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Heartbreaking loss can't spoil team's solid weekend showing

Virginia women's basketball loses in last seconds to undefeated Syracuse but beats No. 19 Vanderbilt

Less than a second separated the Virginia women’s basketball team from perfection Saturday, but even a last-second loss could not spoil the team’s weekend at Puerto Rico, where it split games against No. 19 Vanderbilt (3-3) and Syracuse (6-0).

The Cavaliers (4-1) powered past a tough Vanderbilt team Friday in a 73-66 victory, thanks in large part to junior forward Jazmin Pitts’ 20 points off the bench.

“It was a great weekend for us, to play two great teams on a neutral floor,” coach Joanne Boyle said. “We get so much more out of playing teams like that than we do when we blow teams out.”

Virginia shot an impressive 53.1 percent from the field and weathered a strong second half from the Commodores. Sophomore forward Sarah Imovbioh added another 15 points in her already impressive debut campaign for the Cavaliers.

“I didn’t know what to expect, just because I didn’t have her last year,” Boyle said of Imovbioh, who sat out last season because of NCAA regulations. “It’s all about her effort. She’s really working that paint for us on both ends of the floor. She’s almost averaging a double-double for us.”

Against Syracuse Sunday, the Cavaliers came out firing for another tough test. Imovbioh scored the first nine points for the team. The squad shot 50 percent from 3-point range in the first half to take the halftime lead at 40-33. Imovbioh finished with 20 points.

The halftime lead proved difficult to hold, as the Orange capitalized on some key Cavalier miscues to claw back in the second half. Virginia committed 22 turnovers, giving its opponents easy scoring opportunities.

“We came out flat in the first five minutes, and then we turned that ball over in crucial points of the game,” Boyle said. “They went in and scored layups and that was a momentum changer for us. We’re a team that’s turning the ball over too much. Last year we were averaging 12 turnovers a game, and this year we’re probably between 16, 18, maybe 19 turnovers a game.”

Syracuse grabbed its first lead at 68-67 with 2 minutes, 30 seconds left, and the game was a back-and-forth battle until the final buzzer. Junior guard Kelsey Wolfe drained two free throws with 8.5 second left in the game to give Virginia the lead at 73-72, but the Orange still had time for one more possession. Syracuse brought the ball down the court, and with just .4 seconds on the clock Syracuse senior guard Elashier Hall was fouled on a layup to send her to the line. She sunk both free throws for a 74-73 victory.

“To lose was really frustrating, because we were fighting for 40 minutes, and the .4 seconds really changed our mood,” Imovbioh said. “We were really happy with the way we played, even though it was frustrating, because we fought through it even though we ere out numbered. It was a good experience for us.”

The loss did not significantly detract from the Cavaliers’ otherwise strong 4-1 open to the season. In addition to dominant performances from Imovbioh, the team has seen consistent production from senior guard China Crosby, who scored in double figures in both games during the weekend. Virginia is also shooting almost 75 percent from the free-throw line, an advantage that kept it competitive in the Syracuse game. Sunday’s result, though disappointing, was a learning experience for the team,

“We have to learn from it, move forward, but not forget it,” Boyle said.

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