Cavalier Corner

April 2017

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BY SEAN LABAR F OLLOWING HER SIXTH YEAR as Virginia's women's basketball head coach, Joanne Boyle is con‑ fident her team is on the cusp of becoming a consistent NCAA Tournament contender. There was a familiar feeling while the Cavaliers clung to their seats on Selection Monday March 13. For the second time since Boyle took over the program in April 2011, Virginia (20‑13) was deemed the first team out of the 64‑squad tournament field, and for the seventh straight season UVA would miss a chance to compete on college basketball's biggest stage. "That's happened twice now and it's dis‑ heartening," Boyle said of barely missing the NCAA Tournament. "I tell the team we have to get off the bubble, we can't be letting other people make these decisions for us. "We have to make sure we take care of business. I do feel like we were a tourna‑ ment team this year and will continue to be one." For the NCAA selection committee, there is no exact science. Virginia owned an RPI of No. 53, which ranked 37th of all teams that didn't receive an automatic berth. Boyle's group padded its résumé with a commanding 61‑44 victory over Wake Forest in the ACC Tournament and clung to the Feb. 16 win over No. 4 Florida State as an insurance policy to an already above‑ average track record. But the 7‑9 ACC finish didn't help the Hoos' cause, and while Virginia was great at home (12‑3) it struggled on the road (6‑8), two factors that were also likely heavily weighed. "Being so close and having it ripped away so quickly was rough and unexpected," ju‑ nior forward Lauren Moses said. While the shock and disappointment of missing the NCAA Tournament lingered, Boyle wasn't sailing through unchartered waters. For the third straight season, she shifted her focus and began to meticulously prepare for the Women's National Invitation Tournament (WNIT). Once again, disappointment made an un‑ welcomed appearance. The Cavaliers — who received an auto‑ matic bid to the WNIT with a 19‑12 regu‑ lar‑season record — were eliminated from the postseason with a 61‑56 loss to James Madison in the second round. Their season came to an abrupt end. The countless hours of practice and preparation felt like a distant memory as Boyle and her team pondered over "whys" and "what‑ifs." They knew they could have made a significant run in the WNIT. They knew they were good enough to skip the WNIT in the first place and compete in the NCAA Tournament. They knew if it weren't for a few missed shots and poorly executed plays, there would be a much dif‑ ferent narrative. This wasn't the slightly above‑average 18‑16 finish at the end of the 2015‑16 cam‑ paign. This team felt like it was capable of making some postseason noise. "We fell short," Boyle said. "We lost a couple of games we shouldn't have lost, which took pride from people. I thought we had a rhythm this year that we haven't had in the past, especially on the defensive end of the floor. "Hopefully we can build off that next year with obviously the youth on the team getting a lot of minutes this year as fresh‑ man first‑years." While the initial feeling of loss hurt, the tone quickly shifted from heartbreak to opti‑ READY FOR TAKEOFF The Young Cavaliers Fell Just Short Of The NCAA Tournament, But The Future Is Bright First-year guard Jocelyn Willoughby started all 33 games for UVA in 2016-17, and aver- aged 9.8 points, 6.2 rebounds and 1.7 steals per contest on her way to ACC All-Freshman Team honors. PHOTO BY MATT RILEY/COURTESY UVA 16 ◆ CAVALIER CORNER

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