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Women’s basketball takes down Rutgers

Cavaliers stay perfect after Sunday night win

<p>Senior guard Breyana Mason's 18 points led the Cavaliers to a fourth-straight win to open the season.&nbsp;</p>

Senior guard Breyana Mason's 18 points led the Cavaliers to a fourth-straight win to open the season. 

The wins keep coming for the Virginia Women’s Basketball team (4-0), who took down the Rutgers Scarlet Knights (0-4) 62-54 at home Sunday night.

Though Rutgers entered without a win, they came to John Paul Jones Arena to play Sunday night, keeping the score close throughout. The Cavaliers held a 22-17 lead after the first quarter, but Rutgers fired back with a 6-0 run to take the lead.

In the second half Virginia built a solid lead, and though Rutgers closed the gap in the fourth quarter, the Cavaliers were able to close them out with careful play down the stretch.

“I’m just happy to come out with a win,” coach Joanne Boyle said. “I thought it was very much one of those grind out games, it was never a start to finish by any means. We found a way to win. We tried to change up some defenses and we were stuck a little bit offensively until the end of fourth quarter, but we stuck it out and I’m glad to get the win.”

Even though the Scarlet Knights came into the game winless, Boyle and her team knew that Rutgers coach Vivian Stringer would bring a tough test for Virginia. Stringer is one of the strongest coaches in NCAA Women’s Basketball history, having led teams at Rutgers and Iowa on many deep postseason runs, winning nine conference titles along the way.

Boyle said that despite Stringer’s prestige, the team focused on its own performance rather than worrying about the opponent.

“Vivian’s been coaching longer than anybody in the game. She’s a great coach and she’s been doing it a long time,” Boyle said. “They came out and really played hard tonight. But for us, no matter who’s on our schedule, we’re looking towards taking care of us. I don’t care who we’re playing, if we bring our effort, our energy, our defense, our rebounding, we will find a way to score.”

In every game they’ve played this season, the Cavaliers have had one or two players step up in crunch time to help the team when they’ve struggled on offense. Sunday, two veteran guards — senior Breyana Mason and junior Aliyah Huland El — managed the offense throughout the game, leading the team with 18 and 16 points respectively.

One of Mason’s biggest contributions in the game was closing it out, as she made five free throws in the final 30 seconds to seal Rutgers’ fate.

“I mean we practice free throws every day, so it is kind of just muscle memory and routine,” Mason said. “Obviously when the stakes are higher other factors can come into play, like nervousness, but when you do it so much you are able to just calm yourself down.”

Boyle mentioned the team’s versatility and depth as major strengths at the beginning of the season, and her assessment proved correct with the emergence of Mason and Huland El as important offensive pieces.

“I feel like this team, as you can kind of see in the scoring and rebounding column, it’s really balanced,” Boyle said. “The last two games, it has been more the upperclassmen. The first two games, it might have been a little bit more the underclassmen. On any given night, we probably have five or six people that can score for us.”

Shared responsibility and balance ultimately carried the team over Rutgers. Though the win wasn’t dominating, the team’s ability to find a way to grind out a victory will be an important mental skill going forwards. Mason knows that depth will help the team continue to improve as it gets further into the season.

“We have eight or nine people who have played a lot of minutes for us. That will be really good down the road,” Mason said. “In the past we have started out well and then around Thanksgiving break we have struggled in those areas. We are looking forward to the break and hopefully we can improve on things we have struggled with in the past.”

After a solid win against Rutgers, the Cavaliers roll into Thanksgiving undefeated at 4-0, hungry for more wins. They will fly out to Las Vegas, Nev. Friday for the South Point Shootout this weekend, where they are set to take on the St. Johns Red Storm (1-2) Friday and the Nebraska Cornhuskers (3-1) Saturday.