With a pair of games over the weekend against Minnesota and East Carolina, Virginia women’s basketball had a chance to continue its hot start to the Coach Amaka Agugua-Hamilton era in Charlottesville and stay undefeated. After a narrow win against the Golden Gophers (4-2, 0-0 Big Ten) Saturday and a dominant victory over the Pirates (5-2, 0-0 AAC) Sunday, the Cavaliers did just that.
Virginia vs. Minnesota
Things got off to a slow start at John Paul Jones Arena Saturday, as the end of the first quarter of Virginia’s Cavalier Classic opener saw the Cavaliers down to Minnesota 21-13. The Golden Gophers shot a game-high 53 percent from the field in the opening quarter while holding Virginia to a low of 28 percent.
Minnesota even took advantage of the Cavaliers’ poor play to out-rebound them in the opening quarter, a category that Virginia has been unquestionably dominant in so far this season. The Cavaliers weren’t without a few solid performances early, though, as junior forward Mir McLean put up four points and grabbed four rebounds along with one steal. Graduate student forward Sam Brunelle also reigned in three rebounds of her own to make up for a poor 1-3 start from the field.
The second quarter got off to a scorching hot start for the Cavaliers, who went on a 18-0 run to regain the lead at 31-21. Senior forward Camryn Taylor led the charge with six points, two rebounds, one assist, a pair of steals and a block. McLean also gathered another three rebounds while Brunelle contributed four points, two boards, two assists as well as a pair of steals. Minnesota recovered, however, recouping part of the deficit to go into the locker room only down by four points, trailing 35-31.
Taylor’s offensive dominance continued into the third quarter, where she scored 10 points on an efficient 5-7 from the field. McLean continued her dominance on the boards, reigning in another four rebounds. The Cavaliers went into the fourth quarter hoping to hold on to a tight 51-45 lead.
The fourth quarter signaled the end of the Cavaliers’ stagnant performance from behind the arc. Sam Brunelle hit all three of her three-point attempts to extend the lead to nine with just over three minutes remaining in the game. Things were not over, however, as Minnesota went on an 8-0 run to bring the deficit to just one point. With just seven seconds left, Taylor grabbed a steal to give the Cavaliers possession. Free throws by senior guard Taylor Valladay and junior guard Kaydan Lawson sealed the 73-70 victory.
Taylor finished with a team-high 22 points, her second game over the 20-point mark so far in this young season.
“Offensively, you know, I was gonna get touches but I mean, we’ve got how many assists today? 20? 21?” Taylor said. “I think just getting a lot of those dump downs moving the ball was allowing me to get open.”
Virginia vs. East Carolina
The Cavaliers were back at it the next day, with a contest for the Cavalier Classic title against East Carolina. Virginia jumped out to an early 14-7 lead over the Pirates, with Lawson’s five points leading the Cavalier charge. East Carolina closed the gap, however, bringing the Virginia lead to just three by the end of the first quarter.
Virginia outrebounded the Pirates 14-10 in the second quarter, providing offensive opportunities for players like graduate student guard McKenna Dale, who scored six points on 2-2 from behind the three-point arc to lead the Cavaliers to a 31-25 advantage going into halftime.
The third quarter proved to be the breaking point for East Carolina, as the Cavaliers outscored the Pirates 22-7 and outrebounded them 18-5 to take a 53-32 advantage at the end of the period. Dale continued her hot shooting night, adding four more points to her total, while McLean broke out with six points and four rebounds.
The closing quarter started off slow, as neither team scored for the first minute of the period. The Cavaliers eventually started to pick up where they left off offensively and extended their lead. Brunelle came to life, hitting two pairs of free throws along with five points from the field to pull even further away from the Pirates. When the clock struck zero, the final score was 72-50 and a convincing win for the Cavalier Classic title was under Virginia’s belt.
Rebounding made all the difference for the Cavaliers Sunday, as they outrebounded East Carolina 56-25 throughout the game.
“I mean 56 to 25 is really good,” Agugua-Hamilton said. “That’s a staple for what we do — defend and rebound.”
The wins leave Virginia with a perfect 8-0 record, the first time that the Cavaliers have reached that mark since the 1992-93 season, and it seems that the players have attributed a lot of this success to the skill of their new coach.
“Especially with last year’s record and everything, this year it is easier for us to come together,” Lawson said. “Knowing that we can win, and knowing how to win, with the help of Coach Mox of course.”
The Cavaliers hope to continue their hot start Wednesday with a game against Penn State (7-0, 0-0 Big Ten) as a part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. and the game will be streamed live on B1G+.