By Jeff White (

GREENSBORO, N.C. — If the opportunity comes for them to continue their season, perhaps in the new Women’s Basketball Invitation Tournament, the Virginia Cavaliers won’t hesitate to do so. They want a chance to show that they’re better and more poised than the team that exited the ACC tournament Wednesday night.

With a minute remaining in the third quarter of its first-round game with 14th-seeded Wake Forest, 11th-seeded UVA led led 46-31 and seemed headed for a convincing win. Instead, the Wahoos unraveled, and the Demon Deacons took full advantage.

Wake scored the final four points of the third quarter and then blitzed Virginia 23-9 in the fourth to secure a stunning 58-55 victory. The final score actually flattered the Hoos, who hit two 3-pointers in the final nine seconds after the Deacons built a 57-49 lead.

“Obviously this was not how we wanted this tournament to go, and it shouldn’t have gone this way, for a lot of reasons,” UVA forward Sam Brunelle said. “But It is what it is. We are still eligible for postseason. So we’re gonna have to look ahead to that and hopefully they call us and want us to play in postseason. And if that’s the case, then we’re gonna play.”

Virginia (15-15) followed one of the most exhilarating wins in program history—an upset of then-No. 5 Virginia Tech in front of a record crowd at John Paul Jones Arena—with one of the most excruciating losses.

“Disappointed,” said Amaka Agugua-Hamilton, who’s in her second year as the Cavaliers’ coach.

The victory was only the seventh of the season for Wake, which has lost 24 games. One of those defeats was to Virginia, which prevailed 87-79 in Winston-Salem last month. That didn’t deter the Deacons, who turned in an inspired effort in the fourth quarter Wednesday night.

“They came into this tournament and they saw that this is their opportunity, too,” Brunelle said. “It’s everyone’s opportunity at this point. And they just did it better today.”

Kymora Johnson (21)

UVA has experienced little success at this tournament in recent years. The Hoos haven’t won a first-round game since 2019, and they haven’t reached the quarterfinals since 2018, their final season under head coach Joanne Boyle.

For two quarters Wednesday night, Virginia struggled to separate from Wake, which led 25-23 at halftime.

In the third quarter, though, the Cavaliers surged ahead with a lineup that matched reserves Jillian Brown and Edessa Noyan with starters Camryn Taylor, Kymora Johnson and Paris Clark.

Then came the calamitous final period. Noyan scored on a putback with 8:02 remaining to push UVA’s lead to 48-37. The Deacs responded with a 20-1 run. Virginia’s lone point during that stretch came on a free throw by Brown at the 2:59 mark.

“I’m not exactly sure where things went wrong and why we were just not on one accord, not on the same page, but we just could not get together,” Agugua-Hamilton said. “We did a little bit in the third, but then we relaxed and they caught up.”

After building its big lead, Johnson said, Virginia “got complacent, and [Wake] just came back.”

The Deacs went ahead with 1:29 remaining on a three-point play by Alyssa Andrews. They didn’t relinquish the lead.

To Wake head coach coach Megan Gebbia, Andrews’ play “was the turning point … We needed that shot to go in and her to make the free throw for us to get the lead. And then it seemed like once we got the lead, we executed well at both ends of the floor.”

Taylor and Johnson each made a trey in the final nine seconds, but time ran out on the Cavaliers’ comeback attempt, and the Deacs were the ones celebrating when the final horn sounded.

“We didn’t compete,” Agugua-Hamilton said. “Credit to Wake Forest, they wanted it more … They went and took it.”

Camryn Taylor (20)

Taylor, a senior, led UVA with 18 points on 8-for-14 shooting, and Johnson, one of the nation’s top freshmen, contributed 15 points, nine rebounds and five assists. None of the other Cavaliers scored in double figures.

“I think Cam and Mo played with urgency,” Agugua-Hamilton said, “and they tried to put the team on their back. Both of them were battling in there … Mo tried in the second half to put the team on her back, Cam tried.

“We’ve just got to make sure that we get on the same page early. Can’t start slow. We can’t have those kind of droughts. When we get up, we’ve got to keep the lead. Postseason, you’re not going to blow anybody out like that. It’s going to be a dogfight until the end, so this was a learning experience.”

Johnson said the game was a reminder that “tomorrow is not promised. I think that’s the biggest thing that I’ll take away from this, because it’s anybody’s game on any given day.”

During the regular season, the Cavaliers knocked off four ranked opponents: Florida State, North Carolina, Louisville and Virginia Tech. But they also had perplexing losses to Wofford and Pitt, among others.

Wake advances to meet sixth-seeded FSU in the second round. The Cavaliers headed home Thursday uncertain of their fate.

“Hopefully we’ll get into some kind of postseason tournament,” Agugua-Hamilton said. “We’re eligible. If we do, we’ve got to come back out and compete and want it.”

Taylor and Brunelle are among the Cavaliers whose college careers are ending. For most of their teammates, there will be other ACC tournaments.

“Obviously, the future is very bright,” Agugua-Hamilton said. “We fought this season to get to where we were. We have some really good wins. Hopefully the season is not over. But we’re going to build off of this, learn from this experience and get better.

“But it’s disappointing, because we know what we could have done, and regrets are really hard to live with. If we do get into a postseason tournament, then we’ve got to understand this feeling so that it doesn’t happen again.”

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