Virginia’s final non-conference game of the season against George Washington was canceled Dec. 6 following a handful of injuries that left the Cavaliers (0-5, 0-2 ACC) with only six available players. Among those still unavailable are graduate student forward Tihana Stojsavljevic, who suffered a season-ending leg injury in the opener against UCF, and sophomore forward Meg Jefferson, the team’s leading scorer. Sophomore guard Dylan Horton also opted out of the season. Without a deep roster, Virginia took on Clemson and Florida State in its first ACC contests over the weekend, losing to both opponents and falling behind in the ACC standings.
Game 1: Virginia 55, Clemson 71
Clemson traveled to Charlottesville Thursday to face a Virginia team with only seven available players. The Tigers (6-1, 1-1 ACC) had an excellent non-conference showing, prevailing in all five of their games. This streak continued as the Cavaliers fought hard, but ultimately Clemson’s depth was too difficult to overcome.
“I'm extremely proud of my kids,” Coach Tina Thompson said. “We went into this game, knowing that we had six, and Deja [Bristol] tried to tough it out so we had her for part of the game, but I thought that we played really tough and we were very resilient.”
The Cavaliers had another slow start, allowing Clemson to build a 6-0 lead in the first 1:08 of the game. Sophomore guard Amandine Toi took matters into her own hands, scoring eight straight points — including two three-pointers — to give Virginia its only lead of the game. Toi finished the quarter with 12 of the team’s 16 points. Despite her efforts, Clemson built a 23-16 lead at the end of the first quarter. The Tigers were led by 17 bench points in the first quarter while the Cavaliers fell behind with zero points off the bench.
Clemson’s depth was similarly difficult to overcome in the second quarter. After the lead was cut to just five points, the Tigers exploded on a 13-0 run. During this stretch they were 4-for-7 from the field and sunk four free throws, while Virginia turned the ball over three times and missed all three of its shots. The Cavaliers were held without a field goal in the final 7:53 of the half, and Clemson held a 43-27 lead at halftime.
Following a rough first half, The Cavaliers played their best offensively and defensively in the third quarter. Down 32-50 with 3:31 left in the period, the Cavaliers mounted their best run of the game. Freshman guards Kaydan Lawson and Zaria Johnson scored three and two points, respectively, and Toi scored five — including a jumper as the quarter ended — to cut Clemson’s lead to 10 heading into the fourth quarter.
With 8:00 left to play, Toi’s fifth three-pointer lowered the deficit to seven, Clemson’s smallest lead since the second quarter. The Tigers would pull away, however, mounting a 9-3 run to end the game. Virginia made just one field goal in the final 5:02, and the game ended 71-55.
Toi finished another outstanding game — scoring a game-high 23 points and making five of nine three-pointers. She and sophomore guard Carole Miller — who scored eight points — have certainly stepped up for the Cavaliers this season.
Game 2: Virginia 51, Florida State 69
After falling in the ACC opener to Clemson, Virginia looked to get back on track Sunday when the team traveled to Tallahassee, Fla. to take on Florida State. The Seminoles (2-0, 1-0 ACC) had a shortened non-conference schedule — defeating Florida in their only game outside the ACC. The Cavaliers once again had only seven players available and were unable to keep pace with Florida State in the second half, ultimately losing 69-51.
The Seminoles jumped out to an early lead as Virginia failed to score on its first seven possessions. A jumper from Toi ended Florida State’s early 7-0 run, but the Seminoles would push their lead to 11-4. Toi and freshman guard Aaliyah Pitts made back-to-back three-pointers to close the gap to one point. The rest of the quarter continued in a back-and-forth manner as the Cavaliers finished the period trailing 15-12.
Virginia mounted its most impressive stretch of the game at the beginning of the second quarter. The team outpaced the Seminoles 11-3 with Miller assisting a Toi jump shot with 5:23 left in the period to increase Virginia’s lead to five points — its biggest lead of the weekend. Florida State fought back, and the teams went into the half deadlocked at 28.
After the break, the Seminoles took control of the game. With 6:43 remaining in the third quarter, graduate student forward Emily Maupin drained a three-pointer to give the Cavaliers a 33-30 lead. However, Florida State subsequently exploded on an 8-0 run that gave it a five-point lead with 4:31 left in the period. Toi made a three-pointer to cut the lead to two, but the Seminoles kept the momentum and continued on an 11-3 run to end the period up by 10 points.
The fourth quarter didn’t fare any better for the Cavaliers. The Seminoles scored 15 unanswered points to start the period, giving them a 64-39 lead with 6:08 remaining in the game. Virginia missed four shots and turned the ball over three times in its first seven possessions of the quarter. The Cavaliers kept fighting, but the game ended 69-51 in favor of the Seminoles, leaving Virginia with its fifth-straight loss this season.
Despite this week’s results, the young and short-handed Virginia team showed a lot of resilience. The Cavaliers were outscored 40-11 by Clemson’s bench and 41-23 in the second half against Florida State, two figures that resulted in part from the team’s limited player availability. The team’s injury problems have plagued them since the beginning of the season, another obstacle to overcome in an already difficult season. Thompson has praised the team’s resilience and fight despite the circumstances.
“I'm proud of this team,” Thompson said. “I'm proud of how they show up every single day ready to work, even with our numbers being low, making no excuses.”
She also didn’t think that the team would have to miss any more games due to the number of available players, although the situation has led to creative solutions.
“No, we're not thinking about postponing or canceling games at this moment,” Thompson said. “We're trying to get bodies back. I’ve reached out to the other hand coaches in our department and they've been generous to lend us some of their kids … who are athletes and have a basketball history. I mean, it's just really an unimaginable circumstance that we are in right now.”
The Cavaliers will look to get a win in their column Sunday in a rivalry game in Blacksburg, Va. against Virginia Tech. Tip-off is at noon, and the game will be aired on ACC Network.