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Yellow Jackets outmatch uneven Virginia play

Cavaliers miss much-needed win against ACC bottom-dweller Georgia Tech

For a team in need of statement wins, the Virginia women’s basketball team certainly sent the wrong kind of statement Sunday evening. Against ACC bottom-dweller Georgia Tech, Virginia looked overmatched and underprepared and came away with a disappointing 65-62 loss.

The Cavaliers (14-7, 6-4 ACC) came into the game with a plan to contain Georgia Tech (10-12, 3-8 ACC) on both ends of the ball, and it looked effective early on. Running essentially a full court press defense from the first possession of the game, they were able to throw Georgia Tech off balance and build a quick 10-point lead. Virginia’s stifling press forced 13 turnovers in the first half, but the Yellow Jackets began to adapt to the defense as the half progressed and it became harder for the Cavaliers to contain them.

“[Junior guard Ataira Franklin] got in foul trouble, and we’re not as good in [the press] without [her] being the top of it,” Virginia coach Joanne Boyle said. “When [Franklin] came out they were scoring against us, so we tried to pull it back a little. Then we geared it back up and they got into a little bit of a rhythm.”

Once the Yellow Jackets were comfortable on offense, they began to seriously challenge Virginia. They had 13 offensive rebounds in the first half and frequently scored off of second chance baskets. The Cavaliers shot only 33 percent from the field in the first half, but they relied on 14 made free throws to take a 29-22 lead into halftime.

Coming out of the break, the Cavaliers tried to extend their lead and prevent a comeback from the visitors, but they found it increasingly difficult to stay ahead. Virginia’s perimeter game all but disappeared in the second half, as the team attempted only two shots from the behind the arc, missing both. With the Yellow Jackets taking away many of their shooting options, the Cavaliers found themselves passing the ball repeatedly to senior forward Telia McCall in the post.

“I didn’t feel like, as a coach, I did a good job,” Boyle said. “I felt really disjointed. If people are going to press you, you want to make them pay for it… and I felt like we were really conservative today. We kept passing it back to Telia, and then Telia would walk the ball up. You want to make them pay for pressing and we didn’t do that.”

McCall responded well, scoring a career-high 28 points and was one of the few bright spots for the Cavaliers, especially in the second half. Her 16 made free throws tied a school record, a mark not matched at Virginia since 1984. The Yellow Jackets attempted 34 field goals in the second half alone, just nine fewer than Virginia attempted for the entire game. Georgia Tech also drained 44 percent of their second-half shots, helping them finally tie the game at 51 with 8:32 to play. The Yellow Jackets held a 70-43 advantage over the Cavaliers in shots taken and 43 of Georgia Tech’s 65 points in the game came off of turnovers or second chance points, to which Virginia did not seem to have an answer.

Georgia Tech built as much as a five-point lead with under six minutes to play, but the teams continued to stay close as Virginia made another 17 free throws in the second half to somewhat make up for its lack of offensive production. Virginia took the lead again with less than two minutes remaining, but the Yellow Jackets tied the game at 61 with 52 seconds to play.

Senior center Simone Egwu hit a free throw to go up 62-61, but with 32 seconds left, Georgia Tech advanced the ball down the court in what would be the deciding possession. Georgia Tech junior guard Tyaunna Marshall missed a shot that was rebounded by McCall, but in her attempt to pass the ball up court, Marshall stole the ball back and sunk a layup, drawing an untimely foul from McCall under the basket.

“I was trying to get [Franklin], but I shouldn’t have bounce passed it,” McCall said. “It was a mental lapse that I wish hadn’t happened.”

But Marshall missed the subsequent free throw and Egwu grabbed the rebound and passed the ball to senior guard China Crosby. As Crosby drove to the rim for the go-ahead layup, she stepped out of bounds and returned the ball to Georgia Tech with five seconds remaining. Virginia immediately fouled, but sophomore guard Sydney Wallace made both free throws to seal the game.

“We ran a flat screen for her to get to the rim because there were only 15 seconds left, so we wanted to get something going to the rim and hopefully get fouled,” Boyle said. “I thought China should have just gone up for the layup, and instead I think she was looking for [Franklin] too much, so she overcompensated by stepping on the line to throw the flare to [Franklin].”

The loss, which was the Cavaliers’ first at home against an ACC opponent, dealt a crushing blow to the team’s tournament resume. Virginia now must regroup for a Friday matchup at home against No. 4 Duke, which defeated No. 11 North Carolina 84-63 Sunday.

“It’s obviously frustrating, but all we can do is look forward,” Franklin said. “We have Duke to prepare for now, so we just have to gear up.”

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