The Virginia women's basketball team overcame poor shooting and suspect interior defense early Saturday night to notch a critical conference win against reeling Boston College, 69-58.
With just under eight minutes to play and Virginia (15-6, 3-4 ACC) clinging to a 54-52 lead, Cavalier junior guard Lexie Gerson, who ranks second in the ACC in steals, saw an opportunity for her fifth takeaway of the night.
Gerson poked the ball free from sophomore forward Kristen Doherty, dove toward the right sideline and with an outstretched arm stopped the ball's momentum just before it rolled out of bounds.\nFrom her back, she flung the ball up-court to a streaking sophomore guard Ataira Franklin, who deposited a short jumper to stretch Virginia's lead to four.
Gerson then converted two free throws off a loose ball foul on the next play to give Virginia its largest lead since an 8-2 score early in the first half. The junior received the loudest ovation of the night from a crowd of 3,161 as she headed to the bench with 7:20 to play and the Cavaliers leading 58-52.
"I think Lexie was really a spark for us," Franklin said of Gerson, who finished with 13 points and a team-high eight rebounds, five assists and six steals. "Lexie takes her role so seriously and when she really gets in her zone, she's really great for us as far as rebounds and steals."
On a night in which each Virginia run was swiftly answered by a Boston College squad (5-14, 0-6 ACC) desperate for a win after losing five straight conference games, the Cavaliers looked to follow Gerson's example and deliver the knockout punch. Boston College sophomore guard Shayra Brown had other ideas.
Less than a minute after Gerson left the game, Brown banked in a triple to bring Boston College back within three. Coming off the bench, Brown led all Eagles scorers with 25 points on blistering 10-of-11 shooting from the field.
"One thing about BC is that even though their record in the ACC isn't [great], if you watch film on them, they're a team that doesn't quit, and that's their personality," Virginia coach Joanne Boyle said. "That was the one thing that we talked to our girls about is, 'This team is not going to quit on you.'"
On the next trip down the court, Franklin let out a cry of both relief and exultation as she responded with a three of her own. Franklin's shot ignited an 11-0 run which finally silenced the Eagles, and the guard led the Cavaliers with 21 points on 6-of-16 shooting, adding five assists and three blocks.
Junior forward Telia McCall scored six points during the streak, extending the lead to 10 and icing the victory on a short jumper with 2:24 to play off an assist from Gerson. McCall finished with 12 points in 26 minutes off of an unusually short bench for Virginia, as McCall was the only backup to play more than seven minutes.
Boyle tried to catch Boston College off guard early, deviating from the zone defense the team has used almost exclusively this season in favor of full-court pressure in a man-to-man scheme.
"We figured with only one day to prep for us, they were going to prep for the zone," Boyle said. "So we thought if we gave them a different look, we would rattle them for a couple of possessions."
The aggressive strategy seemed to pay dividends early as the Eagles turned the ball over three times in the game's first 90 seconds, and the Cavaliers jumped out to a six-point lead. After surveying Virginia's scheme, however, Boston College made the adjustments needed to exploit the full-court press.
Virginia dropped back into its zone defense before the end of the first half but not before Boston College did some damage against the ACC's second-ranked defense, which allows just 52.8points per game. The Eagles scored 20 of their 32 points in the paint in the first half as they shot 52 percent from the field, routinely finding open lanes to the basket.
Boston College capitalized on a nine-minute period during which Virginia scored just four points on 1-of-10 shooting to take a 24-16 lead and head to the break with a 32-31 lead.
The Cavaliers shot just 37.7 percent from the field compared to Boston College's 48.9 percent mark but overcame their shooting woes by attempting 14 more shots than the Eagles, the product of a lopsided turnover differential and improved focus on rebounding.
"I kept telling them every timeout, 'you're down nine, you're down eight, you're down five," Boyle said. "Every timeout, I told them how much we were down on the boards and I thought in the second half they started going for them."
The win comes at a critical time for Virginia, which snapped a two game losing streak and notched its third conference victory before playing three of its next four on the road, starting with a trip to Georgia Tech Wednesday.
"This was a game that we needed to win," Franklin said.