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Jan. 9, 2015

With Ataira Franklin, Kelsey Wolfe and Lexie Gerson graduating last season, the big question for the Cavaliers coming into the 2014-15 campaign was who was going to fill that huge hole in the offense.

By the end of the Ohio State game, Virginia fans had their answer.

Sophomore guard Breyana Mason, a prolific scorer in high school who was named the 2013 Gatorade High School Player of the Year for the state of Virginia after scoring 1,979 points in her prep career, started her second season at UVa by treating the fans at JPJ to a 22-point performance in the opener against Ohio State. Mason went 8-of-11 from the field and 5-of-7 from three-point range to break the 20-point plateau for the first time in her career, helping lead her team to an 87-82 victory over the Buckeyes.

“I was really just happy about the win and the energy we came out with,” Mason said, reflecting on the game. “We have been waiting since mid-March to step on the floor again and play against real competition. I have never heard the fans that loud before. I couldn’t even hear us communicate on defense, but it was a great turning point for us. There were so many career nights for people, it was a really great feeling.”

Mason, who was sidelined with an injury for most of the preseason workouts her freshman season, had a quiet first year, averaging 3.8 points per game, but transitioned into the starting lineup where she remained for the final 14 games of the season.

“Anytime you get significant minutes as a freshman and then get a whole summer to work on things, you become so much more comfortable,” said Virginia head coach Joanne Boyle. “She is quiet, but her game doesn’t have to be. She knows her role and she can step in and out of it, and we need that from her. We are encouraging her to be aggressive, like that night against Ohio State. She really showed up in that game and a lot of games this season.”

Though the 22-points on the box score are what immediately stand out, there was another figure in that stat line from that game that foreshadowed another strength of Mason’s this season – a then-career-high six assists against the Buckeyes. Since that game, Mason has been among the ACC and national leaders in both assists and assist-to-turnover ratio while boasting a season-scoring average that was in double-digits through most of the non-conference schedule, providing some much-needed depth for the Cavaliers.

“Bre is willing to do whatever for this team,” said junior guard Faith Randolph. “She gets defensive stops for us and she just runs our team better than last year. She loves getting transition as well. She can finish at the rim much better. Her confidence has grown. We feed off of her when she is aggressive.”

“The experience I got last year helped me and I felt more comfortable stepping into my role,” Mason said, explaining the difference in her game this season. “When I go out there, I am not as nervous because I somewhat know what to expect. It has helped me to come out of my shell a little bit and become more vocal on the court.”

The confidence and experience have been nurtured in film sessions with her two guards coaches, Cory and Kim McNeill.

“The improvement in my game has really come with time,” Mason said. “It has been a collective effort with the coaching staff helping me with film. I thank them for that. I can definitely see the improvement in my game. I just hope that it continues.”

“Bre has changed in a lot of different areas, not only on the court, but off the court, in becoming comfortable with the team and with herself,” associate head coach Kim McNeill said. “I think this year she has a really great feel for things and a great feel for her role. She is like a neutralizer out there. She does not mind if she is not scoring as long as she is getting people involved. She is not a selfish player. Solving the confidence issue gave her the ability to go out there and really be aggressive and really feel good about getting to the hole and feeling good about her shot.”

Though only a second-year, Mason has already started paying-it-forward, helping to mentor her fellow point guard, freshman Mikayla Venson. The two have a bond that started in high school when they actually worked out together several times on weekend mornings in the gym near Venson’s house in Arlington, about 30 minutes from Mason’s hometown of Woodbridge, Va.

“I really just want for her to be able to the best player she can be,” Mason said of Venson. “My most common advice is just telling her to relax and come out and do the things she is capable of doing. When she is out there, you can see that most of the time people can’t stop her. She can shoot. She can drive. She can do it all. So I am just trying to share any information that I can share with her from my experiences from last year has been I think helpful to her.”

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