Virginia comes up short against North Carolina
Cavaliers doom chances of a win with "huge letdown" to open second half
The Virginia women’s basketball team played at or above the level of No. 11 North Carolina for much of Thursday night’s tilt at John Paul Jones Arena. The Cavaliers went into halftime down by two against the Tar Heels and outscored their hyper-athletic opponents by 13 in the final 11:28 of the game.
By that time, however, Virginia had all but thrown away its chance at victory. The Cavaliers lost their hold on the game in the first nine minutes of the second half, and despite their best efforts at a late-game comeback, Virginia fell just short, 80-74.
“We — just for about five [or] six minutes at the start of the second half — just had a huge letdown, and obviously had to fight our way back,” coach Joanne Boyle said. “And Carolina’s a very good team, and it’s just tough to make up that many points.”
The Cavaliers (13-13, 6-7 ACC) missed 11 of their first 13 shots coming out of the break, while North Carolina (21-6, 9-4 ACC) kept right on scoring. By the time Virginia got off its heels, the deficit had swelled to 19 points.
The Tar Heels’ 24-7 run effectively canceled out the Cavaliers’ two considerable accomplishments of the first half: out-rebounding North Carolina by 12 and holding freshman guard Diamond DeShields, the reigning espnW National Player of the Week, without a point.
“It’s all there,” Boyle said. “You know, we’re playing with these teams that are top-10, top-15 teams, and we just — we’ve got to understand that it’s a 40-minute game, and we just had lapses too long against good teams. It’s just too much to come back.”
Against the odds, the Cavaliers stormed back into contention after freshman guard Allisha Gray sunk a 3-pointer for a 58-39 lead with 11:28 to play. Out of the media timeout, freshman forward Sydney Umeri found sophomore guard Faith Randolph cutting down the lane, resulting in a 3-point play. Senior guard Ataira Franklin poked the ball away from freshman guard Jessica Washington, and redshirt senior guard Lexie Gerson finished on the other end, bringing Virginia within 14.
The Cavaliers made another push after Gray again struck from distance for a 67-51 advantage with 5:26 to go. Senior guard Kelsey Wolfe split a pair of free throws, and Gerson found Franklin for a 3-pointer after intercepting a pass from sophomore guard N’Dea Bryant at midcourt. The Cavaliers pressured Bryant into a travel, and junior forward Sarah Imovbioh cut down the left side of the lane on the other end, bringing Virginia within 10 at the 3:53 mark.
The teams traded baskets until freshman forward Stephanie Mavunga scored inside off Gray’s feed for a 77-67 lead with 1:08 to play. Virginia chipped away from the free throw line, with Gerson and Randolph each sinking two out of two attempts. After Gray missed the second of two free throws with 24 seconds to go, Virginia pushed the ball to Randolph, who lofted from behind the arc to cut the deficit to four. DeShields then iced the game at the free throw line.
Randolph’s triple gave her a game-high 24 points — 16 coming in the second half. All season long, she has been Virginia’s not-so-secret weapon off the bench, eliciting praise from Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw earlier this year, and she was at it again on Thursday.
“Nothing felt different today,” Randolph said. “I mean, that’s my job — to do whatever to help us win — and that’s what I felt like I did. But I just felt like a few lapses on just offense and defense really hurt us. And, you know, that’s my part too, and we just all have to take ownership.”
Virginia looked strong early against North Carolina, using a 10-0 run to take a 14-10 lead after falling behind in the opening minutes. Gerson knocked down Virginia’s first 3-pointer of the evening to give the Cavaliers an 11-10 advantage, while Wolfe and Imovbioh each drew a charge, Imovbioh’s on DeShields. Gerson also picked off junior guard Latifah Coleman when she tried to sling a pass to DeShields cutting backdoor.
Virginia shot 38 free throws on the game compared to North Carolina’s 20, and Randolph went 9 for 9 from the charity stripe. The Cavaliers, however, shot 20 of 61 from the floor and lost their control of the boards in the second half, when the Tar Heels outrebounded them by eight. North Carolina — led by Gray, who finished with 18 points, five rebounds and four assists, and Mavunga, who put up a 17-point, 10-rebound double-double — outscored the Cavaliers by 18 points in the paint.
The Cavaliers play three more regular-season games and are still looking to resolve their season-long inconsistencies on both ends of the floor. The team gets its next chance at a road win this Sunday at NC State.
“We just have to bring it on the floor,” Randolph said. “You know, once that ball goes up in the air, we just got to bring it. Like, all this practice and stuff — it’s towards the end of the season, and we just have to mentally be there. And, you know, I think we will.”