The Virginia women’s basketball team opened its 2014-15 season this weekend with two home wins against Ohio State and Radford.
In the first game of the season, senior center Sarah Imovbioh set a new school record, making 24 rebounds. Sophomore guard Breyana Mason scored a career-high 22 points to lead the Cavaliers to their second-ever win against Ohio State, 87-82.
“I think the experience I got last year helped me, and I felt more comfortable stepping into my role and playing with my teammates,” Mason said.
With the win, the Cavaliers moved to 9-1 in their last 10 season openers.
“It was an exciting game, and we are proud of the team,” coach Joanne Boyle said. “Obviously Ohio State is a good team, but I was proud of how we played on both sides of the floor — not every minute, but when it really counted. I thought we did a great job of getting stops, scoring and making free throws, which is what the game is about.”
Imovbioh knocked the opening tipoff out of bounds, but the Cavaliers took an early 24-10 lead as Ohio State missed its first six shots, while Virginia hit four early three-pointers. Freshman guard Mikayla Venson, making her first career start, drained one of those threes to record her first ever-collegiate points.
At the 24-10 mark, Ohio State took a 30-second timeout, which proved highly effective — the Cavaliers missed their next nine shots and allowed the Buckeyes to come back to take a 25-24 lead. The Cavaliers missed five consecutive shots later in the half, heading into the break trailing 39-43.
“We started missing shots and they got some easy transition baskets,” Boyle said. “We just had some breakdowns defensively, honestly.”
The second half was noticeably less streaky and more competitive — there were seven ties and 15 lead changes in comparison to the two ties and three lead changes during the first half. However, at 79-79, both teams remained scoreless for more than two minutes as the crowd was at its loudest, until a jumper by junior guard Faith Randolph gave Virginia the lead.
“I have never heard the fans that loud before,” Mason said. “I couldn't even hear us communicate on defense, but it was a great turning point for us.”
Randolph would finish with a team-high 25 points and three steals. Venson sealed the deal for the Cavaliers by hitting two clutch free throws with four seconds to go, finishing with 11 points in her debut.
“[Venson] didn’t hit her shots, but I think she controlled the tempo of the game,” Boyle said. “She didn’t seem nervous. She kind of knew what we were doing. You’ve got veterans that are taking over the scoring role, that’s great. She’ll find hers.”
Ohio State junior guard Ameryst Alston, who finished with a game-high 27 points on 8-16 shooting, including 5-8 from three-point range, followed Venson’s free throws with a three-pointer, but it was too late for the Buckeyes. Alston’s teammate, freshman guard Kelsey Mitchell, a McDonald’s All-American as a high school senior, finished closely behind with 26 points.
Imovbioh added 18 points to her 24 rebounds, and Mason hit five of her seven three-point attempts to reach her career-high.
“Before the game coach Boyle emphasized rebounding — saying she doesn't want rebounding to be a reason to lose games,” Imovbioh said. “Going into it I was saying, ‘I just want to clean the boards tonight,’ and the glass was open tonight. I didn't know I had that many rebounds until coach told me.”
Imovbioh and her team returned to John Paul Jones Arena Sunday afternoon, where they continued their six-game win streak against Radford with a 75-47 win.
“I’m glad to end the weekend 2-0 before we head out on the road,” Boyle said. “We started off slow, but I think we got strong in the second half.”
Early in the game, Imovbioh picked up right where she left off in the previous game, recording nine points and seven rebounds in only 10 minutes of play to finish the half with a plus/minus of 12. With Imovbioh’s efforts, the Cavaliers once again got off to an early lead, 8-1.
The Highlanders attempted to mount a comeback, but the Cavaliers made four straight baskets to thwart their efforts. In that same span, the Highlanders missed four straight shots of their own, as the Cavaliers took a 31-21 advantage into halftime.
In the second half, Randolph started the Cavalier scoring with a three-pointer after neither team was able to hit one in the first half. The Cavaliers ended up hitting just one more three-pointer, and relied on team offense and defense to secure the win. With 13 minutes left in the game, the Cavaliers opened up a 16-1 run to pull even farther away from the Highlanders.
The Cavaliers held Radford to a 29.6 percent shooting percentage and held the Highlanders’ best player, senior guard Ayana Avery to only three points.
“We were not planning on playing that much zone, but every post player had two fouls in the first half,” Boyle said. “So we came out a little conservative in the second half, and we stuck with the zone. Since it was working for us, we just stuck with it.”
In comparison, the Cavaliers were able to shoot 45.5 percent, as every player who played for the Cavaliers contributed points other than freshman forward Jae’Lisa Allen, who played for only four minutes.
The Cavaliers forced 20 Highlander turnovers and scored 21 points off of those turnovers. But the Highlanders were able to out-rebound the Cavaliers, with Imovbioh only recording nine rebounds following her record-breaking night.
“Our deficiency in this game was definitely our rebounding, and that has to be a part of our identity and who we are because those key stats will cost you down the road,” Boyle said.
Helping Radford on the glass was freshman forward Janayla White, who posted 10 rebounds and 14 points to lead the Highlanders.
The Cavaliers will face their first road test of the season when they return to the court to face Xavier Thursday in Cincinnati, Ohio.