By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Nobody had to remind head coach Joanne Boyle or her players what a win over Miami would have meant for the University of Virginia women’s basketball team. They knew.
With an opportunity to significantly strengthen their NCAA tournament rÃƒÆ’Â©sumÃƒÆ’Â©, the Cavaliers stumbled Sunday afternoon at John Paul Jones Arena. The Hurricanes took control with a 20-1 run in the first quarter and never led by fewer than eight points thereafter in a 77-62 victory.
“I think it was just a lapse in our mental state,” sophomore guard Dominique Toussaint said of Virginia’s first-quarter collapse. “I think we kind of relaxed and were getting comfortable with that lead and they took advantage of that. Good teams will do that.”
The loss was the fourth in five games for UVA (16-11, 9-5), which dropped into a three-way tie for fifth place in the ACC with Miami (19-8, 9-5) and Duke (20-7, 9-5).
“Every team is tired at this point of the season,” said Toussaint, who led the Wahoos with 18 points, nine rebounds, seven assists, four steals and one blocked shot.
“It’s coming down to the last stretch, so you can’t really go with the excuse that we’re tired, because everybody’s tired.”
Whatever the reason, the Cavaliers’ performance was “not what we wanted and/or expected,” Boyle said. “At this time of year you want to be playing solid, strong basketball, and we’ve got to find our way back to that consistency.”
The ‘Hoos have two regular-season games left, both on the road. They play at fourth-ranked Louisville (27-2, 13-1) on Thursday night and at Wake Forest (12-15, 4-10) next Sunday afternoon. Louisville defeated UVA 77-41 at JPJ on Feb. 1.
In the ACC tournament, which starts Feb. 28 at the Greensboro (N.C.) Coliseum, the top four seeds get double byes into the quarterfinals. The Nos. 5-8 seeds get first-round byes.
Asked Sunday about Cavaliers’ NCAA tourney prospects, Boyle said, “I don’t know. It’s hard to do the math on all of that. Again, I feel like if we keep looking down the road too far, then we’re going to keep [struggling].”
The goal, obviously, is “to get as many wins [as possible] before that ACC tournament is over,” said Boyle, who’s in her seventh season at Virginia. “We have to stay in the moment. We have to play inspired [basketball], and we have to know that every game is going to build our rÃƒÆ’Â©sumÃƒÆ’Â©.”
In a Senior Day ceremony before the game, student-managers Breanna Bowman, Casey Driskill and Heren Mekonnen were recognized first, followed by four players: Jae’Lisa Allen, J’Kyra Brown, Aliyah Huland El and Lauren Moses.
A Hollywood script would have cast those players in starring roles in a Virginia victory, but the reality was different at JPJ. Allen didn’t play Sunday, but the other three seniors were a combined 4 for 26 from the floor.
Huland El (0 for 11) went scoreless. Brown (3 for 10) scored eight of her 11 points in the final five minutes, after Miami built a 69-49 lead. Moses (1 for 5) had three points and four rebounds.
Boyle said she wasn’t sure how the emotions of Senior Day affected that group.
“I don’t know if it was just too much,” she said. “As a coach, you’re always second-guessing what you’re telling the team. We just gotta be ourselves and be a mentally and physically tough team and do the little things. [When] we do that, that’s where the wins have really showed up for us this year.”
The Cavaliers have plenty to play for, Boyle said, and they “all know that. It’s just we’ve got to find a way to play more inspired and be tougher physically and mentally, and that’s our job [as coaches] to help them.”
Sophomore center Felicia Aiyeotan, 4 for 4 from the floor, finished with nine points, eight rebounds, one block and one steal for UVA, which also received strong play from starting point guard Brianna Tinsley.
A freshman who starred at nearby St. Anne’s-Belfield, Tinsley was 4 for 4 from beyond the arc and finished with 13 points, five more than her previous high as a Cavalier.
Tinsley’s progress at the point has allowed the Cavaliers to use Toussaint more at her natural position, shooting guard.
“She’s really been good about running our team, and she’s getting more and more confident,” Boyle said of Tinsley. “She’s been thrown into a lot of situations as a first-year, and it’s only going to help her moving forward.”
Many more games at JPJ await Tinsley. For the seniors, a chapter of their basketball careers is closing.
“They’ve given a lot to the program,” Boyle said. “They came here and wanted to really lay a foundation and take this program to the next level, and they’ve all contributed in different ways. So one game does not reflect what they’ve really done for this program from many, many, many standpoints.”