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Three things to know about Virginia's ACC Tournament matchup with Syracuse

Three things to know about Virginia's ACC Tournament matchup with Syracuse

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Virginia guard Shemera Williams (left) shoots in front of Syracuse’s Amaya Finklea-Guity (center) and Kiara Lewis (right) during their game earlier this season at John Paul Jones Arena.

The Virginia women’s basketball team opens postseason play on Thursday when it takes on Syracuse in the second round of the ACC Tournament at the Greensboro Coliseum. Tip off is set for 2 p.m.

Both teams had first-round byes in the tournament. Syracuse (15-14, 9-9 ACC) is the No. 8 seed in the tournament, while Virginia (13-16, 8-10 ACC) is seeded No. 9.

Virginia finished the regular-season tied with Notre Dame for ninth place in the ACC, but earned the No. 9 seed and a first-round bye thanks to its 90-60 win over the Fighting Irish during the regular season.

Here are three things to know about Thursday’s matchup.

Slumping Syracuse

The Orange enter ACC Tournament play on a three-game losing streak. Since beating Clemson on Feb. 20, Syracuse has suffered losses to Notre Dame, N.C. State and Boston College.

Despite the recent struggles, the Orange are not lacking in talent. First team All-ACC guard Kiara Lewis averages 17.6 points per game, which ranks third in the ACC. She also leads Syracuse in assists with 144.

The Orange also boast a strong frontcourt, led by Emily Engstler, who ranks third in the ACC in rebounding at 9.4 boards per game.

Syracuse, which has five players that are 6-foot-1 or taller, leads the ACC in blocked shots (6.14 per game) and offensive rebounds (14.8 per game).

Virginia had arguably its best defensive performance of the year in its regular-season matchup with Syracuse. The Cavaliers led wire-to-wire in a 58-41 win at John Paul Jones Arena, limiting the Orange to 26.3 percent shooting and their lowest point total since 2007. Virginia limited Lewis to just two points.

Scholar athlete

Virginia senior guard Jocelyn Willoughby won the Kay Yow Award, which goes to ACC women’s basketball’s Scholar-Athlete of the Year, on Wednesday.

Willoughby is the first player in Virginia women’s basketball history to earn the honor, which has been awarded annually since 2008. She also is the fourth UVa student-athlete to be named the scholar-athlete of the year for their sport for the 2019-20 athletic year, joining Joe Bell (men’s soccer), Jordan Mack (football) and Rachel Robinson (field hockey).

Willoughby also was named to the All-ACC academic team, making her Virginia’s first four-time recipient of that honor. Since the creation of the All-ACC academic team in 1998, there have only been 12 players who have made the team four times.

Willoughby also excels on the court. She was a first team All-ACC selection and leads the conference in scoring at 19.4 points per game.

Louisville awaits

The winner of Thursday’s game will advance to play top-seeded Louisville on Friday at 2 p.m. in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals. The No. 4 Cardinals finished the regular season with a 27-3 record and a 16-2 mark in the ACC.

Louisville is led by ACC Player of the Year Dana Evans and ACC Defensive Player of the Year Kylee Shook. Evans enters the postseason averaging 17.9 points per game while shooting a league-best 42.2 percent from 3-point range. Shook is Louisville’s all-time leading shot blocker and has recorded a program-record 83 blocks this year.

She averages 2.8 rejections per game, which leads the ACC and ranks 11th in the country.

Louisville beat Virginia 71-56 at the KFC Yum! Center on Jan. 23 in the teams’ lone matchup during the regular season. The Cardinals split their two games with Syracuse, beating the Orange 62-58 at home on Dec. 29 before losing at Syracuse 59-51 on Feb. 9.

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