Mohammed helps Virginia reach ACC quarters

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Aisha Mohammed knows high-scoring teammates Monica Wright and Lyndra Littles can't do everything for No. 24 Virginia. The senior figured the best way to help them was to get aggressive on the boards again. Mohammed had 16 points and 16 rebounds to help the Cavaliers beat Virginia Tech 66-57 on Thursday night in the first round of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, giving Virginia yet another win against its instate rival. Littles added 14 points for the sixth-seeded Cavaliers (23-8), who dominated the boards behind Mohammed and led almost the entire way. They led by 18 points at halftime and never let the margin slip below nine in the second half, sending Virginia into Friday's quarterfinals to face No. 8 Duke. Virginia has won six straight meetings with the 11th-seeded Hokies (12-18). Mohammed came in as the league's leading rebounder at 9.9 per game, and cracked the double-digit mark for the 14th time this season. She also went 8-for-13 from the field as the Cavaliers dominated on the interior. It was the type of rugged inside performance the Cavaliers need from Mohammed as opponents focus on slowing Littles and Monica Wright, who each are averaging 21 points per game. "We all have to step up and play the game, not just Monica and Lyndra," Mohammed said. "So I made a promise to myself that I'll contribute in any way. I'm going to come out and do my work, and that's what I get." Mohammed had a double-double by halftime to lead the Cavaliers' 31-11 edge on the boards. They had 14 offensive rebounds and scored 17 of their 19 second-chance points in that half, including a stickback jumper from Britnee Millner in the final minute that made it 39-21 at the break. Virginia Tech did a better job on the boards in the second half, holding Virginia to one offensive rebound. But by then, the damage was done. "(Mohammed) is hard to keep off the boards," Virginia Tech coach Beth Dunkenberger said. "When she plays that hard, it's hard to stop her." The Cavaliers, the ACC's third-best rebounding team, finished with a 46-34 rebounding advantage. "We have rebounding guards, as well as post players, so our guards know that they have to rebound a little bit for us, and a couple of times, we had some guards get in there and make a big difference for us," Virginia coach Debbie Ryan said. "We are a team that really takes pride in its ability to offensive rebound as well as to keep people off the boards. It's a real emphasis for us and it's something that helps us win." The loss ended a frustrating year for the Hokies, who lost leading scorer Brittany Cook to a knee injury in the preseason. Then they suffered five-game losing streaks in January and February to finish with just two ACC victories for the second straight season. Utahya Drye scored 21 points for Virginia Tech, which has lost five of seven ACC tournament games since joining the league in 2005. The Hokies trailed by as many as 21 early in the second half before they started keeping the Cavaliers off the boards and knocking down shots to close the gap to 11 with about 15 minutes left. Yet time and time again, the Hokies missed chances to cut further into that deficit and started running out of time. Virginia Tech twice got the deficit down to nine around the 6-minute mark, the last time on Laura Haskins' basket in the lane that made it 60-51 with 5:11 to play. But Littles answered with a contested hanging jumper then followed with another from the baseline, pushing the lead to 13 with about 4 minutes left. The Hokies didn't get the deficit inside of double figures again until the final seconds. "Every time they made a run," Ryan said, "we had an answer."

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