What a week for the Lady Tigers. To begin ACC Tournament week, Clemson’s head coach, Amanda Butler, was named the ACC Coach of the Year in just her first season at the helm.
The basketball team finished the regular season as the No. 7 ranked team in the nation and marked one of the biggest turnarounds in the history of ACC basketball. On the year, Clemson played a much more up-tempo style, increasing their points per game from 50 to nearly 69. The team also locked down on defense, ranking fourth in the nation in total steals.
In her first taste of postseason action with the Tigers, Butler’s team performed admirably. Clemson defeated No. 10 Virginia Tech in overtime, 80-79, in the second round of the ACC Tournament after securing a first-round bye.
The two teams were nearly identical across the stat line, with no team having a clear advantage in rebounds, field goals, three-pointers, free throws or steals. Clemson was able to pull away, though, in field goal percentage and scoring off of the bench thanks to a dominant performance by senior guard Aliyah Collier.
Collier has become a matchup nightmare this year, a feat which is especially impressive given the fact that she often does not start games, instead she provides a spark coming off of the bench. Against the Hokies, Collier took a team-high 22 shots, and was able to convert on nearly half of them, including four three-pointers, to rack up 28 points on the night.
Her effort was most important in the overtime period, which came to be thanks to a spectacular Kobi Thornton jumper with 11 seconds left to knot the game up at 71-71, when Collier simply could not be stopped. After Within the first 90 seconds of overtime, Collier had knocked down back-to-back three’s to give Clemson an early edge. By the end of the frame, Collier had tallied every one of Clemson’s nine points, ensuring the Tiger’s would move on to the ACC quarterfinals for the first time in ten years, where they would face Louisville.
The Tigers did fall to the Cardinals 75-67, but Clemson fought for every second of the game.
Amanda Butler described the game by saying, “We battled foul trouble the whole time but didn’t let any distractions keep us from what we were trying to do, which was to continue to battle, continue to fight and continue to be the ugly ducklings.” said Butler.
The team did struggle with foul trouble as guard Danielle Edwards fouled out and Collier was forced to play conservatively before finishing the game with four fouls.
Both teams locked each other down at the three-point stripe with neither team shooting over 30 percent from beyond the arc.
At the end of the first half, Clemson was hanging with the heavily favored Cardinals and were down just six points. The Tigers then mounted a blazing run in the third quarter, outscoring Louisville 25-13. Collier was a major component of the scoring outburst, pouring in 14 points in just the third quarter alone.
The Cardinals did manage to pull away in the fourth quarter and win the game, though. Louisville guard Asia Durr was outstanding throughout the game, scoring 24 points on a variety of mid-range jump shots and crafty layups around the rim. Clemson’s leading scorers were Collier and Simone Westbrook, who both finished with 17 points.
Now, the Tigers will wait to learn what seed they will be in the upcoming NCAA Tournament. After finishing the regular season with an 18-11 record and advancing to the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament, Clemson should easily make the tournament.
The field for the Women’s Tournament will be announced Monday, March 18.