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Virginia women’s basketball splits its games in the Cayman Islands Classic

After a victory against Tulane, the Cavaliers put up a strong fight against the former national champions in LSU before losing a close match

<p>Graduate student forward Sam Brunelle knocked down four of her five three-point attempts in the win.</p>

Graduate student forward Sam Brunelle knocked down four of her five three-point attempts in the win.

Virginia women’s basketball won and lost one game each in the Cayman Islands Classic tournament held in George Town, Cayman Islands. The Cavaliers (4-2, 0-0 ACC) bounced back from their first loss of the season Friday with a comeback win against Tulane, where the second half was all Virginia in a dominant showing in an 81-59. Saturday brought a test for the Cavaliers, with reigning National Champion No. 7 LSU coming to the court. Virginia was able to fight through all four quarters, but the Tigers (7-1, 0-0 SEC) simply became too much and overpowered Virginia for a 73-68 victory.

Game 1 — Virginia 81, Tulane 59

Tulane got off to an early offensive start, jumping out to a 13-2 lead five minutes into the game. The deficit for the Cavaliers grew as the first quarter continued, with the Green Wave leading by as many as 15 points. The first quarter ended with the score 24-12, with Tulane shooting 50 percent from both the field and beyond the arc. Meanwhile, Virginia’s shooting struggles seemed to be carrying over from its previous loss, shooting only 31 percent from the field and 25 percent from the three-point line. 

The Cavaliers made the proper adjustment after the break, however, and found their shooting stroke when it was sorely needed. After a slew of scoring, freshman guard Kymora Johnson hit a three-pointer just before a media timeout to cut the deficit to four points. Moments later, graduate student forward Sam Brunelle drilled a three-pointer to tie the game and allow Virginia to breathe. The half continued with balanced scoring, eventually ending with the Cavaliers leading 36-34. 

The difference between the Cavaliers’ first and second quarters was night and day, as they managed to shoot an impressive 53 percent from the field, drilling 5 three-pointers. Their second-quarter efficiency was vital to the winning effort. The defense also impressed in the second quarter, holding Tulane to an abysmal 13 percent from the field and no makes from the three-point line. 

The third quarter was all Virginia, as they went on a 20-5 run, highlighted by multiple strong defensive plays and fast break points, as well as three-pointers from Johnson and Brunelle. The Green Wave had no answer for the onslaught presented by the Cavaliers offense and only managed to score 8 points throughout the entire quarter. Tulane only managed 6 makes on 16 attempted field goals while committing 7 turnovers. Meanwhile, Virginia managed to convert half of their 20 attempted shots, as well as 4 of their three-point attempts. The bench also played a large role, contributing 15 points as opposed to zero from Tulane’s bench. 

The game continued in a similar fashion in the fourth quarter, as Virginia never let the Green Wave back into the game. The Cavaliers continued to pull further away, leading by as much as 24. The game ended in a score of 81-59, an impressive tally considering Virginia’s rough start. 

The key to the win was the bench which contributed a season-high 49 points. The Cavaliers’ depth shone with double-digit performances from sophomore guard Yonta Vaughn who finished with 14, Brunelle, who finished with 12 points and shot 4-5 from beyond the arc and senior guard Alexia Smith, who scored 10. Overall, Virginia shot an impressive 42 percent clip from the three-point range, an extreme bounce back from their previous 4 percent shooting performance against Oklahoma

Game 2 — Virginia 76, LSU 73

The second game was far from one-sided, as the lead changed hands 14 times over the course of the contest. An early problem for the Cavaliers was their three-point shooting, missing all five of their attempts in the first quarter. However, they quickly adjusted and made 4 of their 9 attempts in the second frame, to help them tie the game entering the locker room. 

The biggest thorn for Virginia in this game was LSU junior guard Aneesah Morrow. She would ultimately finish the game with 37 points and 16 rebounds. She did not spend a single second on the bench throughout the entire game as Coach Kim Mulkey knew how important she was to the offense. Morrow picked up 8 of those points in the third quarter as LSU entered the last quarter with a slim 58-56 lead. 

In the fourth quarter, it seemed like things were starting to slip away for the Cavaliers as the Tigers extended their lead to 10, the largest lead of the game. However, Virginia refused to give in and shrunk the lead down to two after contributions from six different players. Unfortunately, this was not enough, but to walk away with a three-point loss to the reigning National Champions has to be a positive sign for a Cavalier team that is aiming higher than their 13th place finish in the conference last year. 

Sophomore guard Paris Clark was the player that consistently kept Virginia in the game. In her first start of the season, the Arizona transfer set a career-high with 19 points, while also grabbing 7 rebounds and 3 steals. She also showed that she could score in a number of ways, picking up points from the three-point line, on drives toward the basket and off fast breaks. As she works her way back to full health, Clark will continue to play a crucial role on this team.  

Vaughn was also crucial in both of the Cavaliers’ games this weekend and was rewarded for her efforts as she was named to the All-Tournament team. Despite coming off the bench, her 13.5 points per game tied for the team lead. She also impressively shot 52.6 percent from the field and 58.3 percent from three. Coach Amaka Agugua-Hamilton was pleased with the team’s performance over the tournament despite ending with a loss.

“If you are a competitor you hate to lose,” Agugua-Hamilton said. “And I hate to lose. But [I’m] super proud of our team. We fought, we competed, we battled tonight. Wish I could have led us to a victory against the reigning champs but it wasn’t in the cards for us tonight. Came up short by three. But keep your heads up and keep grinding [team] because the best is yet to come.”

The Cavaliers showed their depth in the tournament, which will work wonders for a team that has struggled with injuries throughout the first part of the season. But the swing factor for Virginia seems to be shooting from beyond the arc. When the Cavaliers are hot the offense becomes very difficult to stop, but the team has not shown that ability enough to truly be a threat on that side of the ball.

Virginia returns home for their next game and will play Missouri, another SEC opponent in the inaugural ACC/SEC Challenge. The Tigers (5-2, 0-0 SEC) most recently lost a close contest against Kent State 64-67. The game will be Thursday at 5 p.m. at John Paul Jones Arena. You can also catch the game on ACC Network.