Jan. 16, 2015

By Jeff White (jwhite@virginia.edu)

CHARLOTTESVILLE — For a college basketball team with no players taller than 6-foot-2, its offensive options are limited. As much as UVa women’s coach Joanne Boyle might like her team to dominate the paint, she knows that’s not realistic, and games often hinge on her players’ accuracy from outside.

Fortunately for Boyle, she has three guards shooting at least 38 percent apiece from the 3-point range, and their long-range prowess helped the Cavaliers pull away for an ACC victory Thursday night.

Virginia made only 9 of 35 two-point attempts against Boston College, but junior Faith Randolph and sophomore Breyana Mason hit four treys apiece, and freshman Mikayla Venson added three, in a 68-56 win at John Paul Jones Arena.

Moreover, senior forward Sarah Beth Barnette came off the bench to make two 3-pointers on a night when the Wahoos (13-4, 3-1) were 13 for 26 from beyond the arc.

“You never know when your number’s going to be called,” Boyle said, “and [Barnette] played significant minutes for us, and I thought she did a really good job.”

This marked the third game this season Virginia has hit at least 10 treys. The program record for 3-pointers made in a game is 14, set against Rider on Jan. 2, 2008.

The Eagles (8-9, 0-4) stayed back in a zone defense Thursday, smothering Virginia’s one proven post player, 6-2 Sarah Imovbioh, for much of the game. But that created opportunities for Imovbioh’s teammates.

“We were just working on basically trying to attack the zone and kick out for open shots,” said Randolph, who led all scorers with 23 points, three off her career high. “They weren’t really guarding us on the 3-point line, so our coaches were saying, `When you feel it, be confident in your shot and just shoot it.’ ”

Virginia struggled for much of the first half and fell behind 21-13. But the `Hoos hit seven 3-pointers in the final 8:16 of the half, including a last-second trey by Randolph that gave them a 38-33 lead at intermission.

BC’s zone “was great for the guards, I think, just getting their confidence going,” Boyle said. Still, she reminded her team at halftime not to forget about Imovbioh, who came in averaging 14.9 points and 11.3 rebounds but was scoreless in the first 20 minutes Thursday night.

In the first half, the Cavaliers “were trying to move the ball around [the perimeter] to just get some movement,” said Mason, who matched her career high with seven assists and also had 12 points and two steals Thursday.

“But we have to be able to attack the gaps some, and I think because [BC] took away the inside, it might have caught us off-guard a little bit, and we weren’t sure what to do at first. But I think as the game went on we did a better job.”

Indeed, Virginia found ways to get the ball to Imovbioh in the second half, and she punished the Eagles. The former St. Anne’s-Belfield star finished with 10 points and 11 rebounds, her eighth double-double of the season.

“We just tried to put her in a different situation, different position, in the second half than we did in the first, just to try to get her a touch,” Boyle said. “The more we go inside-outside, I think, the better our offense is going to be.”

The victory gave the Cavaliers their best record through four ACC games in four seasons under Boyle. Still, it was a flawed performance, as Boyle readily acknowledged.

Virginia finished with 16 turnovers, and Venson had six of them, a career high. But Venson’s teammates bore responsibility for some of those mistakes against BC’s full-court pressure, Boyle said.

In the final minutes, Boyle said, “I thought the majority of our team was like, `OK, you go ahead Mikayla and just handle it,’ and we just can never get ourselves in that situation. From the start of the game to the end of the game, everybody has to participate in press-break. And Mikayla’s 5-7. Once the trap’s coming, she needs people around her.”

UVa forced 17 turnovers, and that helped offset its ballhandling errors. But Virginia’s defensive breakdowns allowed the Eagles, who made only 3 of 15 attempts from 3-point range, to repeatedly get shots around the basket.

“We talk about guarding the ball, and it’s a weakness of ours. We have some people that can guard it, but not everybody,” Boyle said. “Again, we preach it, we work on it, we’ve got to be able to sit down and guard the ball, and we’re just going to keep working on it.”

The Cavaliers’ margin for error is about to shrink dramatically. Before hosting Georgia Tech at JPJ on Jan. 25, Virginia will play first at fourth-ranked Louisville (Sunday, 3 p.m.) and then at Miami (Wednesday, 7 p.m.)

The Cardinals (16-1, 4-0) and the Hurricanes (14-3, 4-0) are tied for the ACC lead.

“I think we’ve done a fairly good job at home,” Boyle said. “It’s not perfect, but I think we’re learning more and more what that means to protect your home floor and what we need to do to be able to do that. But we really, really, really gotta emphasize and get better at being road warriors.”

In ACC play, Virginia is 1-1 away from JPJ. The `Hoos won 62-47 at Virginia Tech on Jan. 4 and lost 70-58 at then-No. 21 Syracuse on Sunday.

“Our shots weren’t falling like they normally do against Syracuse,” Mason said, “and defensively I think we could have done a better job as well.

“But we just all need to stick together in those times where it’s getting a little tough and grind it out and do whatever we need to do to win those games. Especially being on the road, we have to be tougher.”

Boyle agreed. The key, she said, is grinding “for 40 minutes and just sitting down and guarding people and taking care of the ball, all the things that you have to do on the road. We’re capable of doing it, it’s just we’ve got to execute.”

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