Wake Forest’s improbable run

The Wake Forest Demon Deacons came into the ACC Tournament as a 12-seed after a lackluster season, and they weren’t expected to last more than a couple days. They took out 13-seed Virginia on the first day 68-57 with 19 points and three rebounds from junior guard Jewel Spear, and a ridiculous 11 rebounds from junior forward Demeara Hinds. On Day 2 against powerhouse 5-seed Florida State, they started the second half 18 points behind after scoring just 2 points in the second quarter. But a third-quarter rally led by Spear, senior forward Olivia Summiel and senior forward Demeara Hinds gave Wake the second-largest comeback in ACC Women’s history. They took a beating against Louisville the next day, but their point was made. I’ll be a fan of this team for life; I even started following some of them on Instagram.

Last year for the tourney at the Greensboro Coliseum?

The ACC Women’s Basketball Tournament has been held in Greensboro 23 of the past 24 years, skipping only 2017 because of the notorious NC Bathroom Bill, which was repealed and replaced after costing the state $3.76 billion in lost opportunities from film shoots, tourism, economic development, gay weddings and, yes, sports tournaments. That contract is up this year; a new one has not been signed. It’s possible that the women’s tournament might go the way of the men’s, for which Greensboro had been the default location for generations but now jumps around the country like the monster truck show. The Men’s ACC Basketball Tournament comes back to Greensboro this week. But it’s possible this could be the last we see of the women for a while.

Differences between the men’s and women’s game

To my shame, this is the first time I have covered women’s college basketball after decades of covering the men. So I quickly had to learn the differences. For one, there are four 10-minute quarters rather than two 20-minute halves. These game breaks can kill momentum, but also give players and coaches opportunities to change strategies or even just rest for a few minutes. The ball in the women’s game is one inch smaller in circumference, as well. But the biggest difference is the way the game is played. When there is no 7-footer holding the low post and no threat of a posterizing dunk at any given moment, fundamentals like ball-handling, set plays and shooting become more important. The women’s game is more about teamwork than individual play. Another big difference: The women put their Instagram handles on the roster.

A classic Tobacco Road showdown

During quarterfinals of the women’s tournament I covered my first-ever Duke-UNC game, just a day before the Duke men’s team delivered a heartbreaking loss to the UNC men in the ACC season finale. On the women’s side, Carolina beat Duke twice during the regular season, the last time just a week before. They don’t often meet in postseason play, and the Greensboro Coliseum teemed with the various shades of blue, the biggest crowd of the tournament yet. Duke, a 2-seed, ended up handling Carolina, a 7-seed, but it took all four quarters and more than a little bit of grit. It was a low-scoring affair, the most physical I’ve seen, with players scrabbling on the floor for loose balls and really knocking each other around. It was a great competition, but not such a great basketball game, except for the fact that it was Duke and Carolina, and they both played incredibly hard. Here’s hoping the men can match their intensity this week.

The Cavinder twins

One of the more interesting angles to the tourney was the story of the Cavinder twins, Haley and Hannah, sophomore guards for Miami. Haley is the best player on the team, leading Miami in regular season scoring with 372 and assists at 73. Hannah’s stats are a bit less impressive, but together the two have amassed more than 4.3 million TikTok followers with dance videos, makeup tutorials and glimpses into their personal lives that have already earned them more than $1 million in endorsements.

Greensboro connection

Though none of the North Carolina ACC teams made it to the final, there was a strong local connection on eventual tournament winner Virginia Tech: Two Northwest Guilford High grads who played there during their back-to-back championship seasons, 2017-18. Senior forward Cayla King and senior center Liz Kitley both contributed mightily on their team’s road to the championship. Kitley, who stands 6-foot-6, among the tallest in the conference, is a two-time ACC Player of the Year, is on every watchlist for the sport’s highest honors and will almost certainly be drafted to the WNBA in the first round. But, like all COVID-era players, she had an extra year of eligibility, so we shall see.

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