By Jeff White (

CHARLOTTESVILLE — For the UVa women’s basketball team, ACC play resumes Thursday night, when Virginia Tech visits John Paul Jones Arena for a 7 o’clock game.

ACC play started for the Cavaliers on Dec. 6, when they lost by 24 points to Maryland in College Park. That was part of a stretch during which the Wahoos lost four times in six games, a slump that shook their confidence as they headed into the holiday break.

After an impressive weekend at JPJ, Virginia coach Joanne Boyle’s team feels better about itself. Twenty-four hours after annihilating Norfolk State 66-23, UVa defeated a more formidable opponent, Xavier, 54-45 to win the Cavalier Classic, a four-team tournament that also included Northern Illinois.

“We needed it for our confidence, just to get back-to-back wins,” Boyle said Saturday night, “and to work through some of the things we’ve been struggling with. I thought we had much better team chemistry tonight and, obviously, yesterday … Heading into ACC, it’s only going to benefit us.”

As has often been the case this season, the `Hoos (8-4) were shorthanded Saturday night. Jazmin Pitts, a 6-1 junior who’s averaging 7.9 points and 3.5 rebounds, missed her fourth consecutive game with a concussion. Another frontcourt player, 6-2 sophomore Sarah Beth Barnette, broke her nose Friday night, and Boyle didn’t use her versus Xavier (6-7).

But the Cavaliers had Telia McCall and Sarah Imovbioh, and both sparkled in the championship game. Imovbioh, a 6-2 sophomore who starred at nearby St. Anne’s-Belfield School, came off the bench to score 11 points and grab a game-high 10 rebounds in only 23 minutes. She also went 5 for 5 from the line.

McCall, a 6-1 senior, totaled 10 points, seven rebounds, four blocked shots and two steals Saturday night. Against Norfolk State, she contributed nine points, a season-high 14 rebounds and three assists.

“I just thought she had a really good tournament,” Boyle said. “She was really rebounding for us, and when we were in some of those scoring slumps in the first half [against Xavier] she was getting some offensive rebounds and really hit some key baskets for us as well.”

During a postgame ceremony Saturday night, the all-tournament team was announced, and it included two Cavaliers: McCall and senior point guard China Crosby, who had a career-best eight assists against Xavier. McCall had turned to return to the UVa bench when she heard her name called again, this time for winning the tournament’s MVP award.

“I definitely wasn’t expecting that, especially since I didn’t score at all in the second half [against Xavier],” McCall said. “But I guess it’s all about the little things: getting rebounds, playing defense and giving passes to my teammates.”

The `Hoos bolted to a 24-10 lead Saturday night, but the Musketeers heated up from 3-point range and pulled to 28-23 by halftime. Xavier’s first-half work on the boards hurt the Cavaliers as much as its perimeter shooting. The Musketeers outrebounded Virginia 27-19 in the first 20 minutes, a statistic of which Boyle’s players were made aware in the locker room.

“We were just like, `Oh, we gotta box out,’ ” McCall recalled, “because that’s one thing that we have been doing well, getting rebounds.”

Virginia controlled the glass in the second half. Xavier collected only two more offensive boards, and by game’s end UVa had a 41-39 edge in rebounds.

Junior guard Ataira Franklin had a season-high nine rebounds for Virginia, and senior center Simone Egwu added nine. Franklin scored a team-high 12 points but missed 14 of 19 shots from the floor, including all four of her 3-point attempts.

She wasn’t the only Cavalier who misplaced her shooting touch Saturday night. Crosby was 2 for 10 from the floor, junior guard Kelsey Wolfe was 4 for 10, and freshman guard Faith Randolph was 0 for 5.

The `Hoos made only two field goals in the final seven minutes of the first half, and they didn’t score in the second half until the 15:54 mark, when Imovbioh’s three-point play made it 31-27. That began a stretch in which Imovbioh, a native of Nigeria, overwhelmed the Musketeers inside with her athleticism and effort.

“She’s learning, and she’s growing, and her biggest asset is that she can rebound for us,” Boyle said. “Obviously she’s still learning the game and doesn’t understand a lot of that, but she was vital for us. We were dry on the scoring end. I don’t care if it was ugly points, we were going to get `em somehow, and she gave `em to us.”

If its offense struggled, Virginia’s defense rarely faltered Saturday night. The Musketeers shot only 28.6 percent from the floor.

“Xavier obviously was a different level of team [than Norfolk State],” Boyle said, “and we had a really short turnaround time from last night to today’s game, so we had to really talk to [the players] about some things we wanted to do that we hadn’t normally done. I thought they really focused in on that and did a great job. It’s good, because we’re going to have to do some of that stuff in the ACC play, too.”

The Musketeers scored five points in a 25-second span to pull to 50-45 late in the game, but two defensive gems — a blocked shot by Franklin and a steal by McCall — allowed the Cavaliers to avoid any last-minute drama. That was just what the `Hoos needed heading into their game with Virginia Tech, a team they’ve beaten 11 times in a row.

“We talked about it before we played Norfolk State: Let’s build our confidence back up going into ACC play,” Crosby said. “We just really tried to focus on us and we really tried to focus on the little things that we weren’t doing.”

Boyle said: “I just felt we played with more effort. I thought China in particular had a great tournament, playing a really great floor game for us. I just thought we were more tuned in. I thought we executed better. We just had more energy and a better focus.”

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