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Pink-clad women's basketball defeats Virginia Tech, 80-64

Virginia wins 16th straight against rival Hokies, supports Play4Kay breast cancer awareness

The Virginia women’s basketball team took to the floor Sunday afternoon in pink jerseys and shorts for its annual Play4Kay game in support of breast cancer research. Pink-clad fans sat in every section of John Paul Jones Arena, and the visiting Virginia Tech Hokies substituted pink numbers for their customary maroon.

The event, held across the ACC in memory of former NC State coach Kay Yow, brings together players, fans and coaches around a cause beyond basketball, rendering the game’s result — an 80-64 Virginia (13-12, 6-6 ACC) win — almost secondary.

“[Yow] laid the foundation and the groundwork for all of us in this sport,” Virginia coach Joanne Boyle said. “Her wishes before she left was to have something like this. … She was so passionate about coaches and players and it just being a community, and I think that’s kind of what this has all served.”

The Cavaliers repelled a second-half Hokie (11-14, 1-11 ACC) comeback — Virginia Tech cut Virginia’s lead from 47-31 with 16:05 remaining to 56-51 with 8:04 to play — and then pulled away as the clock wound down.

Virginia looked to junior forward Sarah Imovbioh and senior backcourt captains Ataira Franklin, Kelsey Wolfe and Lexie Gerson in thwarting Virginia Tech’s comeback attempt. After the Hokies’ leading scorer, senior forward Uju Ugoka, narrowed Virginia’s lead to five, the four players combined for Virginia’s next 18 points as the Cavaliers regained command of the game for good.

With the win, Franklin concluded her decorated career undefeated against the Hokies, an accomplishment she does not take lightly.

“This is obviously an in-state rivalry, a game that you get up and you’re excited to play,” Franklin said. “And, you know, the crowd, they’re just amazing and they love when we play Virginia Tech. Everyone’s really bought into this rivalry, so to be able to go against them and not having lost, it feels great. And once again, it’s just something you take pride in.”

Monica Wright, the most prolific scorer in program history, gave the team’s pregame pep talk and the Cavaliers appeared to respond, scoring the game’s first nine points to build an 18-6 lead with 11:28 to go in the first half.

Franklin started hot, hitting from 18 feet for Virginia’s first points and splashing in a corner 3-pointer to put her team up 7-0. Sophomore guard Faith Randolph kept the Cavalier offense humming after subbing in at the 13:41 mark, knocking down mid-range jump-shots on her first two offensive possessions.

Virginia Tech, meanwhile, floundered against the Cavaliers’ man-to-man defense, committing seven turnovers in the game’s first 4:02. Virginia’s defensive showing stood in stark contrast to its performance on that end of the court last Friday in a 95-76 loss at Georgia Tech.

“For me, I just told them I wanted some accountability today coming off how we played last week, and so we went [and] came out straight man-to-man, and we were just going to make people get up and defend,” Boyle said. “We were fresh, and I felt like we did a really good job with pressure.”

Imovbioh played big for the Cavaliers against Ugoka, an interesting twist as the two women competed against each other years ago as younger players in Nigeria. Imovbioh finished with team-highs of 19 points and nine rebounds, and Boyle removed her from the game with 1:47 to go with the game well in hand.

Ugoka recorded a 21-point, 10-rebound double-double for Virginia Tech, unsurprising totals from the ACC’s third-leading rebounder and fourth-leading scorer.

“It actually did take me back to when I was growing up with her, back home, playing against her,” Imovbioh said. “She’s a great player. I love playing with her because she competes a lot and she makes me work and I make her work, so it was a great feeling playing with her out there.”

Freshman guard Vanessa Panousis scored 19 points for Virginia Tech and spearheaded the Hokies’ second-half charge, pouring in 10 points on an array of threes and long twos as Virginia Tech clawed back from a 17-point deficit at the 16:40 mark to eight points down with 13:12 to play. Virginia, however, quieted Panousis and avoided a third consecutive ACC loss.

Friday night in Atlanta, Georgia Tech started out fast in its own Play4Kay game, which was pushed back a day because of snow and ice storms up and down the Atlantic Coast.

Freshman guard Kaela Davis set the tone for the Yellow Jackets, draining two three-pointers in the first minute of play as part of her team’s 7-for-7 start from long distance. Davis poured in 23 points in the first half to lead her team to a 50-35 edge at the break.

Virginia battled back to 65-55 in the first eight minutes of the second half, largely behind Imovbioh’s 10-point effort in that stretch. The junior finished with 21 points, tying her career high, but collected only five rebounds as the Yellow Jackets won the battle of the boards, 47-28. Gerson also contributed 18 points and a team-best eight rebounds in the loss.

Georgia Tech senior guard Tyaunna Marshall — who passed one-time WNBA wing Kisha Ford as the Yellow Jackets all-time leading scorer Feb. 6 at North Carolina — complemented Davis with 20 points of her own. Marshall’s total gave her 2,000 points for her career, a mark surpassed by just 23 players in ACC history, including Wright, Dawn Staley and Heather Burge of Virginia.

The Cavaliers’ next game is Thursday at John Paul Jones Arena against North Carolina. Tip-off is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.