Cavalier Corner

April 2018

Cavalier Corner is the publication just for UVa sports fans!

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 15 of 95

16 CAVALIER CORNER BY SEAN LABAR T HE CORE ROLE PLAYERS OF the 2017-18 Virginia women's basketball team vividly recall the disappointment they felt in the moments directly after last year's NCAA Selection Show. Their hearts were racing throughout the entire broadcast. Their eyes were glued intently to the screen. Despite a 19-12 record to close out the regular season, the nervous Wahoos never heard the word "Virginia" called. They were crushed. UVA's last trip to the NCAA Tournament in 2010 seemed further and further away. "Last year, we were heartbroken," fourth-year guard Aliyah Huland El said. "We were absolutely expecting to have our name called." From that moment, the mission for the 2017-18 season became crystal clear. The Hoos would build on the momentum gained from a winning season and fine- tune the details of their game that hin- dered them from advancing. They would work relentlessly to perfect their craft. Flash-forward a year later and the UVA women's hoops squad found themselves in a familiar setting, huddling closely at their tables in a Charlottesville restau- rant to take in the NCAA Selection Show March 12. With an 18-13 record following a 1-1 showing in the ACC Tournament, this year's group felt more confident be- cause of a stronger non-conference slate and an improved 10-6 regular-season mark in ACC play, one of the biggest areas they struggled in during the 2016-17 campaign (when they went 7-9 in conference games). Still, nothing was certain. The fear and uncertainty lingered. Just seven minutes after the broadcast launched on ESPN, the Cavaliers' anxi- ety was quickly morphed into joy. Vir- ginia was slated as a No. 10 seed and was primed for a matchup with No. 7 Califor- nia on college basketball's biggest stage. UVA was going dancing once again. "I feel like the disappointment of not making it to the tournament last year truly made us want it more," second-year guard Jocelyn Willoughby said. "We were really in-sync with one another. This group was a little different. We knew each other re- ally well, not only on the basketball court, but off the floor. "We hung out all the time. It was just that cohesiveness as a unit, not only as players, but throughout the coaching staff and really everyone involved. We wanted to work hard for one another — and show pride for the name on our jersey." Outsiders might take a glance at Virgin- ia's final record — or after watching their resilient 68-62 victory over Cal in the first round — and assume they took a fairly easy path to receiving the coveted tourney berth. The opposite was true. There were several times early in the season where UVA looked shaky and raw — a shell of the NCAA Tournament team they would eventually become. In the season opener, the Cavaliers bat- tled Mississippi State before falling 68-53. The Bulldogs went on to compete in the national title game, so despite the defeat Virginia showed it was capable of compet- ing with the top teams in the nation. After eight games, UVA held an unim- pressive 3-5 record, a far cry from the hot start the players had hoped for. The early non-conference slate provided major challenges. The Hoos lost by three points at home against Georgia and were blown out of the arena on a road trip to Dayton. Duquesne came out on top at John Paul Jones Arena and UVA went toe-to-toe with a talented Maryland squad, but fell short by just a point in College Park, Md. With 10 games in the rearview mir- ror things continued to look bleak while UVA looked to bounce back from a 4-6 start. There were more question marks than answers. While fans, social media pundits and media personalities began to clamor about Virginia's early struggles, there was a Felicia Aiyeotan, a 6-9 second-year center, earned a spot on the ACC All-Defensive Team after finish- ing the season as the conference leader in blocks (69 total, 2.1 per game) and ranking 11th in the league in rebounding (6.9 boards per game). PHOTO BY MATT RILEY/COURTESY UVA MISSION ACCOMPLISHED The UVA Women's Basketball Squad Earned Its First NCAA Tournament Bid Since 2010

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of Cavalier Corner - April 2018