By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — When Faith Randolph broke the thumb on her shooting hand late in the fourth quarter of a Jan. 7 loss to Notre Dame, head coach Joanne Boyle knew the All-ACC guard’s absence would challenge the University of Virginia women’s basketball team. She underestimated the impact of Randolph’s injury.
“I didn’t think it was going to be this big of a struggle,” Boyle said Sunday afternoon at John Paul Jones Arena. “I thought we would find a flow.”
In the Wahoos’ first game without Randolph, the only senior on the roster, they rallied to win 52-50 at Wake Forest. Since then, however, UVA has dropped six of seven games, including its past five.
“The girls are frustrated,” Boyle said. “We can go back and pick apart certain games, but I didn’t expect it to be this hard.”
The most recent loss came Sunday at JPJ, where Virginia Tech ended years of frustrating by defeating Virginia 66-46. That ended the Cavaliers’ 18-game winning streak in this series.
“It’s definitely tough,” junior guard Breyana Mason said, “especially considering we’re on a losing streak and given the fact [the Hokies] are in-state rivals. This game means a lot to us, and just the fact that we weren’t able to pull it out is really disappointing.”
The `Hoos (13-11 overall, 3-7 ACC) scored the final four points of the first half Sunday and went into intermission down 28-26. Thirteen seconds into the third quarter, sophomore post player Lauren Moses’ free throws made it 28-28, and Virginia had every reason to feel good about its chances against a Tech team that came in on a five-game losing streak.
The Hokies, however, answered with 10 straight points, after which UVA’s deficit was never less than five. In the fourth quarter, after Mason’s layup pulled the `Hoos to 52-42 with 7:12 left, they didn’t score again until the 2:13 mark. By then, the Hokies led 62-44.
“Obviously it’s frustrating, especially losing to them,” said Moses, who finished with 13 points and seven rebounds. “We just have to find our way, whatever it takes. Whether we’re fatigued or not, we have to find a way to just push through that, because at this point, all teams are fatigued. We just have to have that mental toughness to win these games.”
Boyle agreed. “This is the hand we’ve been dealt, and we can’t do anything about it. We have a choice. We have a choice to lay down and die and just keep [the losing streak] going. Or we have a choice to stand up and try and fight and get better.”
The Cavaliers have only nine healthy scholarship players, two of whom, freshman Debra Ferguson and sophomore Jae’Lisa Allen, rarely play. Against Tech, Virginia made only 16 of 56 shots from the floor (28.6 percent) and was outrebounded 42-29.
“It’s obvious that we’re struggling and just trying to figure it out,” Boyle said. “We looked very fatigued out there tonight, and obviously I know we’ve been struggling to score, but not by this much. I just feel like some physical and mental fatigue have set in a little bit.”
Virginia’s leading scorer, sophomore guard Mikayla Venson, came in averaging 15.9 points per game. She faced constant harassment from the Hokies, led by 5-6 freshman Chanette Hicks. Venson missed all five of her 3-point attempts and made only 4 of 13 shots overall.
“Obviously, stopping her was the focus, and the kids did a good job,” said Tech head coach Dennis Wolff, who in the early `90s was an assistant on the Virginia men’s team.
Boyle said: “With Faith in there, the ball just seemed to flow better. We were averaging four people in double figures, and now it’s kind of fallen off and [opponents are] going to take our scorers away, and obviously Mikayla is one of those scorers.”
Mason led the Cavaliers with 14 points, but she missed 8 of 12 shots. For the fifth straight game, Virginia shot less than 40 percent from the floor.
“It looked like Mikalya and Bre just had no legs,” Boyle said.
UVA and Virginia Tech will meet again Feb. 28 at Cassell Coliseum in the regular-season finale for both teams. The Cavaliers’ immediate concern, though, is their Thursday night game against Syracuse (18-6, 8-3).
After seeing how tired her team looked Sunday, Boyle said, she may lessen the players’ workload in practice this week. Randolph, who was in street clothes Sunday at JPJ, is expected to miss at least two more games.
Boyle said she’s likely to give the players “a little bit of time [off] and try and have more mental prep going forward. It doesn’t excuse not rebounding. It doesn’t excuse any of that. It really doesn’t. It’s just we’ve got to pick and choose what’s best for us moving forward. ”