By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — On its second possession Sunday afternoon, the UVa women’s basketball team flawlessly executed a set play, junior guard Kelsey Wolfe passing inside to sophomore forward Sarah Imovbioh for a layup.
Little else would come so easily for Virginia against No. 23 West Virginia.
In the Cavaliers’ first game at John Paul Jones Arena since Nov. 18, they were as inept for long stretches Sunday as they were dominant Thursday night in Minneapolis.
Against Minnesota, UVa shot 58.9 percent overall and 57.1 percent from 3-point range and romped 90-68 in an ACC/Big Ten Challenge game.
Against WVU, Virginia posted season lows in field-goal percentage (25.9) and 3-point percentage (14.3) and had a season-high 23 turnovers in a 54-47 defeat. The Wahoos (5-2) had scored at least 61 points in each of their first six games.
“It’s just hard,” UVa coach Joanne Boyle said, “because we’re better than what we showed tonight.”
Against the Golden Gophers, Wolfe scored a career-high 25 points, and junior guard Ataira Franklin added 14. Against the Mountaineers, Wolfe and Franklin were a combined 5 for 26 from the floor and had nine turnovers between them.
Senior point guard China Crosby contributed seven points, six assists, five rebounds and a steal, but she was 2 for 12 from the floor. Crosby was one of five Cavaliers with at least three turnovers Sunday.
“We gotta get better by Thursday,” Boyle said.
That’s when Virginia opens ACC play against 10th-ranked Maryland in College Park. The Terrapins (4-1) take on No. 2 Connecticut on Monday night in Hartford, Conn.
Maryland’s strengths include its athleticism and size. WVU (4-2) isn’t especially tall, but the quickness and speed of coach Mike Carey’s team posed major problems for Virginia.
“Mike’s style is to suffocate you and not let you touch the ball,” Boyle said.
The `Hoos were unable to get the open looks they enjoyed Thursday night at Minnesota. They also struggled to stop the Mountaineers’ fast breaks.
“When we missed a basket, they’re so fast, your transition defense, it was non-existent,” Boyle said.
Nine minutes in, UVa led 17-8. WVU battled back to take an 18-17 lead, but the `Hoos steadied themselves and went into halftime ahead up 26-23.
“The first half, even though we were playing hard, we weren’t playing smart,” Cary said. “The second half, we played a lot smarter.”
The Mountaineers scored the first 11 points of the second half. The Cavaliers never quit — they pulled to 47-43 and then to 48-45 and, finally, to 51-47 — but their inability to execute consistently at either end proved decisive. To wit: Virginia had the ball trailing 48-45, only to turn it over when senior center Simone Egwu’s pass got away from junior forward Jazmin Pitts with 2:20 left.
“I just felt we didn’t handle their pressure,” Boyle said. “We’ve been talking about it for the last two days, and a lot of credit to them, that’s their style, and they do it well, and that was the outcome.”
Was it great defense by WVU or awful offense by UVa?
“Combination of both,” Boyle said. “[WVU is] a tough team to prepare for with a day turnaround, because you can’t simulate everything you want to simulate, but part of that is just mental preparation, being ready for what’s coming.”
On UVa’s second “play of the game, we run what we want, and we get a layup,” Boyle said. “And then all of a sudden we can’t execute that stuff. I thought it was a lot of poor execution, but I’m not going to take anything away from them. They made us become that team, too.”
The officials called 32 fouls Sunday. They probably could have called another 32.
“There were a lot of bodies on the floor out there,” Carey said, and Boyle did not disagree.
“But for us,” she said, “I think part of it is, you gotta be able to finish with contact, and I think we were looking for the foul, and that’s never a good thing, because then your focus isn’t on finishing the play.
“Yeah, they were a physical team, but again, that’s Big East basketball, and that’s what it’s like and that’s gonna be what it’s like in the tournament. It’s a great lesson to learn.”
Egwu said: “They were definitely a physical team, and we thought we had prepared for it, and, like Coach said, I just don’t think we did an adequate job. But it’s just preparation for what we’re going to see for the next couple of months, so it’s a good game for us.”
In her second game of the season, Egwu (4 for 7) was one of only two Cavaliers to make at least half of her field-goal attempts. (The other was Imovbioh, who was 2 for 2.) Egwu finished with 14 points and showed no ill effects from the shin injury that sidelined her for the first five games.
“I feel good,” she said. “Wish we’d have won.”