By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Before heading to Greensboro, N.C., for the ACC tournament next month, the UVa women’s basketball team will play two more regular-season games, each one against a nationally ranked foe.
Virginia visits No. 17 North Carolina on Thursday night and then hosts No. 8 Louisville next Sunday afternoon at John Paul Jones Arena.
“We need to play a top-25 team, because we need to beat a top-25 team,” UVa coach Joanne Boyle said. “So it’s coming at the right time … For me, it’s just about our poise and our fight. If we have those two things going for us, we’ll always have a chance.”
The Cavaliers have lacked poise in crucial stretches on numerous occasions this season, most recently in an overtime loss at Pittsburgh last week. On Sunday afternoon, however, Virginia kept its composure late and continued its mastery of Virginia Tech.
The Wahoos, who trailed by three at halftime, dominated the final 20 minutes and won 73-59 before a crowd of 3,772 at JPJ. The victory was the 18th straight for the `Hoos in a series they lead 45-10.
“It’s a rivalry, and you always want to beat the team next door,” said junior guard Faith Randolph, who scored 17 points for Virginia (16-11, 6-8), which ended a four-game losing streak.
Against Pitt on Thursday night, Virginia led by 10 with 5:47 remaining in the second half but ended up falling 68-63 in OT.
Against Virginia Tech, UVa led by eight with 5:10 left. But the Hokies rallied behind guard Vanessa Panousis, who scored nine points in a 59-second span, and with 4:08 to play the Cavaliers’ lead was only three.
No collapse followed this time. A slick layup by freshman forward Lauren Moses pushed UVa’s lead to 60-55. Back-to-back baskets by Randolph followed — the second a fast-break layup off a pass from freshman guard Mikayla Venson — and the Cavaliers’ lead was suddenly nine with only 2:20 to play.
The Hokies “got loose and [made] some 3s, but after they hit two, we really started to lock down defensively,” Boyle said. “I thought we did a good job there. And then I thought we executed well down the stretch. We used the clock, and we got good shots and we got to the free-throw line and we made our free throws, so I thought game management down the stretch was much better for us as well.”
UVa went 9 for 10 from the line in the final 1:56 to hold off the Hokies (10-18, 1-14), who have lost eight straight since defeating Wake Forest on Jan. 23.
“Virginia had a little more toughness and made, obviously, winning plays,” Virginia Tech coach Dennis Wolff said, “and when we needed to, we didn’t.”
For the `Hoos, the final stretch was one to savor. In most of their losses, Boyle said, the Cavaliers have “been playing a good 30 minutes. Our problem has been, we haven’t been able to play 40, and lately it’s been the last 5-7 minutes of the game. So that’s been our struggle. It’s not as though we’ve just played horrible basketball for the last couple of games. It’s just been how we’ve finished games.”
Venson matched her career high with 22 points and did so in efficient fashion, making 6 of 10 shots from the floor, including 2 of 4 from beyond the arc, and 8 of 8 from the line. She also had three assists, three rebounds and four steals.
Wolff probably has seen enough of Venson for one season. In the Cavaliers’ 62-47 win in Blacksburg on Jan. 4, Venson hit three treys and scored 13 points.
“She’s a good player, and I thought she was good the first time,” Wolff, a former assistant on the UVa men’s team, said Sunday. “She’s had a good year. She can make a play for herself. [For ACC] teams that have somebody that can makes plays for themselves, that’s a big advantage.”
The Cavaliers stumbled through much of the first half Sunday, turning the ball 12 times and committing 10 fouls. Tech wasn’t much better, though, and two Venson free throws gave Virginia a 28-24 lead at the 4:23 mark. Those, however, were the final points UVa scored in the first half.
In the locker room, Boyle did not mince words with her players, and they responded as she hoped they would.
“I just felt like they kind of came out with a different sense of urgency and a toughness about them in the second half,” Boyle said.
On an afternoon when All-ACC candidate Sarah Imovbioh was uncharacteristically quiet, in part because foul trouble limited her playing time, Virginia received an enormous lift from Moses. She came in averaging 5.7 points. She finished with 13.
“It was big,” Boyle said, “because it takes pressure off of S.I., and I told [Moses] in the locker room I thought she had one of her better games. She really was complete on both ends of the floor for us tonight.”
Imovbioh, a 6-2 redshirt junior, entered the game averaging 13 points and 10.8 rebounds. She totaled five points and seven boards in 24 minutes.
“She’s just got to keep working,” Boyle said. “It’s great that Lauren was able to step up, but we’re always going to need S.I.”