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Virginia battles Providence at John Paul Jones

Players seek more consistency following tough test against Penn

The Virginia women’s basketball team hosts Providence Sunday after winning its first two games of the season. The similar outcomes, however, camouflage drastically different games.

Despite a 78-57 victory in the season opener against James Madison, the Cavaliers needed an impressive turnaround to survive Penn, 68-65, Monday. The Quakers led by 12 points at halftime, forcing Virginia to rely on a 22-point performance from junior guard Kelsey Wolfe as it staged a second-half comeback.

“We’ve been in some situations like that last year, and they knew they had to fight for it,” coach Joanne Boyle said. “We didn’t play obviously our best basketball at all in the first half.”

Beyond Wolfe’s breakout performance, the Cavaliers implemented a new defensive strategy that paid dividends both in limiting Penn’s and opening up Virginia’s offense.

“We went into man-to-man defense,” Wolf said. “We just really wanted to pressure them, and be aggressive, and kind of keep the tempo going, and pressure them.”

Despite the close call Monday, the Cavaliers hope they can reset during a full five-day break before facing Providence.

“At this point in the game, it’s really about us and working on us and getting better on the things we’re not good at,” Boyle said, “We get a couple of days to do that. You don’t get those kinds of weeks very often in your season, so we’re trying to take advantage of them now.”

During the week’s practices, Virginia has reemphasized the man-to-man defense that proved so beneficial against the Quakers.

“Last year, we were pretty much strictly a zone team, but the coaches want man-to-man to be our secondary defense,” junior guard Ataira Franklin said. “We’re working on man principles, breaking it down, and working on the fundamentals of defense, and just working on different situations in man.”

A new defensive strategy is not the Cavaliers’ only advantage this week. Virginia’s performance in its past two games reflected a balanced unit. Two different players — Wolfe and sophomore forward Sarah Imovbioh — played hero for the Cavaliers each night, and Franklin averaged 16.5 points in the games.

“Last year, I would say we were a more guard-oriented team, but this year, we can go more inside out, and if somebody’s having an off game, someone else is going to step up,” Franklin said.

The Cavaliers know they must resolve the inconsistencies between their first two contests. But after coupling their versatility with a new defensive strategy, the players cannot help but look forward to the rest of season.

“We’re optimistic,” Franklin said. “We came out really aggressive against JMU, and then we had a tight game against Penn. Obviously, we need to bring more consistency as the season progresses. We’re just excited and eager.”

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