Women’s basketball dominates Central Connecticut, 103-59 in home opener

Cavaliers bounce back from loss against No. 7 Mississippi State

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Sophomore guard Jocelyn Willoughby had 17 points in Virginia's 64-61 loss to Georgia Thursday night. 

Richard Dizon | Cavalier Daily

Virginia women’s basketball coach Joanne Boyle left Starkville, Miss. Friday night frustrated with her team. With a squad that had showed a lot of promise last season — including an upset of then-No. 4 Florida State — Boyle hoped for a strong start to the season against No. 7 Mississippi State. Instead, Virginia appeared “out of sorts” according to Boyle, turning over the ball 23 times in a 68-53 loss to the Bulldogs.

As Virginia’s coach since 2011, Boyle has failed to lead her team to the NCAA Tournament — last season marked Virginia’s seventh straight without appearing in the Big Dance. She knew the Cavaliers needed to execute better on the court to have a shot at breaking this dry spell.

Responding to Boyle’s concerns, Virginia played aggressively and stepped up in its home opener Sunday afternoon, as all 12 active Cavalier players scored in a dominant 103-59 victory over Central Connecticut.

The Cavaliers (1-1, 0-0 ACC) played with an obvious urgency at the start of the game, going on an 8-0 run against the Blue Devils (0-2, 0-0 Northeast) within the first two minutes of play. Instrumental to that run was Virginia sophomore center Felicia Aiyeotan, who posted six points and three boards in the short duration. The Lagos, Nigeria native went on to record her second double-double in only her second collegiate start, collecting 10 rebounds and 12 points on 6-11 shooting.

“We’re really trying to go to [Aiyeotan] early and establish her position inside, which obviously helps our guards when people have to focus on her,” Boyle said.

That strategy worked early on, as Virginia sophomore guards Dominique Toussaint and Jocelyn Willoughby combined for 19 points and 8-12 from the field in the first half. In total, Virginia had 63 first-half points — just two shy of the program’s record of 65, which the Cavaliers set in 1995 against Cleveland State — while Central Connecticut only had 34.

Despite the large lead at the break, Boyle was not entirely satisfied with her team. While Virginia only gave up an average of 55.9 points per game last season, Central Connecticut was on pace to match Mississippi State’s total of 68 points. Toussaint said that the Cavaliers know they must execute defensively if they want to be successful.

“We were focused on how much we could stop them from scoring [in the second half], because we value our defense,” Toussaint said.

Virginia’s defensive focus paid off. Recording four steals within the first two minutes of the second half, the Cavaliers went on another 8-0 run that mirrored the start of the game. In total, Virginia forced 22 turnovers while only giving up nine — a vast improvement from Friday’s match against the Bulldogs — and held Central Connecticut to 25 second-half points.

Despite the Blue Devils draining 10 shots from downtown and Central Connecticut freshman guard Kiana Patterson posting 19 points, Virginia never gave anyone a reason to question who would win the game. With 103 points, the Cavaliers tied their highest scoring total in any game under Boyle.

Willoughby led Virginia with 19 points on 61.5 percent shooting. Serving as co-captain alongside Virginia senior forward Lauren Moses, the 2016 Gatorade New Jersey Girl’s Basketball Player of the Year facilitated a Cavalier offensive effort that produced four double-digit scorers.

“I think we definitely had great chemistry on the floor, and that’s something we’ve been working on in practice,” Willoughby said.

Next up, Virginia will face Georgia Thursday night in John Paul Jones Arena. With the Bulldogs (1-0, 0-0 SEC) dismantling Wofford 95-56 in their first match of the season, the Cavaliers will have to show some grit to pull out a victory and hold on to their momentum.

But for Boyle — who wants to finally lead the Cavaliers to a March Madness berth — this kind of challenge is exactly what she expects and welcomes.

“We know we have to come in and battle every day,” Boyle said. “Every win is going to matter this year.”

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