The Virginia women's basketball team has relied on its defense ever since junior guard Lexie Gerson replaced injured fellow junior guard China Crosby in the starting lineup one month ago. In keeping with this approach, the Cavaliers forced Florida State into 23 turnovers as Virginia overpowered the Seminoles for the full 40 minutes en route to a 62-52 victory that was televised nationally on ESPNU.
Virginia (16-7, 4-5 ACC) nearly led wire-to-wire as they constantly applied full-court pressure against the Seminoles to record 14 steals and score 28 points off turnovers.
Florida State (12-11, 5-5 ACC) outshot Virginia from the field as the Seminoles made 46 percent of their field goals compared to 36 percent shooting for Virginia, but the Seminoles could not overcome the extra possessions they handed to the Cavalier offense.
"It's the same thing we do every game," coach Joanne Boyle said of the steals. "It's part of who we are. I thought the difference tonight was that we capitalized on transition. We were getting tips and deflections and we scoredsome easy baskets and that was the big difference tonight."
With 7 minutes, 41 seconds to play and Virginia up by nine, Gerson tipped a Florida State pass toward the right sideline and dove out of bounds, throwing the ball off the leg of redshirt junior forward Chasity Clayton to send possession back to Virginia.
On the ensuing possession, Gerson drove through the Seminoles' zone defense toward the right elbow and delivered a pass back to her left to senior guard Arianna Moorer for the lay-up to give Virginia a 51-40 lead. Gerson finished with five assists and five takeaways to go along with her 13 points and four rebounds.
"I'm not doing anything different now," Gerson said. "[I'm] just trying to fly around and bring the energy to my team."
The crowd of 4,840 at John Paul Jones Arena began to sense victory as the Cavaliers led by nine with less than six minutes to play. With the shot clock winding down and the fans doing the wave, Moorer set up on the left wing and drained her only three-point attempt of the night to give Virginia a 54-42 lead and seal the win for the Cavaliers.
Virginia, the ACC leader in turnover differential at plus-9.2 per game, appeared fully aware of Florida State's inability to protect the ball. The Seminoles rank last in the ACC in turnover differential with a mark of minus-3.5 per contest, and the Cavaliers employed a zone press from the opening tip to pick off errant passes around the mid-court line.
With just over 7 minutes gone, Gerson snuck into the backcourt and snatched an ill-advised outlet pass by sophomore forward Natasha Howard for the Cavaliers' fourth steal and the Seminoles' eighth turnover at that point.
Gerson then dished to Moorer for a running jumper, which gave Virginia its largest lead of the opening half - 14-6. Moorer led Virginia with 15 points on 6-of-10 shooting.
"Going to the basket is what I do," Moorer said. "My first two years I had [former Cavalier] Monica Wright so I was still aggressive at times, but all I had to do was throw it up to her behind the back or between the legs. She would go get it."
The Seminoles tried to counter Virginia's full court pressure by making the Cavaliers play inside when they broke the press. Florida State hit the post early and often, looking to exploit the mismatch of 6-foot-4 senior forward
Cierra Bravard and the 6-foot-3 Howard isolated in single coverage against Virginia's stretched out 3-2 zone.
Bravard, an All-ACC first team member in 2010-11, scored a team-high 12 points. Howard, a third-team freshman All-American last year, scored eight points on 4-of-6 shooting with six rebounds.
"They liked to pound it into Bravard, and they did, but you have to pick your poison," Boyle said. "When you only have to focus on one player and everybody else is out of sorts, it's a good look for us."
With Virginia ahead 16-8, Bravard knocked down a pair of short-jumpers in the lane to spark a 6-0 Florida State run to bring the Seminoles to within two, 16-14. The Cavaliers grabbed a 26-18 lead with 1 minute 45 seconds to play in the first half thanks to a 7-0 streak from their post players. Junior center Simone Egwu made one-of-two from the line and sophomore forward Jazmin Pitts finished on a lay-up before junior forward Telia McCall converted inside and knocked down a pair of free throws.
With 37 seconds to play in the half, the Cavaliers collapsed the zone and nearly stole possession as McCall batted the ball out of the paint. But the ball landed in the waiting arms of redshirt junior guard Alexa Deluzio, who knocked down the game's first trey to bring Florida State within three.
Freshman forward Kristi Mokube closed the half with an offensive rebound and put-back as time expired to bring the score to 26-25 at halftime.
That was the closest Florida State would come to knotting the score, however, as the Cavaliers opened the second-half with their first deep ball of the afternoon when Moorer found Gerson for an open look on the wing. Gerson's bucket ignited an 11-2 run to establish Virginia's largest lead at 37-27.
Senior forward Chelsea Shine, who went scoreless in the first-half, also contributed to the surge. Shine gave Virginia a 35-27 lead with her first points of the night when she made a put-back basket, and she totaled eight points in the second half.
Sophomore guard Ataira Franklin struggled from the field, making just 3-of-11 from the field and missing all five of her three-point attempts, but she put her stamp on the game with a team-high six steals to go along with 11 points and five rebounds. Franklin also made both of her free-throw attempts as the Cavaliers shot 80 percent from the line for the day.
The win vaults Virginia into the cluttered middle of the ACC standings with just seven regular season games remaining before the conference tournament in Greensboro, N.C. begins March 1.\nVirginia will play a pair of games in North Carolina next weekend against No. 25 North Carolina Friday and N.C. State Sunday.
"Heading into February, it's not going to come down to a lot of big plays but doing the little things like we did tonight," Boyle said. "It's about starting the second half strong, finishing down the stretch, coming out of the game plus on the boards and making free throws. That's what road games are about"