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Women’s basketball looking to postseason

Kim Montuoro, Contributor

Clemson women’s basketball team huddles up before a game in 2017.

With two consecutive conference victories, the Clemson Tigers women’s basketball team is two games out of a first-round bye for the upcoming ACC Tournament. 

Marred by injuries in January, the Tigers have used February to prove that they are indeed just as good as their 8-0 start to the season indicated. Currently, Clemson stands at 14-11 overall and 3-9 in the ACC.

Last week, Clemson outmatched the North Carolina Tar Heels at home 78-67, producing arguably its most complete offensive performance of the season. 

Later in the week, the Tigers earned another impressive victory, defeating the Pittsburgh Panthers on the road. Though both opponents stand near the bottom of the ACC standings, they are premier programs playing in an exceptionally talented conference, and for Clemson to defeat them in a span of mere days speaks volumes on the job that Clemson head coach Audra Smith has done with this season’s team.

The Tigers did not win a single conference game last season, all part of a rebuilding process that Coach Smith has taken on headfirst. Through top-notch recruiting of elite scorers and rebounders, Smith has gotten the Tigers back on track as a program, and it is paying dividends this season.

Last month, the Tigers were forced to endure multiple injuries, including one to leading scorer Nelly Perry, preventing them from settling into a rhythm. Now, with health on their side, the Tigers are showcasing just how dangerous their team can be on both sides of the ball and are making a valid case for potential inclusion in the NCAA Tournament. 

Trailing by 15 at one point against UNC, it was evident that the Tigers’ hopes of making it into the Big Dance for the first time since 2002 were slipping away. 

However, an offensive upswing unlike anything seen out of Clemson since the start of conference play rejuvenated those hopes, as the Tigers used a 22-12 run in the third quarter to incite a comeback. 

Fueled by breakout star Aliyah Collier, who scored a career-high 27 points, Clemson fired on all cylinders in the process of knocking off a perennial powerhouse and used the momentum garnered from that triumph to collect another spectacular win their next time out on the hardwood.

Defense was the story of the Pitt victory, with the Tigers forcing the Panthers into 19 turnovers. 

Consistently converting those turnovers into points, Clemson outmatched Pitt in every facet of the game, including outrebounding the Panthers by 14, en route to earning a critical road victory that will assuredly assist in the Tigers’ quest for a March Madness berth.

Several Tigers have stepped up in recent weeks to bolster Clemson’s cause. Sophomore guard Collier is perhaps the most naturally talented player on the team’s roster with 14 rebounds, a remarkable amount for a guard. Collier’s performance proved to be the X factor in the Tigers’ victory over the Tar Heels. 

Also coming on strong as of late, freshman Kobi Thornton, who added 19 points versus North Carolina, is proving to be another stellar recruit of Coach Smith’s, as the athletic forward can stretch the floor and produce points at will.

With only two weeks remaining in the regular season, Clemson is gearing up for a postseason run at the most opportune time. Although the ACC is the deepest conference in the nation this season, as it has been for several seasons now, the Tigers could potentially use that to their advantage by accruing an upset or two in the ACC Tournament to improve the overall quality of their postseason résumé. 

Regardless, Clemson has proved down the stretch that they are on the rise and primed to compete in the ACC for the foreseeable future because the talent is definitely there, and the Tigers’ characteristic will to win is becoming synonymous with Clemson women’s basketball.

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