In a battle of the orange and blue, the Virginia women’s basketball team faced Auburn Sunday afternoon at John Paul Jones Arena. From the tip, the game featured three-quarter-court pressure and a steady barrage of 3-point attempts from both squads.
After a string of turnovers in the first five minutes of the game, the Cavaliers (4-0) settled down offensively, trusting the complementary play of senior forward Sarah Imovbioh and junior guard Faith Randolph against the Tigers (3-1). Ultimately, the squad would come away with a convincing 66-51 victory.
“We had our bad moments, but they didn’t last long,” coach Joanne Boyle said. “When it really mattered, we were able to get on track after a couple of turnovers in a row.”
Imovbioh dominated the glass on both ends of the court, tallying 11 rebounds — five offensive and six defensive — in the first half alone. Heading into the break, she added a team-high 12 points, converting 6-of-6 attempts from the charity stripe.
“[Imovbioh] is a bully on the boards,” Randolph said. “She is always posting up hard and we don’t mind giving her the ball.”
Meanwhile, Imovbioh’s backcourt sidekick, Randolph — averaging a Virginia-best 20.7 points per game to start the season — continued to do damage from the perimeter, paint and free-throw line. She ended the first half with nine points and made a game-changing defensive stop with nearly a minute remaining.
Driving frantically to the basket, a Tiger player darted into Randolph, who held her ground and drew a significant charge call.
Acknowledging her sacrifice, teammates rushed to help her up, and the entire Cavalier bench erupted with enthusiasm. Senior forward Sarah Beth Barnette then drained a three-pointer from the left corner, increasing the Cavalier lead to eight points.
A prompt Auburn layup and an ill-advised foul from Virginia allowed the Tigers to sink one-of-two free throws and reduce Virginia’s lead to five points by the midway point, 33-28. If not for the play of sophomore guard Brandy Montgomery, the Tigers would have practically been down for the count.
Montgomery, averaging 10 points per game this season, exploded for 16 points in her 18 first-half minutes. Sporting a quick release, she drained four of her nine three-point attempts. But, her team only combined to shoot 35.5 percent from the field and 33.3 percent from the foul line, missing a handful of chances.
The Tigers came out of the break hungry — still pressuring past half court — and narrowed the margin to three with another trey from their knockdown shooter Montgomery.
But by the 13-minute mark, the Cavaliers — led by Imovbioh, Randolph and freshman point guard Mikayla Venson — had increased their lead to 13-points.
Defensively, Virginia settled into its “morphed version of the pack-line” half-court defense after spending the early part of the afternoon in a press, and Randolph began to limit Montgomery’s effectiveness down the stretch.
“[Montgomery] has a quick release," Randolph said. "I locked up more on her towards the end of the game.”
Without Montgomery burying threes and with impressive defense from Imovbioh on team-leader and junior forward Tra’cee Tanner — recording only six points — the Tigers were overwhelmed in the final minutes.
“We came into the game believing that [Tanner] wasn’t going to go off on us,” Randolph said.
By the end of the afternoon, Virginia had won handedly, behind its trio of scorers and a stellar all-around shooting percentage — 70 percent from beyond the arc and 50 percent from the field.
Venson ran the show for the Cavaliers and finished with 10 points, while Randolph and Imovbioh combined for 39 points and 18 rebounds.
“Three or four people are in double figures," Boyle said. "That’s the goal as a coach, to share the basketball, … to have multiple people step up and score the ball.”
Now 4-0, the team is off to a fast start and has reason to feel good about how it has played so far. Boyle said she is particularly proud of certain qualities that this group possesses.
“I like our togetherness, our unity, our work ethic, our attention to detail, confidence, our understanding of roles, our taking initiative of defending, and our [knack] for making the extra pass,” Boyle said.
Next, the Cavaliers will travel to Miami to take on Toledo in the opener of the Florida International Tournament Nov. 28.