After an exciting opening night victory for the Virginia women’s basketball team Tuesday, the Cavaliers now travel 2,550 miles to Los Angeles to take on Southern California Saturday afternoon.
Virginia enters the contest with momentum after a dominant season opener against Bucknell. The Cavaliers (1-0, 0-0 ACC) were led by prolific scoring from senior guard Jocelyn Willoughby, who scored a career-high 31 points and recorded 11 rebounds on the night. Boosted by Willoughby’s outstanding play, the rest of the team — including senior forward Lisa Jablonowski, redshirt freshman Amandine Toi and others — displayed improved, efficient offense.
Virginia shot 54.9 percent as a team to Bucknell’s 39.6 percent. Moreover, the team tallied a total of 20 assists and 38 rebounds on the night. Despite a team total of 15 turnovers, the new-look Cavaliers made a strong debut.
Like Virginia, Southern California (1-0, 0-0 Pac12) is a young team. There are nine new players and only one senior and two graduate students currently on the roster. In the Trojans’ first win Tuesday night, they beat California State University, Northridge 69-53.
The top two point scorers were freshmen — forward Alissa Pili and guard Endiya Rogers. Both scored 18 points and Stephanie Watts, a graduate transfer guard and fellow newcomer, followed with 12.
Virginia shot the ball better than Southern California. The Cavaliers’ 54.9 percent mark from the field and 54.5 percent mark three-point range trumps the Trojans’ 44.2 percent and 31.6 percent, respectively. Furthermore, Southern California tallied five more turnovers than Virginia, for a total of 20.
Key matchup — senior forward Lisa Jablonowski and freshman forward Alissa Pili
The two scoring, rebounding forwards will undoubtedly clash in the frontcourt. Pili is only a freshman, but her talent defies experience — she put together a double-double in her collegiate debut. For the Cavaliers, Jablonowski secured 16 points and five boards on opening night.
With more experience and a three-inch height advantage, Jablonowski should have the edge over Pili and play a big role on both offense and defense.
The pathway to victory — shoot the three ball and record fewer turnovers
Virginia’s shooting was the highlight of the night against Bucknell. While Willoughby and Toi have the hot hand, the Cavaliers should rely on their shooting and allow Jablonowski to establish her presence in the paint. Despite Southern California’s poor shooting performance, the Trojans have two strong guards in Watts and Rogers. The Cavaliers will have to step up their defense against Power Five competition and limit mistakes.
Tina Thompson jersey retirement
For Coach Tina Thompson, this matchup is more than a game. Thompson is returning to her hometown and alma mater and will be welcomed with a pre-game jersey retirement ceremony. The last time Virginia played Southern California, in 1995, Thompson was wearing her No. 14 jersey and scored 25 points in a loss to then-No. 7 Virginia.
“I’m really excited to show them my hometown and the things that mean a lot to me … the things that helped me to be in the position that I am in now,” Thompson said.
Tip-off is set for 5 p.m. at the Galen Center in Los Angeles.