Smothering Virginia defense stifles Boston College, fuels 69-57 win
Eagles shoot 29.1 percent; Franklin reaches 1,000 career points
With just under seven minutes remaining in the game, Ataira Franklin hit a shot from just outside the 3-point line and the crowd at John Paul Jones Arena erupted. But the referees called for the shot to be reviewed.
“They announced it, and then they were like ‘wait a minute,’” Franklin said. “It felt like a two, because I had to step back to shoot it. I was just like ‘please, please be a three.’”
The call stood, and Franklin took her rightful place in the Virginia record book, scoring her 1,000th point for the Cavaliers. The bucket was part of a game-high 18 points for the junior guard, who helped lead the Virginia women’s basketball team (13-6, 5-3 ACC) to a 69-57 win against Boston College (8-10, 2-5 ACC) Thursday evening.
“It feels great to be a part of the history of the University, and just be able to contribute, and on top of it, to win,” Franklin said. “Had we lost, it wouldn’t have been such a celebration.”
Franklin became the 29th player in Virginia program history to earn 1,000 points, and the milestone serves as a continuation of a strong season for the preseason All-ACC pick. She has managed to fight through an early-season knee injury to lead the team in scoring.
“We ask her to be a leader, we ask her to be a threat on offense, we ask her to defend their best player,” coach Joanne Boyle said. “You can finally see her offense coming. She’s been struggling early mostly because of her knee, and she just wasn’t the Frankie of old. She’s back in her old rhythm.”
Alongside Franklin’s stellar game was a strong performance from Virginia’s bench players, something that has not been prevalent in the Cavaliers’ recent ACC play. Sophomore Sarah Imovbioh had 13 points and nine rebounds off the bench to provide a crucial jolt to the Cavaliers, giving the Cavalier starters time to catch their breath.
“It’s game-changing,” senior center Simone Egwu said. “Having a bench really makes a difference in the entire flow of the game. It gives you confidence, it takes pressure off of you. Sarah did a really good job tonight, and I think it helped everybody out.”
On a night when the team celebrated its offensive achievement, the Cavaliers’ defense deserved substantial credit for the win. Boston College had been shooting 34 percent from behind the arc going into the game, but Virginia came prepared with a tight defense. The Cavaliers obscured shooters’ vision with hands in their faces, as the Eagles tried to swing the ball to open shooters. The plan worked, as Boston College went just 2-of-13 from 3-point range and 8-of-25 from the field in the first half.
“Our game plan was to stay up and defend the three, so we just had hard switches out on everything,” Franklin said. “We were switching [guard] through [center], and that’s not something we typically do, but we were like ‘Simone, you’re going to have to sit down and guard a guard tonight.’ I think it worked pretty well for us.”
Coming out of halftime leading 33-27, the Cavaliers elevated their play in the opening stretch of the second half. Boston College looked completely flustered, as the Eagles found it impossible to break through the Cavalier defense, going 0-16 from the field to start the half. Virginia capitalized on the Eagles’ failures, building a 17-point lead inside the game’s final 10 minutes.
“There’s always that point in the game where you feel like everything is going your way, and I would attribute a lot of that to our defense,” Franklin said. “There were times in the second half where we would pass the ball around and it wouldn’t even hit the floor. Getting stops gave us confidence, and we were a lot more calm on offense.”
Boston College eventually recovered enough to start hitting shots late in the second half, but the Virginia lead proved insurmountable. The Eagles hit just 19.2 percent of their 3-point shots for the game, their lowest percentage of the season, and shot 29.1 percent from the field overall.
In contrast, the Cavaliers shot 33 percent from three and 45 percent from the field for the game. Both Imovbioh and Egwu missed a double-double by one rebound each, but the team was characteristically strong on the boards, outrebounding Boston College 39-34.
Virginia now hits the road for an ACC matchup with Wake Forest (10-9, 3-4 ACC) Sunday. Wake Forest is third in the conference in 3-pointers per game, so the Cavaliers will look to match their strong perimeter defense from the Boston College game. Senior guard Lakevia Boykin leads the Lady Deacons with 15.6 points per game so far this season — good for fourth in the ACC — and presents a challenge for the Virginia defense.