By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — She followed the flight of the basketball after launching a runner from near midcourt, and the sight of her shot dropping through the net as time expired in the third quarter delighted University of Virginia guard Breyana Mason.
Mason was not, however, expecting her last-second 3-pointer to trigger so much excitement among her teammates, who rushed over to hug and congratulate her. Nor was she thrilled to find herself the center of attention at John Paul Jones Arena on that December night.
“She doesn’t like the spotlight,” UVA head coach Joanne Boyle said.
A 5-8 junior from Woodbridge, Mason prefers to work in the shadows, and that’s often reflected in her game.
“She’s such an unselfish person,” Boyle said. “I think she looks out for others before she looks for herself.”
“I like to call her `the silent assassin,’ ” associate head coach Kim McNeill said. “She kind of sits back, and I think she defers too much. But when she’s on, she’s on.”
That describes Mason’s play in the Cavaliers’ most recent game, a 76-56 win over the 22nd-ranked Miami Hurricanes at JPJ. In 33 minutes, she hit 7 of 11 shots from the floor and finished with 14 points, a team-high seven rebounds, three assists and one steal.
“If I could bottle it,” Boyle said, “I’d say bottle Miami and let that be who she is every day. Because she didn’t force anything. What she does is take pressure off others. We’re harder to defend when she’s more aggressive, and we’re just so much more potent on offense.”
For years — first at Forest Park High School and now at UVA — Mason’s teammates and coaches have urged her to assert herself more on the court.
“And she’ll look at you like, `I know, I know,’ ” McNeill said.
She’s not aggressive by nature, Mason readily acknowledges. Still, she’s trying to adopt that mentality more on the court.
“Although I know they love me, I don’t want people to keep saying the same thing over and over again to me,” Mason said.
Dating back to her freshman season, Mason has started 60 consecutive games. That streak should reach 61 on Thursday night, when UVA (11-4 overall, 1-0 ACC) hosts third-ranked Notre Dame (13-1, 2-0) at 7 o’clock at JPJ.
This season, she’s fifth on the team in scoring (8.7 ppg), third in assists (2.7 per game), second in minutes played (30.8 per game), and tied with sophomore Lauren Moses for the lead in steals (1.9 per game).
“Bre doesn’t want the spotlight,” Boyle said, “but she wants to please and do what she’s capable of doing.”
Mason also averages 3.5 rebounds per game, and she pulled down a career-high eight boards Dec. 29 in Virginia’s win over Richmond in the Cavalier Classic finale. She made only 3 of 8 shots from the floor against the Spiders, however, and that wasn’t the first time her touch has deserted her this season.
She was 0 for 6 against Rutgers, 2 for 9 against Tulane, 1 for 7 against Charleston Southern, 3 for 10 against Ohio State, and 3 for 8 against Coppin State.
“I’ve just kind of had my ups and downs this season,” Mason said. “I haven’t been as aggressive as I needed to be or as I would like to be, and I’ve kind of struggled a little bit shooting. But hopefully the Miami game can start a stretch of games where in ACC play I’m playing the way I need to be playing to help my team.”
For the Wahoos, it “was great to just open up ACC play with a big win over a ranked team, so we can help build our rÃ©sumÃ© for the NCAA tournament,” Mason said. “Hopefully we can keep it going.”
Early in the season, Boyle said, Mason seemed “unsure a little bit about how aggressive she should be, and anytime you overthink things and second-guess yourself, you’re going to be tentative.”
Against the Hurricanes, Mason “went back to being the old Bre,” Boyle said.
When she’s playing with confidence, Mason is a force. “She can get to the rim,” McNeill said. “She’s got the strength. She’s a lefty, but can go right too. She can shoot the 3, she can shoot the pull-up.
“We like to say that we have one of the best guard groups in the ACC, and she needs to continue to be aggressive and not to defer to Mikayla [Venson] and Faith [Randolph]. Because she has just as much in her arsenal as they do.”
Mason, whose parents were then serving in the U.S. Army, was born in Fairfax. She later lived in Georgia and then Texas before the family moved back to Northern Virginia when she was around 6.
At Forest Park, she joined the basketball program for which Monica Wright had been a McDonald’s All-American. By the time she graduated Mason had broken Wright’s career scoring record at the Woodbridge school.
Wright, of course, also had a legendary career at UVA, where with 2,540 points she’s the all-time leading scorer. Wright graduated from the University in 2010.
“She was someone I looked up to [at Forest Park],” Mason said, “but not someone I had met personally or had personal communications with. So it wasn’t till I got here that I actually got to meet her one on one, face to face.”
An American Studies major, Mason has applied for a summer internship with Nike. She’s an excellent student who has been a positive influence on her roommate, Mikayla Venson, a sophomore from Arlington.
“Bre’s not a talkative person, and I think that’s good for me,” Venson said before the season. “Last year I had some distractions, wanting to be around friends all the time and being in a dorm with a roommate. I’m kind of living in my own room now, but also still living with Bre has really let me find myself a lot and focus on what I need to be focusing on. She’s great as a roommate.”
Mason said Venson is serious “about her academics, and she wanted to make sure she stayed focused on that as well as basketball. So I guess I could kind of help her with that, because I don’t really do too much outside [of school and basketball].”
Her experience at UVA, Mason said, “has been everything that I wanted it to be and more. It’s been positive. Over the years I’ve had a couple of struggles, but as a person I think I’ve grown tremendously.”
Boyle said: “She’s very much an introvert, but she’s a very funny, funny person. She’s very quick-witted, but people [outside the program] wouldn’t know that because she is so reserved.”
Mason smiled when apprised of Boyle’s comment.
“Sometimes on the sideline I might make a little witty remark or something,” Mason said. “Sometimes when I’m making jokes, people don’t always get it. It takes them a while to process it. But I do have a sense of humor, I like to think.”