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ND Women’s Basketball

Irish look to clinch double-bye in ACC tournament

| Thursday, February 15, 2018

As the regular season approaches its close, No. 5 Notre Dame will travel to Virginia to face the Cavaliers with a chance to claim a double-bye for the ACC Tournament.

Virginia (16-9, 9-3 ACC) currently sits just behind the Irish (23-2, 11-1 ACC) in the conference standings, with a win for the Irish putting Notre Dame, who are tied at the top of the conference with Louisville, three games ahead and holding the head-to-head advantage with just three games remaining.

Sarah Olson | The Observer

Freshman guard Nicole Benz goes for a steal versus North Carolina on Feb. 1.

A victory would also prevent Duke, who the Irish beat on Feb. 4, from possessing a higher seed than the Irish, ensuring a top-four seed and the double-bye that comes with it is guaranteed.

To guarantee that double-bye, Muffet McGraw’s team will need to find a way to deal with one of the tallest players in the nation.

Standing at 6-foot-9, sophomore forward Felicia Aiyeotan and her ability to protect the rim has been a key part of the Cavalier defense this season. Aiyeotan leads the ACC and ranks 24th in the nation in blocks per game with 2.4, with her 60 total blocks keeping her within reach of the program record of 95 blocks in a season. Aiyeotan’s height has also helped on the boards for the Cavaliers, as she leads the team with 7.4 rebounds per game.

With Aiyeotan’s primary purpose on the court being defensive, the Cavalier offense this season has come primarily from four guards — sophomore Dominqiue Toussant, senior Aaliyah Houland El, sophomore Jocelyn Willoughby and senior J’Kyra Brown, who each average between 9.8 and 11 points per game. Toussant, who leads the team in scoring with 11 points per game, has also been Virginia’s leading facilitator, ranking 12th in the conference with 3.7 assists per game.

The Cavaliers started their season with some difficulty, with a record of 4-6 after a loss to Rutgers on Jan. 4. However, the combination of an improved performance and a back-loaded conference schedule allowed Virginia to start ACC play 5-0 and 8-1, receiving votes in the AP Poll losing only to Duke through their opening nine games and holding a share of the conference lead after Louisville’s defeat to Florida State.

However, when the Cavaliers did face some of the other teams around them in the conference standings, they struggled to keep up the positive form, losing 77-41 to Louisville before a defeat to Florida State. The Cavaliers’ slump almost looked worse, after Virginia lost a 23-point lead that was as high as 18 in the final quarter to Virginia Tech to trail by three in the final two minutes. But the team recovered to win 64-62. However, with Virginia still to play Louisville again and Miami after the Irish, their difficult stretch of opponents looks to continue.

The Irish will meet the Cavaliers at the John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Thursday. Tipoff is at 7 p.m.

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