The Virginia women’s basketball team attempts to hold onto its winning record this Thursday as it takes on ACC powerhouse No. 11 North Carolina at home.
Last time out, Virginia (13-12, 6-6 ACC) downed Virginia Tech, 80-64, for the team’s 10th double-digit win this season. In the game, the Cavaliers forced a total of 15 turnovers, including seven in the first five minutes, while only turning the ball over six times on the night.
“I know for myself in particular, early in the first half, when we were able to get up and we were fresh, then [the defense] was more effective for us,” senior guard Ataira Franklin said. “They had a lot of unforced turnovers when we had good ball pressure. We started the game off stronger [and] better, and we were able to get things going a little quicker than we have in the past.”
Virginia leads the 15-team ACC in turnover margin at 5.22 per game. Though the Cavaliers are also the No. 5 team in the ACC in steals, they are in the bottom half of the conference in almost every other defensive category.
“There’s going to be days when our offense isn’t falling,” coach Joanne Boyle said. “And so we have to get in the habit of being a better defensive team and a better rebounding team, because that’s what’s going to carry us throughout the game when our offense isn’t falling.”
Playing defense will be key against No. 11 North Carolina (20-6, 8-4 ACC), who is third in the ACC in scoring offense, averaging 84.1 points per game.
“[They are] obviously just ridiculous athletes, you know, that love to be in a track meet up and down the floor,” Boyle said. “I mean, they have shooters. They have a lot of different pieces there, too. So, again, it’s going to be a lot of game-planning, and then the players have to deliver and follow through and just will their way, to be honest.”
The Tar Heels come into the matchup on a three-game winning streak after losing three consecutive games against unranked opponents. North Carolina knocked off No. 3 Duke and No. 10 North Carolina State in the past week and a half, both on the road, in addition to a 36-point home win against Pittsburgh.
North Carolina freshman guard Diamond DeShields was named ACC Player of the Week and National Player of the Week by espnW after scoring 38 points — a school freshman record — in North Carolina’s 89-82 victory Sunday against NC State. Her 30 points were also enough to lead the team in its game against the Blue Devils.
Coming up as DeShields’ partner-in-crime is another freshman guard: Allisha Gray. Gray was the leading scorer in the Tar Heels’ win against Pittsburgh, scoring 21 points to add to DeShields’ 19. This past week, she averaged that amount plus seven rebounds, while shooting 57.1 percent from the three-point line, to capture her third ACC Rookie of the Week award.
“They’re a freshmen-run team,” Boyle said. “Obviously, they had a great recruiting class, and most of those kids play. You know, I think earlier on in the season, they were a little erratic. They’ve seemed to find their way.”
In contrast, the Cavaliers are still trying to find their way under veteran leaders like junior forward Sarah Imovbioh, who had a team-high 19 points and nine rebounds in the win against Virginia Tech. Imovbioh attributed her performance to adjustments made by the coaches and players between the halves.
“When we came out of the halftime … coach was like, I should dive — like demand the ball and post up so I can draw the defense, which allows free shots for my guards” Imovbioh said. “But I just felt like I have to be aggressive down low and go up strong and just attack the basket.”
The Cavaliers will need to be open to such adjustments to beat North Carolina’s explosive offense this Thursday at John Paul Jones Arena, where Virginia is 9-3 this season . Tip-off is set for 6:30 p.m.