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Cavs fail to overcome ranked West Virginia squad

Despite late rally, Virginia falls 54-47 in tough contest against No. 25 Mountaineers

A late rally was not enough for the Virginia women’s basketball team to overcome No. 25 West Virginia Sunday, as the Cavaliers fell 54-47 in a physical affair at John Paul Jones Arena. Despite strong performances from junior guard Ataira Franklin and senior center Simone Egwu, the Cavaliers could not climb all the way back.

“They were definitely a physical team,” Egwu said. “We thought we had prepared for it, but I just don’t think we did an adequate job.”

Virginia (5-2, 0-0 ACC) looked strong early, using two 3-pointers from Franklin and making five free throws to take an early lead on the athletic Mountaineers. After junior forward Jazmin Pitts nailed a free throw with 11 minutes remaining in the first half, the Cavaliers held a 17-8 lead, but that advantage would be short-lived.

West Virginia (4-2, 0-0 Big 12) rode its own scoring streak to wipe out the early deficit, reeling off 10 straight points to take a one point edge, 18-17. Mountaineer freshman guard Bria Holmes, who scored nine points off the bench in the first period alone, punctuated the rally after a Virginia timeout with a layup.

Despite leading 26-23 at halftime, the Cavaliers appeared overmatched at times by the West Virginia defense. The Mountaineers hounded the Virginia offense with their all-out athletic play, keeping the Cavaliers from getting easy looks at the basket and forcing them to shoot just 23 percent from the field in the opening period.

“It’s a tough team to prepare for with a day turnaround,” coach Joanne Boyle said. “Tonight you weren’t going to get any looks. It’s got to be all of your pressure relief stuff, and you’ve got to be able to handle the pressure to get yourself looks.”

In the second half, the poor shooting caught up to Virginia. The Cavaliers could not find an offensive rhythm, scoring just four points in the first nine minutes of the half while the Mountaineers took control. West Virginia used its stifling defense to create transition offense, and opened the half on a 20-4 run to take a 13-point lead.

“We came out, and when we missed a basket, they’re so fast, it’s like your transition defense is nonexistent,” Boyle said.

Trailing by double digits, Virginia tried to find an offensive spark to bring the game back within reach. The more urgent play led to some forced shots and multiple turnovers, an unwelcome sign for a team that had limited turnovers so well in a 90-68 win against Minnesota Thursday. After committing just 13 turnovers in that game, the Cavaliers committed 23 Sunday.

“You need a bucket, and we were trying to run it,” Boyle said. “Some people were running things the way they were supposed to and others weren’t… Part of that is just mental preparation. When people pressure you like that, usually you get over the top looks … but we were throwing the ball out of bounds.”

The Cavaliers began to find a groove late in the half. A layup by Egwu brought the score to 43-47 with five minutes to play. Egwu, who played just eight minutes against the Gophers after sustaining an injury, was a driving force for Virginia, scoring 14 points in 33 minutes.

“It was a great moment,” Egwu said of the layup. “It was a really well executed play. We thought that was the minute we were going to close it.”

Virginia cut the deficit to just three points with three minutes remaining, but the late rally stalled. Mountaineer junior guard Christal Caldwell knocked down a 3-pointer with 2:07 remaining to push the lead back up to six. After Egwu scored inside, Caldwell clinched the win with a layup with 35 seconds left.

Virginia will now prepare for a mid-week matchup against ACC rival Maryland in College Park Thursday.

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