?” Boyle said. “I mean, typically we’re a good shooting team, but, you know, flow of the game — can we get to the rim? Do we need to get to the free throw line? Are we open for threes? What’s that flow like? And [we need to] understand that. We’ve had enough games to figure that out.”

The Cavaliers will try to connect on both offense and defense in order to win Thursday, when senior captains Ataira Franklin, Lexie Gerson and Kelsey Wolfe will play for the last time at John Paul Jones Arena.

Franklin, a guard, said she has sought to approach each game like her last.

“That’s just the mentality I try to have,” Franklin said in January. “I mean, pretty soon, it will be my last game, and that’ll be pretty heartbreaking. But that’s just my approach every single time. Just leave it all out there on the court. Don’t have any regrets. Don’t want to have any shoulda-woulda-couldas. If I can slide on the floor and get that extra possession, then that’s what I’m gonna do.”

Franklin has been a constant provider of points for the Cavaliers during her four-year stint. During the 2012-13 season she eclipsed 1,000 points — the 29th player in program history to achieve this.

Wolfe, also a guard, missed the last four games of the regular season last year with a knee injury and is now leading the ACC in free throw percentage. Redshirt senior guard Gerson, meanwhile, was afforded another year of play after hip surgery caused her to miss the entire 2012-13 season. Before surgery, she was the team’s best defensive player and was named to the 2012 ACC All-Defensive Team. Gerson currently leads the conference in steals per game at 2.7.

While Miami’s senior day is not until Sunday, the matchup against Virginia will be its last road game of the regular season. Like the Cavaliers, the Hurricanes (14-13, 6-8 ACC) are fighting to end the season with more wins than losses and get to .500 in the ACC.

In their most recent outing — also this past Sunday — Miami beat Wake Forest 72-64. In the game, the Hurricanes had the most steals in an ACC conference game this season, with 19. Miami was also able to hold Wake Forest’s All-ACC contender, junior forward Dearica Hamby, to only five points and five rebounds in the second half to secure the win.

Hurricane freshman guard Adrienne Motley, who played high school basketball in Virginia, is an offensive leader on the team, scoring scored in double-digits in 15 of her last 17 games.

Virginia’s freshman guard Tiffany Suarez, on the other hand, will play against her hometown team for the first time. During her high school career, she made the All-Dade County team twice before leaving the Sunshine State for Virginia.

“Leaving Miami was hard, because I love my city, but I wanted to go somewhere that I was needed and would be able to fulfill my dreams,” Suarez said. “I felt like Virginia was the perfect place for me.”

Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. Thursday at JPJ.