Squad finishes 9-7 with three straight wins
Cavaliers defeat Florida State 66-5 offsets 23 percent field goal percentage, growing frustration, leaves room for improvement
The Virginia women's basketball team concluded its home schedule Friday before taking a trip to Tallahassee yesterday to defeat Florida State 66-57. With regular season accolades, tournament scenarios and postseason implications all too apparent to go unnoticed, the suddenly surging Cavaliers won their third straight game to clinch a winning record in the ACC.
During Friday's second half, Virginia's (21-9, 9-7 ACC) field goal percentage dipped below 23 percent and a growing sense of frustration replaced pregame nostalgia. Virginia coach Joanne Boyle stood in a crouch for much of the night, her face buried in her hands as shots from all angles glanced harmlessly off the rim in a pivotal tilt with Wake Forest (17-12, 7-9 ACC).
"We didn't play our best basketball in the first half and they could've come out and hung their heads," Boyle said. "But they didn't. They fought - they knew what they were fighting for. It was Senior Night, it was to wrap up the six-seed [in the ACC Tournament], it was to get 20 wins. There was a lot at stake and I was so proud of them."
The postgame ceremony recognizing the distinguished careers of the team's seniors, guard Ariana Moorer and forward Chelsea Shine, would have gone on regardless of the game's outcome. But a second-half scoring surge keyed a 61-55 victory against the Demon Deacons - the same team which closed the door on the Cavaliers' NCAA tournament hopes last year in the first round of the ACC tournament - ensured the ceremony would be that much sweeter for the two seniors.
"There wasn't much time to sit and wallow in what this night meant personally because this was a huge night for our team. It was a really big game with a lot on the line," Shine said. "Now I can enjoy it."
The Demon Deacons' swelling lead erased any sentimental feelings about the night for Shine, Moorer and the 3,988 fans in attendance. Virginia trailed by eight at the break after scoring just 25 points in the first half on 29 percent shooting.
But in the second half Virginia redoubled its focus and aggressiveness and found an unamused Moorer more than willing to lead the way. Moorer's lay-up with 7 minutes 27 seconds remaining in the first-half snapped a 7:30 scoring drought for Virginia, which Wake Forest had used to build its largest lead of 13 points.
"I'm so proud of the team, the fight that they had in the second half and just the will to win," Boyle said.
Virginia began to find its shooting touch and methodically cut into the lead as their ACC-best scoring defense kept the Cavaliers within striking distance.
Virginia crept within five-of-six straight free throws - two from junior center Simone Egwu and the last four by sophomore guard Ataira Franklin - with 14:43 remaining.
On the next play, Franklin made it a two-point game on a three-pointer from the left-wing off an assist by Moorer. Franklin scored a team-high 17 points.
"We're led by our seniors and we have to stay aggressive on offense," Boyle said. "I don't know if we're just waiting for someone to make the first punch, but we have to be the one that comes out from the gun and just goes after it."
Shine echoed her coach's comments.
"There [are] moments in games when you can tell that fire's lit and there's no stopping us at that point," Shine said. "We just go on a run and everyone's energy is so much better."
Franklin ignited the Cavaliers, but it was Moorer who kept Virginia hot. The senior guard scored eight straight points, drilling a triple to cut the deficit to one before drawing the fifth foul on Wake Forest senior forward Secily Ray on a three-point attempt. She sunk all three free throws to give the Cavaliers a 2-point lead.
The Demon Deacons evened the score at 42-all, but Moorer sparked a 7-0 run from there with a pump-fake and pull-up from the left elbow to put her team up for good.
"I'm a little emotional here and there," Moorer said after the game. "But it's a great win for our team."
Shine registered her 1,000th career point on a baseline jumper in the first half and was presented with the game ball. Moorer moved into 19th on Virginia's all-time scoring list with another Herculean effort yesterday.
Moorer matched a season-high with 23 points and the Cavaliers boasted strong performances from Franklin and sophomore guard Kelsey Wolfe, who scored 11 points in the first half, to survive against a resilient Florida State (14-16, 6-10 ACC) squad and earn the season sweep. Moorer hit a three to put her team up 44-33 with 15:27 left, but Florida State's lone senior, forward Cierra Bravard, kept the game close with 24 points and 10 rebounds on 11-of-13 shooting on her Senior Night.
The Seminoles used a 9-0 run to tie the game at 51-all with 6:37 to play. Virginia answered back with an 11-0 streak of its own highlighted by three-pointers from Franklin and junior guard Lexie Gerson to state a strong case for an at-large NCAA bid regardless of their performance in the ACC tournament.
"At the beginning of the season we wanted ultimately to make the [NCAA tournament]," Shine said. "Now, not that we've necessarily made it, but now we're fighting for seeding in the NCAA. We're not done yet. We're not ready to go out until we do some damage in the NCAA tournament."
The Cavaliers earned the No. 6 seed in the ACC bracket and look to face Boston College in Greensboro, N.C. Thursday 8 p.m. Virginia beat the Eagles Jan. 21 69-58, behind 21 points from Franklin. The winner faces No. 3 Maryland Friday 8 p.m.