By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — As her teammates warmed up 20 minutes before tipoff Thursday night at John Paul Jones Arena, Faith Randolph stood at midcourt, her right arm in a sling, most of her right hand in a cast.
The only senior on the University of Virginia women’s basketball team, Randolph took a seat on the bench once the game began. From there the All-ACC guard watched helplessly as Virginia sputtered against Louisville, which never trailed in a 59-41 victory.
To say the Wahoos miss Randolph, who broke the thumb on her shooting hand Jan. 7 against Notre Dame, would be a monumental understatement.
She’s second on the team in scoring, second in rebounding and first in assists, and she’s Virginia’s most vocal leader.
“She just has a great voice out there,” head coach Joanne Boyle said Wednesday, “and she’s always talking, knows everything, knows where everybody should be.”
The other Cavaliers are still, Boyle said, “learning to play without Faith,” and that figures to be a formidable task.
In the Cavaliers’ first game without Randolph, they rallied to win 52-50 at Wake Forest last weekend. Against No. 23 Louisville (13-5 overall, 5-0 ACC), Virginia was hardly competitive.
The 41 points are the fewest UVA (12-6, 2-2) has scored this season. Its previous low was 45, against Notre Dame.
The `Hoos shot 33.3 percent from the floor Thursday night, turned the ball over 19 times, and finished with only four assists, all by sophomore point guard Mikayla Venson.
The Cardinals scored 25 points off Virginia’s turnovers.
“I think there was a combination of them being a good defensive team,” Boyle said, “and I think we got stagnant and did not know what to do. It was like we were just looking to bail somebody out, and we would just make bad passes within the offense because we did not know what we were looking for.”
Venson led Virginia with 13 points, and junior guard Breyana Mason added 12. Mason (5 for 8) was the only Cavalier to make at least half of her field-goal attempts.
Asked if the Cavaliers’ offensive woes were the result of Randolph’s absence or Louisville’s defense, Mason said it “was a combination of both. But in ACC play we’re going to face that every single night. So we need to do a better job of running the offense and having spacing and just moving the ball and cutting.”
Against Louisville, the “ball just constantly got stuck in one person’s hands,” Boyle said, “and then we just tried to go one-on-one and there was no flow. We’d throw the ball back to Mikayla and just want her to create something. Again, not taking anything away from [the Cardinals]. I think they are a really good defensive team. They switch on all screens, they make you make reads, but I think part of [the problem was] we got really tentative on things.”
Rebounding has been an ongoing concern for Boyle, but the Cardinals did not overwhelm Virginia on the boards. Sophomore forward Lauren Moses grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds for UVA. That was a positive, but the Cavaliers know they have many other issues to address.
Boyle spoke after practice Wednesday about how Randolph’s injury has given players such as sophomore guards Aliyah Huland El and J’Kyra Brown opportunities to contribute more. Neither distinguished herself Thursday night.
Huland El was 2 for 9 from the floor and turned the ball over six times. She had five turnovers at Wake Forest.
“I think she’s trying to do too much at times,” Boyle said.
Brown, a transfer from East Carolina, was 1 for 5 against Louisville, with three turnovers. She finished with four points, two fewer than Huland El. Two other Cavaliers — junior Sydney Umeri and freshman MonÃ© Jones — were scoreless in 30 and 20 minutes, respectively.
“We have to get more production from more people,” Boyle said, “because in conference play, two people scoring every night is not going to get it done.”
Moses said: “Faith is a great offensive player, and defensive player, but I feel like we have the tools to get the job done on offense. Tonight, it was just kind of stagnant. We didn’t really know who wanted to shoot the ball, and then at the end of the shot clock we tried to give it to Mikayla and just let her break it down. But I have confidence in my teammates, and I know that coming out next game we’re going to be aggressive and we’re just going to have the confidence that we needed tonight.”
Four of the Cavaliers’ next five games are on the road, starting Sunday afternoon against Georgia Tech (11-7, 1-4) in Atlanta. The Yellow Jackets collected their first ACC win Thursday night, defeating North Carolina 80-73 in Atlanta.
“They fight and they scrap and they’re very physical,” Boyle said of the Jackets, who have won three straight against Virginia.
“It’s no different than what Louisville’s doing. They play a lot of man-to-man. They may not do as much switching [as Louisville], but they play physical. So we’re going to have to have that intensity, do the job on the boards like we did tonight, with a better effort, and we have to be able to stay within the flow of the offense, and everybody’s gotta participate.”