It took until the fourth quarter for the Cavaliers to find their footing, but the Coach Amaka Agugua-Hamilton era started off with a bang Monday evening inside John Paul Jones Arena as the Virginia women’s basketball team soared to an 85-59 win over George Washington.
Despite the 26-point victory, things got off to a slow start for Virginia. The Cavaliers let some opening-night jitters get the best of them early on as they struggled to find a rhythm offensively and allowed the Colonials (0-1, 0-0 A10) to outrebound them 26-24 in the first half.
After the first quarter, the score was knotted at 19 and only two Cavaliers — senior forward Camryn Taylor and junior guard Kaydan Lawson — had made field goals as they combined for all but one of Virginia’s points.
Taylor’s play in the first quarter was a great sign for the Cavaliers, however. The veteran, 6-foot-2 forward picked up where she left off last season when she led the team in points per game — 12.8 — before opting out after 12 games due to personal reasons. Taylor poured in 11 points on 5-6 shooting in the opening quarter to keep Virginia afloat.
The offense continued to struggle in the second quarter, with no one filling the void as Taylor and Lawson cooled off. The Cavaliers went just 3-17 from the field in the quarter and were outscored 17-11 as George Washington took a 34-30 lead into the half.
Virginia seemed rushed at times in the first half which led to it committing a troubling nine turnovers before the break.
Virginia came out in the second half with renewed energy on defense and on the glass. The Cavaliers outrebounded George Washington 16-7 in the third quarter as they battled their way back into the game, outscoring the Colonials 24-16 to take a 54-50 lead into the fourth quarter.
“I think especially in the second half, we came together, played together, really dialed into the game plan and had each other’s back,” Agugua-Hamilton said. “[We] put a little bit more energy and effort into what we were doing, and we were able to turn the game around.”
Senior guard Taylor Valladay was a much-needed spark for Virginia in the third quarter after Taylor, who had been carrying the load on offense for the Cavaliers, went to the bench early in the quarter for a brief break after getting hit in the face. But Valladay stepped up in her absence, grabbing three boards in the quarter and forcing the issue offensively by getting to the free throw line six times.
Graduate student forward Sam Brunelle, a key offseason addition from Notre Dame, came alive in the third quarter as well. Brunelle hit both of her field goal attempts in the third quarter and added three rebounds as Virginia finally found some consistency on both sides of the court.
With a four-point lead and some momentum on their side, the Cavaliers finally erupted in the fourth quarter. Valladay got things started with a three-pointer followed by a slashing left-handed layup. Then after a steal by Taylor, Valladay found Brunelle in the paint who converted an and-one to put Virginia up by 10.
After a pair of George Washington free throws, the Cavaliers quickly rattled off another 5-0 run on a layup by senior guard Carole Miller and a three-pointer by Lawson which prompted a timeout by the Colonials with just over seven minutes to go.
Virginia’s momentum could not be quieted, however. A layup by Miller and another Lawson triple extended the Cavaliers’ lead to 15. As the energy in JPJ soared, Miller stole the ball from Colonial’s guard Taylor Webster and streaked coast-to-coast for the layup.
The buckets kept coming for Virginia with everyone getting in on the action. Taylor and Lawson traded buckets on nice post moves and freshman guard Cady Pauley provided the capper with a three-pointer from the corner.
All in all, the Cavaliers outscored George Washington 31-9 in the fourth on 12-17 shooting from the field.
All nine Virginia players who took the floor Monday scored and five Cavaliers reached double figures in what was a fun first game of the Agugua-Hamilton tenure.
“I was just proud. I was really proud of our players,” Agugua-Hamilton said. “The energy in the building was really cool. Fans were standing up cheering. I think we all had some chills. It was just a great atmosphere.”
The Cavalier women take the floor at JPJ again Thursday night against UMBC at 7 p.m. Coverage can be found on ACC Network Extra.