By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Watch Faith Randolph in action on the basketball court, and it’s natural to wonder where the University of Virginia women’s team might be if the All-ACC guard had been healthy all season.
Randolph, the only senior on the Cavaliers’ roster, missed nine games after breaking the thumb on her shooting hand on Jan. 7. Virginia lost seven of them. With Randolph back in the lineup, the Wahoos are 3-1.
The latest victory came Thursday night at John Paul Jones Arena, where Randolph and the team’s senior student-managers, Shae Weathersbee and Katrina Tippett, were honored before Virginia’s final regular-season home game.
The 5-10 Randolph was far from flawless — she missed 9 of 14 shots from the floor — but her basket with six seconds left sealed Virginia’s 72-68 win over ACC rival North Carolina.
After UNC sliced its deficit to two with 11 seconds left, UVA point guard Mikayla Venson, taking the ball out of bounds, spotted Randolph uncovered down the court. Venson’s long pass found its mark, and Randolph, who had scored the game’s first basket, added an exclamation point as the `Hoos defeated Carolina for only the second time in the teams’ past 20 meetings.
“I didn’t think she would be that wide open,” said Venson, a sophomore who led Virginia with 23 points, three assists and three steals. “But she had a clear path, and I gave the ball to her knowing that she would make the easy layup.”
Venson made three 3-pointers Thursday night, raising her total for the season to 64. That broke the school record of 63 held by Telisha Quarles (1999-2000 and 2000-01). Randolph finished with 11 points and seven rebounds in 35 minutes.
Having to play after being honored in a Senior Night ceremony, Randolph said, was “a little weird in the beginning. I’m not used to all that [hoopla]. But once the ball went up, it felt pretty normal.”
The Tar Heels “had their runs. We had our runs,” Randolph said. “It was a game that we had to just keep grinding. Towards the end, we were able to do some good things and get the win.”
Virginia (16-13, 6-9) ended a six-game losing streak against UNC (14-16, 4-11).
“It’s nice to check these teams off as we move forward and try and grow this team,” head coach Joanne Boyle said. “Any good quality team win is a great win for us. It’s nice, and it’s great for the program.”
On the list of opponents UVA enjoys defeating, UNC ranks at or near the top. So does Virginia Tech, which traditionally has struggled against Virginia. With Randolph watching from the bench, however, the Hokies knocked off the Cavaliers 66-46 at JPJ on Feb. 7. That ended Virginia’s 18-game winning streak in the series.
The rematch is Sunday at 2 p.m. at Cassell Coliseum in Blacksburg. The Hokies (16-12, 4-11) won Thursday night at Wake Forest.
“It’s going to be my last Virginia Tech-Virginia game, so I want to make the most of it,” Randolph said. “[At JPJ] I saw that Virginia Tech had a great point guard that just kind attacked the rim and really got her teammates open. So I think it’s going to be a good defensive game on Sunday.”
Boyle agreed. The Hokies, she said, are “a very good defensive team, and it’s always low-scoring when you play them. We’re going to need everything we can bring on Sunday.”
Boyle expects her best post player, 6-2 sophomore Lauren Moses, to be available in Blacksburg. Moses, who averages 9.4 points and a team-high 6.9 rebounds, battled flu-like symptoms and a high fever Thursday. She wanted to play against UNC, and Boyle started her, but Moses lasted only seven minutes before taking a seat on the bench. She remained there for the rest of the game.
“She tried, and it just wasn’t going to happen,” Boyle said.
UNC capitalized on Moses’ absence and outscored Virginia 38-16 in the paint. Still, Boyle said, it’s “not the first time we’ve had to be without a starter, so we’re conditioned to that.”
With Moses out, it “was going to be about our guard play,” Boyle said, “and I think everybody contributed the way they could. All teams deal with adversity. We have to take our fair share of it.”
Brown, who began her college career at East Carolina, scored 12 points Thursday night, her high as a Cavalier.
“I’m really proud of the girls,” Boyle said. “We had even a shorter bench than usual, but there was a real fight about them. They stayed together the whole time and really came out with a strong win.”
The ACC tournament starts Wednesday in Greensboro, N.C., and Sunday’s game at Cassell Coliseum will be the regular-season finale for both teams.
Boyle is eager to take on Virginia Tech with a full complement of players.
“Having a regular rotation helps us, being able to give people a little bit of rest here and there,” Boyle said, “just the flow. Faith brings a lot to the table defensively and offensively. She had a rough shooting night [against UNC], but we have a better rotation of guards when we have that extra person. She’s played Virginia Tech eight or nine times since she’s been here, so she’s familiar with them.”
To end the regular season with a victory would be huge for the Cavaliers, Venson said Thursday night, “especially with the rivalry. We have great momentum coming off of this game. We just have to continue to be aggressive and play through the fouls and continue to play UVA basketball.”