By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — At least once a day, ESPN.com’s resident bracketologist for women’s basketball updates his projections for the 64-team NCAA tournament. University of Virginia head coach Joanne Boyle tries not to check the site too often.
“You can drive yourself crazy looking at Charlie Creme’s bracket every day,” Boyle said last week. “Monday’s a long way off, so you have to occupy yourself with other things. We’ve done what we can. It’s out of our control.”
The Cavaliers, who are in their sixth season under Boyle, are 19-12 overall after losing March 3 to eventual champion Notre Dame in the ACC tournament quarterfinals in Conway, S.C.
Virginia, which finished the regular season 7-9 in ACC play, earned a first-round bye in the conference tournament as the No. 8 seed. UVA defeated No. 9 seed Wake Forest 61-44 in the second round.
The Wahoos, who have made three WNIT appearances during Boyle’s tenure, hope to advance to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2010. In the bracket Creme updated Friday night he had UVA as one of the last four teams in the field. He projected Virginia as a No. 11 seed.
“Hopefully we’ve done enough,” Boyle said. “You want to do more, but hopefully we’ve done enough for [the players] to get a taste of [the NCAA tourney] and see what it’s about.”
ESPN will carry the women’s selection show from 7 to 8 p.m. Monday, and the team will get together to watch it at John Paul Jones Arena, Boyle said. After having a few days off for spring break, the Cavaliers reconvened in Charlottesville last week and resumed practicing.
“Even if we are a bubble team, they have to experience the high or the low of [the selection show],” Boyle said. “They need to understand this is why every game is so important.”
During the regular season, Virginia lost to Northwestern, Syracuse and Louisville after squandering double-digit second-half leads in each game. Also costly were road losses to North Carolina and Pittsburgh. Had the Cavaliers won at least one of those games, no anxious moments would await them Monday night.
“You always preach to the kids that every game matters,” Boyle said, “and when you’re a bubble team, it really does come down to one game or two games.”
Whatever happens this postseason, Boyle likes the direction in which her program is headed. The Cavaliers have only one senior — guard Breyana Mason (10.1 ppg) — and all four of the team’s freshmen have contributed this season.
“I just think there’s a really, really strong foundation,” Boyle said.
Credit the first-year class for that. Dominique Toussaint and Jocelyn Willoughby were named to the ACC’s all-freshman team, Lisa Jablonowski has started seven games, and Felicia Aiyeotan is one of most intriguing players in the college game.
Aiyeotan, a native of Nigeria who stands 6-9, averages 4.8 points, 3.8 rebounds and 12.8 minutes per game, and she leads the team with 53 blocked shots. She needs to get stronger and improve her balance, but her role has grown recently, and her potential is almost unlimited.
In the ACC tournament win over Wake Forest, Aiyeotan contributed 10 points, six blocks and five rebounds in 21 minutes.
“This summer is going to be big for her,” said Boyle, who’s confident Aiyeotan will put in the necessary work.
“The thing about Fe is, she lives in the gym,” Boyle said. “She’s like Jocelyn. People have come in randomly at 9:30 at night, and Fe’s in the gym.”
The 5-9 Toussaint (Staten Island, N.Y.) and the 6-0 Willoughby (East Orange, N.J.) were well-regarded recruits from Christ the King and Newark Academy, respectively. Even so, Boyle wasn’t sure what to expect from them as freshmen.
“You just never know,” Boyle said. “You don’t know about their temperament. Can they handle the pace and the grind and the mental fatigue that comes with it? You can’t ever judge that.”
Both players have handled the rigors of Division I hoops well. Toussaint (9.5 ppg) is second on the team in assists and steals. Willoughby (9.5 ppg) leads the team in rebounding and steals.
The `Hoos still don’t protect the ball as well Boyle would like — they average 16 turnovers a game — but they’ve made strides in rebounding and on defense this season.
“I think there’s definitely some strong categories that we were concerned about in the past that I feel like we’ve corrected and righted the ship,” Boyle said.
From the start last summer, the newcomers meshed well with UVA’s returning players, and team chemistry has been excellent this season. Overall, there “have just been more pieces this year,” Boyle said.
“I think the foundation is really good. I think it’s solid.”