November 23, 2020 

Louisville’s games vs. MTSU, Bellarmine canceled; Jessica Breland joins Duke

And many more ACC notes

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Louisville’s Dana Evans plays against N.C. State at Reynolds Coliseum in Raleigh, N.C. on Feb. 13, 2020. (Mitchell Northam, The Next)

Jeff Walz knew that he was going to have to be flexible with non-conference scheduling this season as the coronavirus pandemic rages on. Earlier this offseason, the Louisville head coach said he was in touch with about “10 schools within driving distance” that he could call up and throw a game together quickly if one of the contests on the Cardinals’ schedule was scrapped.

Just days before the start of the season, Walz might have to call up a few of those teams.

No. 5 Louisville announced Monday morning that its season-opener at Middle Tennessee State University on Wednesday had been canceled.

While Louisville’s statement used the word “canceled,” a statement from MTSU athletics said that the team’s games vs. Louisville and Vanderbilt have “been postponed due to positive COVID-19 test results and contact tracing within the Lady Raider bubble.” According to MTSU, there were two positive tests within the team on Friday.

For Louisville, it’s the second schedule change this season as Division I newcomer Bellarmine canceled its Dec. 6 game vs. the Cardinals at the KFC Yum! Center last week.

According to a statement from the Cardinals, Walz is seeking replacements for both games.

Unless a replacement game is scheduled this week, Louisville will open its season at Cincinnati on Nov. 28 at 2 p.m. EST.

Jessica Breland joins Kara Lawson’s staff at Duke

Playing for the Atlanta Dream, Jessica Breland blocks a Dallas Wings shot on Aug. 11, 2018 at McCamish Pavilion in Atlanta, Georgia. (Mitchell Northam / The Next)

A former Tar Heel is going to be spending a lot of time at Cameron Indoor Stadium this season.

The Duke Blue Devils announced Friday that they had hired Jessica Breland as an operations intern. She’ll be with the team for the next three months, at least.

“Our program is thrilled to have a person of Bre’s character join us,” Duke head coach Kara Lawson said in a statement.  “Her story is incredible. One of perseverance and focus. I was one of her vets when she came into the WNBA and I am proud of how her game continues to grow. She will be a powerful presence that our players can learn from daily.”

Breland, 32, was a standout player at UNC. She was named ACC Sixth Player of the Year and helped the Tar Heels win an ACC title as a sophomore and then led the conference in blocked shots as a junior in the 2008-09 season. After missing the 2009-10 season while being treated for Hodgkin’s lymphoma, she averaged 12.4 points, 7.1 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game as a senior. UNC went to the NCAA tournament each season she was on campus in Chapel Hill.

A native of Kelford, North Carolina, the 6-foot-3 forward was selected in the second round of the 2011 WNBA Draft by the Minnesota Lynx, but she was traded to the New York Liberty and then later signed with the Connecticut Sun, where she was teammates with Lawson.

“Nearly 10 years ago when I was a rookie in the WNBA, Kara was my vet and she took me under her wing,” Breland said in a statement.  “She successfully went on to break countless barriers and opened closed doors in the sports and entertainment industry.

“Joining her staff at Duke is that full circle moment for me.”

Breland had some of her best years as a pro with the Chicago Sky and Atlanta Dream. She was a WNBA All-Star in 2014 with the Sky and was second in the league with blocks (58) while also averaging 9.7 points and 6.8 rebounds per-game. In 2018, she was a WNBA All-Defensive Team selection and formed a formidable front-court partnership with former Blue Devil Elizabeth Williams. Breland was fourth in the league in rebounds (269), third in blocks (65), third in defensive win shares (2.7) and first in defensive rating (93.7) as the Dream made the WNBA semifinals.

Prior to the 2020 WNBA season, Breland was traded to the Phoenix Mercury, but opted not to go to the league’s “Wubble” in Bradenton, Florida because of potential health risks with her being a cancer survivor.

ACC extras

  • Kara Lawson’s debut as the head coach of the Duke women’s basketball team will be aired live on ACC Network on Wednesday. The Blue Devils’ game vs. Longwood tips off at noon EST from Cameron Indoor Stadium and will be the first women’s basketball game the network broadcasts this season. Pam Ward and LaChina Robinson will have the call. Duke is not allowing fans at games to begin the year.

  • No. 23 Syracuse will open its season on the road on Nov. 29, traveling to Stony Brook for a 2 p.m. EST tip-off. The Seawolves went 28-3 last season, winning the America East regular season and tournament title. Syracuse and Stony Brook have played each other three times in the last five seasons and the Orange have won each meeting.

  • Virginia Tech will play a five-game non-conference slate at home to begin its 2020-21 season. The Hokies will host Richmond on Nov. 25, Liberty on Nov. 28, George Washington on Dec. 1, Appalachian State on Dec. 4 and Gardner-Webb on Dec. 6. The Hokies haven’t played App State or GW since 2012.

  • Also at Virginia Tech, Shawn Poppie has been promoted to Associate Head Coach. Poppie, a graduate of Limestone College where he played point guard, has been an assistant under Kenny Brooks in each of the past four seasons. He primarily works with the Hokies’ guards.

  • Pitt signed just one player to an NLI for its 2021 recruiting class, inking Maliyah Johnson to a scholarship on Thursday. A 6-foot-1 forward from Columbus, Johnson also had an offer from Ohio. She has helped her high school team win a pair of state championships. Said Lance White: “Maliyah is an exciting player because she brings a lot of versatility, and she is a proven winner. She has a competitive edge that is unique and something we are always searching for.”

  • Despite the NCAA giving all winter athletes an extra year of eligibility, don’t expect Tiana Mangakahia to return to Syracuse for the 2021-22 season to chase records. The fifth-year Orange guard from Australia said last week on a Zoom call: “It’s been on my mind, but I feel like this will be my last year here… 80 to 95% sure this will be my last year in college.”

  • There’s a lot of new faces at Virginia that could be playing key roles this season as just two of the Cavaliers’ top seven scorers return. Sophomore Carole Miller is one, and she is expecting freshman Deja Bristol to be a “monster” on the boards for the ‘Hoos. Miller said her teammates have nicknamed Bristol “Truck” because of her willingness to run someone over to get a rebound. Miller also said on a Zoom call last week that she sees Dylan Horton and Amandine Toi being Virginia’s top three-point shooters. Head coach Tina Thompson added that Toi — a sophomore who shot 32% from beyond the arc last season — is the only player on the team who has challenged her to a shooting contest.

Written by Mitchell Northam

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