Cavs roll into WNIT quarterfinals
Free-flowing offense propels team to highest win total since 2000 caption: Sophomore guard Ataira Franklin
Senior guard Ariana Moorer was dishing, sophomore guard Ataira Franklin was knocking down shots, junior guard Lexie Gerson was stealing and the Virginia women's basketball team marched on to the quarterfinal of the WNIT with a 74-58 victory against Appalachian State.
Moorer notched a career-high 11 assists along with 16 points, six rebounds and four steals, and the Cavaliers scored 35 points off of 28 Mountaineer turnovers en route to their 25th win of the season, the most since the 1999-2000 season.
"I don't think any of us are ready to stop playing," Franklin said. "As a team we go where Ari goes. She's the floor general, and when she's playing well and playing at a great pace, we all tend to follow."
The Cavaliers capitalized on early back-to-back steals by Gerson to build an eight-point cushion they kept through the second half. The sure-handed Gerson snatched a Mountaineer pass cleanly out of the air and gave the ball up to Moorer, who found junior forward Telia McCall in the post on a transition play for an easy two. Virginia scored 17 fast-break points.
"This is what we do. We fly around," Moorer said of Virginia's defense, which ranks fourth in the nation in steals. "Ataira and Lexie get tips and deflections, and I come up with the steals so it's definitely fun to play like this."
Gerson finished with six steals, and McCall continued her strong play off the bench. McCall, who has been a key contributor to a thin Virginia bench, finished with 14 points and five rebounds in 31 minutes of action to help Virginia stay perfect so far this season when outrebounding its opponent.
"I'm getting her in earlier and earlier in the game," coach Joanne Boyle said of McCall. "She's really given us a spark, in particular in rebounding and second-chance opportunities."
Virginia led 7-0 until 10 minutes in when Mountaineer freshman guard Katie Mallow found her shooting stroke to give her team an injection of confidence against a Virginia squad which handed Appalachian State a 32-point loss in Charlottesville earlier this season. Mallow scored a team-high 17 points despite averaging just five points on the season, hitting four three-pointers early in the first half to even the score at 18 apiece.
After McCall's layup, Gerson came up with another steal and again passed it ahead to Moorer to spark another transition play. Moorer threw a bullet pass to the corner, not even bothering to watch as Franklin launched a shot. Instead, she circled back on defense and threw her arms up in celebration as Franklin's three-pointer hit nothing but net, resulting in one of four assists from Moorer to Franklin.
"I knew it was going in because that's what she does," Moorer said. "She spots up in the corner for the three. She knew I was going to give it to her, and she locked and loaded, and she let it fly."
The Cavaliers took a 35-27 edge into the break, then opened the second half with more of the same flare they showed in the first period. Moorer went coast-to-coast to extend the lead to 10 and Franklin drilled another three-pointer off a kick-out pass from senior forward Chelsea Shine in the post, making the score 40-29 in Virginia's favor. Franklin was just getting started, as she scored a team-high 22 points on an efficient 8-of-12 shooting, including 3-of-5 from beyond the arc.
"You can tell they know each other really well, and you don't just get that with players," Boyle said. "I think their chemistry is really good. They really know each other's game."
Moorer found Franklin for an acrobatic three-point play the old fashioned way on the next possession. Later during the rally, Moorer delivered a full-court pass to a streaking Franklin for the lay-up. Franklin scored an astounding 15 straight points for the Cavaliers as their lead swelled to 52-33.
"The shots that I'm getting aren't necessarily in the half-court set," Franklin said. "They're in transition. Any transition offense that we can get, anything we create from our defense is good for us because that's how we want to play. We want to play a fast up-and-down paced game."
Appalachian State made a modest run to close the gap to 14 with seven minutes remaining, but Moorer delivered the dagger with her niftiest play of the night. With a slight pump to her right where Franklin stood waiting on the wing, the entire defense jumped and left a wide open lane to the basket. Moorer fired a strike into the paint, and McCall again completed the easy two to seal the win.
"When she has floor games like she's been having the last three games, we're just better," coach Joanne Boyle said of her veteran point guard. "Her pace makes our pace as a team better, and we get easier looks at the basket. It makes everyone more relaxed."
The Cavaliers shot 57 percent from the field and scored 42 points in the paint.
"The team has completely bought in, and we're maximizing our potential. We're still playing deep into March," Boyle said. "We're peaking at the right time."
Virginia will play the winner of today's James Madison-South Florida matchup at a date and location to be announced. The Cavaliers handled the Dukes earlier this season with a 59-53 victory Dec. 20 at John Paul Jones Arena and did not face the Bulls during the regular season.