PISCATAWAY _ The goal is to "keep the ball bouncing, make things shake," said Randolph native Aliyah Huland El when discussing Virginia's desire to extend its season as long as possible.
Huland El, a senior guard, and the 10th-seeded Cavaliers triumphed in their first-round NCAA game, defeating No. 7 California, 68-62, on Friday, March 16 at 5 p.m. at Colonial Life Arena in Columbia, S.C.
Virginia (19-13) is in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2010 so Huland El and her teammates, including fellow Jerseyans Jocelyn Willoughby and Lauren Moses, are eager to make an impact.
"Honestly, we've worked so hard for this, especially the seniors," said Huland El, who scored the 1,000th point of her collegiate career on Feb. 1 versus Louisville. "To say we're going dancing... To make history... The dream has come to fruition. We'll do our best to make things happen."
The team, Huland El said, had a plan from the start of the season and that was to gain a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
"We hope to win a few games," she said. "We're going to keep fighting. We were in shock at first but we are ready."
Huland El, one of three Virginia players in double figures with 12 in the NCAA opener, has come up with some big offensive performances of late, one of them a 19-point showing against Georgia Tech in the ACC Tournament. In the ACC quarterfinals, she scored 13 points against Notre Dame. Also notable were the 21 points Huland El had in win over Georgia Tech in late January. She is averaging 10.1 points and has started 27-of-32 games.
When Virginia visited Rutgers early in the season, Huland El, who aspires to be a pediatrician, was thrilled to be in her home state and to play before family and friends. However, in a span of 1:07 in the first quarter, Huland El was charged with two fouls and was removed from the game. She saw several more stints on the hardwood but 3:37 into the third quarter, Huland El was whistled for her third foul. She ended with four points and four rebounds.
"I'm usually not in foul trouble," Huland El said after the Dec. 4 game at RU. "My team needs me on the floor. I'm disappointed in my thought process. I'm more disciplined than what I showed. I shortchanged the team in the long run. Still, being here is nice. It's good to be home. I'm on home turf, I guess. A lot of my Jersey family came to the game."
While at Virginia, Huland El learned much, mainly about "stretching myself as an individual and dealing with and overcoming adversity, whether it involved school, basketball or was people related."
Her goal was to start as a freshman but her role was being the sixth or seventh player. Huland El adapted and made the best of it, bringing energy.
"I quickly found out starting isn't everything," Huland El said. "What makes a difference is who's in at the end and who makes an impression throughout the game."
Huland El, the all-time leading scorer in girls high school basketball in Morris County with 2,286 points, hopes to play overseas when her collegiate career comes to a close. She'll have to wait until June or July to find out if teams have an interest.
"I'll play if there's a good, viable financially sound option," she said. "It would be a great experience. I'd love to keep playing."
***PHOTO GALLERY FROM DEC. 2, 2017 VIRGINIA AT RUTGERS GAME BELOW***