After wins against Ohio State and Radford this weekend, Virginia women’s basketball coach Joanne Boyle had already started looking ahead to improving the team for the future and its first road game this Thursday against Xavier.
“I told the team ‘we can't start off slow when we head off on the road,’” Boyle said. “Those easy baskets will cost you on the road."
Virginia opened the season with a close 87-82 win against Ohio State, not the customary blowout of some team few people have heard of seen in the first few games of pre-conference action.
“It builds confidence,” Boyle said. “We played the last four minutes of that game so well. We got a stop when we needed a stop. We hit our free throws. We ran offenses. We hit tough shots. We boarded. The W’s great, but it’s how we executed down the stretch which is really good, especially for a young team.”
Freshman point guard Mikayla Venson, who had 11 and 12 points in the two games respectively, spearheads that young team. Although she had double-digit points against Ohio State, she was 3-12 shooting on that night in comparison to the 6-8 shooting on Sunday in the team’s 75-47 win against Radford.
“I think the great thing about Mikayla is she didn’t let Friday night—her shots not falling— affect her,” Boyle said. “I thought she was just really poised in that game. I thought she ran the team. I could tell it in her face, it was just about the win. Just being a freshman in her first game and tonight again, she just had great poise out there.”
While the true point guard, Venson didn’t lead the team in assists but was still able to bring the ball down the court and rely on the many offensive playmakers on her team to further dish out the ball and score. Sophomore guard Breyana Mason led the team in assists in both games, dishing out six on Friday and five on Sunday. In both games, four Cavaliers had point totals in the double-digits.
“We have a lot of weapons,” junior guard Faith Randolph said. “We have great post players down low. Miki our point guard can shoot as well and wings like me and Bry, so we have a lot of balanced scoring.”
In her first postgame press conference, Venson echoed much of what Boyle and Randolph said.
"As a point guard, I definitely want to get my teammates involved first,” Venson said. “I let the game come to me. I pass first and then look for my shot. We have great guards out there and balanced scoring is key for us. I just want to get wins, that's all that matters to me."
Randolph also spoke to the same focus as Boyle, looking at the bigger picture, looking at how having a true point guard will crucially benefit the team in the future.
“It helps a lot, especially coming into tougher games moving forward,” Randolph said. “There’s going to be teams that press us a lot, so it’s great to have more of a ball handler. She’s great to have for us.”
Venson is one of the two freshmen that have started for the Cavaliers this season. Joining her in the starting lineup is forward Lauren Moses, who is second on the team in rebounding after two games. Freshman guard Aliyah Huland El has also contributed significant minutes in the first two games but has had four personal fouls in each game. Moses matched that number on Sunday afternoon.
“They've gotten into some foul trouble,” Boyle said. “They have to understand the college game and how physical they can play, but I think in the minutes they've played, they've done a great job so far. Get 10 games of experience and they’ll be different players by the time ACC play comes around."
Indeed, the Cavaliers will have 10 more non-conference games to develop before playing their first ACC game. The first of those 10 will be against Xavier, who also opened up their season 2-0 with wins against Wofford and Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
Picked to finish ninth in the Big East Preseason poll after finishing the 2013-2014 season 8-23, the Musketeers have no clear leader on the team after their top-two leading scorers — guards Shatyra Hawkes and Ashley Wanninger — graduated. Like the Cavaliers, the Musketeers are currently a well-balanced offensive team with four and five players scoring double figures in their first two games. One of those players who scored double-digits in both games is former Virginia guard Raeshaun Gaffney, who joined the Xavier team as a transfer this season.
“Scrappy, guard-oriented team,” Boyle said. “They’ll press the whole game. Man-to-man defense. They try and play up-tempo-they really want to get you in a track meet—so we’re just going to have to control tempo and take what’s going to be good for us, which will be an inside- outside game. They don’t have a lot of height, so we’re going to try to get the ball inside a little bit as well.”
On the defensive side, Virginia has switched back and forth between the pack-line defense and zone defense, depending on what was working for them at the time, but regardless of what type of defense they play, the team will have to rebound. Against Radford, the Cavaliers allowed the Highlanders to outrebound them, giving up 23 second chance points. In that game, the Cavaliers’ rebounding leader was senior center Sarah Imovbioh, who recorded a measly nine rebounds after her record-breaking 24 against Ohio State.
“We just got to take care of the ball, which we’ve been doing, and we’ve got to get people in position to score-to take advantage of the mismatches that we might have in the game, and we’ve got to rebound,” Boyle said.
The Cavaliers tip off against Xavier at 7 p.m. in Cincinnati, Ohio. before returning home to host Auburn Sunday at 2 p.m.