By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — On opening night, the UVa women’s basketball team took control in the final minute and pulled away for an 87-82 victory over Ohio State at John Paul Jones Arena.
In a game the Cavaliers could have lost, they found a way to win Friday night. And that victory, head coach Joanne Boyle believes, will pay dividends as the season progresses.
“I think it builds confidence,” Boyle said Sunday at JPJ. “It was a back-and-forth game, and so to be able to come out on the upper end [was great]. To me, we played the last four minutes of that game so well. We got a stop when we needed to get a stop, we hit our free throws, we ran offenses [well], we hit tough shots, we boarded.
“The W was great, but it was how we executed down the stretch that I thought was really good, especially for a young team.”
Virginia’s second game featured no such drama. UVa never trailed in a 75-47 rout of Radford on Sunday afternoon. The `Hoos outscored the Highlanders 44-26 in the second half.
“I was glad to end the weekend 2-0, so it was a good start for us before we head out on the road,” said Boyle, whose team plays Xavier (1-0) in Cincinnati on Thursday night.
“We started out slow [against Radford], but I thought we came out strong in the second half. I just talked to the team about getting ready to go on the road. You can’t start out slow, and hopefully we learned from that moving forward.”
UVa’s roster includes only one player who will exhaust her eligibility this season: senior forward Sarah Beth Barnette. Boyle starts two freshmen — point guard Mikayla Venson and power forward Lauren Moses — and another first-year, shooting guard Aliyah Huland El, is a key reserve.
Through two games, Virginia has only 15 turnovers, in part because of Venson’s sureness with the ball. She’s also a superb shooter who scored 12 points Sunday.
Moses contributed seven points, five rebounds and two blocks Sunday, and Huland El scored seven points.
“I think for freshmen and the minutes they’ve gotten in the first two games, they’ve done a really good job,” Boyle said. “And they’re only going to be better. You get 10 games of experience, and they’ll be different players by the time ACC [play] comes around.”
Huland El, who at 6-1 has excellent size for a perimeter player, graduated from high school with 2,286 career points, a record for girls basketball in Morris County, New Jersey. Huland El has yet to find her touch as a Cavalier — she was 2 for 7 against Ohio State and 2 for 11 against Radford — but Boyle is confident a breakthrough is imminent.
“She’s a good shooter,” Boyle said. “She really is. I think she just has to find her way out there with the lights and the crowds. Again, as a freshman, she’s just got to find her way through it. But that’s her specialty.”
Sarah Imovbioh, a 6-2 center who’s expected to return in 2015-16 as a fifth-year senior, led the Cavaliers with 14 points and nine rebounds Sunday. She pulled down a school-record 24 boards Friday night and had seven in the first half Sunday.
That Imovbioh didn’t collect another double-double was probably the only surprise of the second half.
“I told her her average is 24 [rebounds], so she needs to pay attention,” Boyle said, smiling.
There were few negatives for the `Hoos against Radford, but one was their inability to avoid foul trouble. Four UVa players were called for two personals apiece in the first half — Imovbioh, Moses, Venson and frontcourt reserve Sydney Umeri — and Boyle scrapped her preferred man-to-man defense for a 2-3 zone.
The Cavaliers struggled to rebound out of the zone, and the Highlanders (0-1) finished with 23 second-chance points. Overall, Radford outrebounded Virginia 43-38.
“We forced 20 turnovers, which was great,” said Boyle, whose team used a three-quarter-court press effectively.
“We shot the ball well in the second half, but our deficiency in this game was definitely our rebounding. And that has to be part of our identity and who we are. Because those easy baskets will cost you on the road.”
Xavier, which finished 8-23 in 2013-14, was picked to finish ninth in the 10-team Big East. The Musketeers’ starters include guard Raeshaun Gaffney, who began her college career at Virginia.
Gaffney scored 12 points Saturday in Xavier’s opener, a 75-51 win over Wofford.
The Musketeers, Boyle said, are a “scrappy, guard-oriented team. They’ll press the whole game. Man-to-man defense. They try and play up-tempo. They really want to kind of get you in a track meet. They don’t have a lot of height.”
“We have a lot of weapons,” said Randolph, the ACC’s Sixth Player of the Year in 2013-14.
Venson, a heralded recruit, made only 3 of 12 shots from the floor against Ohio State in her college debut. She shot much better Sunday, hitting 6 of 8 attempts.
“I think the great thing about Mikayla is, she didn’t let Friday night, her shots not falling, affect her, and I thought she was really poised in that game,” Boyle said. “She ran the team. You could tell it on her face. It was just about the win. … Obviously tonight again, she just had great poise out there.”
Playing at this level, Venson said, is “definitely an adrenaline rush. It’s just been a great time. I have great teammates to help me out all the time, and I’m trying to be the best leader I can out there and be vocal. It’s just exciting. I love playing the college game.”
Of her 12 points, 10 came in the second half Sunday.
“As a point guard, I definitely want to get my teammates involved first,” Venson said. “That’s my mentality. I just let the game come to me. I don’t really try to force any shots, so I’m definitely pass-first and then look for my shot. Really I just try to get the W. That’s my big thing.”
Virginia’s next home game is Nov. 23 against Auburn. Tipoff is set for 2 p.m. at JPJ.