Miami storms back, bests Virginia 56-53
Squad blows late 53-51 lead at home against No. 11 Hurricanes, loses fifth game to ranked opponent in six tries this season
The Virginia women's basketball team played No. 11 Miami even for 39 minutes, but the Cavaliers' mistakes caught up to them in the 40th minute as the Hurricanes scored the game's final five points to escape with a 56-53 victory.
Virginia's stifling zone defense forced the high-flying Hurricanes (16-3. 5-1 ACC) into the type of low-scoring, grind-it-out game in which the Cavaliers thrive. Virginia (14-6, 2-4 ACC) held the ACC's second-best scoring team to just 53 points, forced 27 turnovers and held the Hurricanes to 4-of-17 shooting from behind the arc.
In a game in which neither team led by more than five, however, the small mistakes ultimately spelled doom for the Cavaliers.
With just 1:54 left and Virginia leading 53-51, junior forward Telia McCall, who played 32 impressive minutes off the bench for Virginia, earned a trip to the charity stripe with a hard drive.
McCall missed both free throws - misses number 12 and 13 on the night for the Cavaliers - as Virginia made just 11 of 24 attempts.
With about one minute to play, Miami senior guard Shenise Johnson, who scored a game-high 20 points, converted an and-one to give Miami a 54-53 lead on McCall's fifth foul.
With just more than 40 seconds left, Virginia coach Joanne Boyle decided to trust her defense to make a stand rather than fouling to send Miami to the line for a one-and-one. The strategy worked initially, as Johnson clanged a deep three-pointer, but the Hurricanes' junior center Shawnice Wilson corralled the team's 18th and most important offensive rebound.
"Offensive rebounds have kind of been our Achilles' heel," Boyle said. "We have to finish those possessions."
After Johnson - who scored the game's final six points - nailed two free throws to take a three-point lead, senior guard Ariana Moorer missed a tightly contested three-pointer which would have evened the score. Sophomore forward Jazmin Pitts came up with the offensive board, one of 21 offensive rebounds for the Cavaliers, and wisely dribbled beyond the baseline three-point arc only to have her last-second desperation heave go begging. Virginia was 0-for-9 from beyond the arc.
The Cavaliers took a 33-29 edge into the break in a back-and-forth defensive struggle which featured eight ties and eight lead changes. Virginia grabbed its largest lead of the first half at 31-26 on a rebound and put back by Moorer which electrified a fiery crowd of 3,161. Moorer finished with a team-high 18 points on 8-of-18 shooting while playing all 40 minutes at point guard.
"When she wants to go to the rim, nobody can stop her," Boyle said. "We told her tonight in particular that we really needed to play north-south not east-west and I thought she really bought into that and did a great job."
Virginia successfully weathered two fouls apiece on senior forward Chelsea Shine and sophomore guard Ataira Franklin during the game's first five minutes, which forced both to the bench for the rest of the half. The Cavaliers also received heavy minutes and strong contributions from McCall, Pitts and sophomore guard Kelsey Wolfe.
"We're used to a certain flow because Chelsea and I usually do play a lot of minutes, but Jaz and Kelsey stepped up tremendously for us," Franklin said. "Ari really turned it on tonight too. There's going to be days like that, but that's what you need, for people to step up."
Pitts, McCall and Wolfe all remained in the game down the stretch while starters junior center Simone Egwu and Shine remained on the bench.
"I thought Jaz and Telia were giving us great minutes so you're just going to go with people who are in the flow," Boyle said.
Virginia will play just its third ACC game against an unranked opponent Saturday when it takes on Boston College (5-13, 0-5 ACC). The Eagles lost their fifth straight game in conference play last night, falling to Florida State 68-59. Virginia ended the Eagles' season last year, avenging a 23-point regular season drubbing with a 53-48 victory in the third round of the WNIT tournament.
"We can't approach [the Boston College game] any differently than any other game," Boyle said. "Boston College is a great team; they play teams competitively. Just because they're not ranked, doesn't mean they're not a good team."