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Virginia women’s basketball falls apart late in loss to Pitt

A disastrous third quarter prevented the Cavaliers from pulling off back-to-back wins

<p>The Cavaliers were outscored by 18 points in the third quarter on their way to a disappointing loss</p>

The Cavaliers were outscored by 18 points in the third quarter on their way to a disappointing loss

Virginia women’s basketball headed into Thursday evening’s matchup against Pitt coming off arguably their biggest win of the season, a road upset over No. 23 Florida State. The Cavaliers (9-10, 1-7 ACC) were looking to begin a winning streak, but a tough third quarter prevented them from doing so as the Panthers (7-13, 1-6 ACC) picked up their first conference win of the season in a 56-52 victory.

Virginia knew that to find success it needed to limit the scoring of senior forward Liatu King. Coming into the game she was averaging 19.7 points per game, the fifth most in the ACC. With no other Pitt player averaging double figure point totals, if the Cavaliers defense could stop King, they would be in good shape. 

However, Virginia struggled to contain the Panthers’ leading scorer early on. A minute into the game, King was able to break away from graduate forward Camryn Taylor for a wide-open midrange shot for the first score of the game. King racked up eight points in the opening period, accounting for more than half of Pitt’s scoring in the frame.

It took awhile for the Virginia offense to heat up, and early on they looked lost. On their first possession they were hit with a traveling violation, and on their second, freshman guard Olivia McGhee stepped out of bounds for another turnover. The woes continued for the Cavaliers throughout the first half of the quarter, as they committed five turnovers in the first five minutes. 

However, with just over four minutes left in the quarter, the momentum shifted. Junior guard Jillian Brown found freshman guard Kymora Johnson — who was recently crowned ACC Rookie of the Week for her 35-point display against the Seminoles — behind the arc for the three-pointer. Then, on the very next possession, graduate forward London Clarkson found sophomore guard Paris Clark in the corner for the team’s second consecutive three-point shot. Virginia finished the quarter strong and was only down a basket entering the second frame. 

There was a scary moment with just under six minutes remaining in the half. After a three-second violation was called on Virginia, Taylor stumbled getting back on defense and appeared to be in serious pain. She unfortunately needed to be removed from the game, and with their leading scorer gone, the Cavaliers needed to find another way to generate baskets. 

Thankfully, other players stepped up to fill the void. On the very next possession, Johnson knocked down her second three-point shot of the game, and not long after, senior guard Alexia Smith hit a pull-up jump shot in the paint to give Virginia the lead. Once again, the Cavaliers closed out the period impressively and walked into the locker room with a narrow 26-23 lead. 

But the third quarter could not have gone any worse for Virginia. Throughout the entire period, they managed just two field goals. Pitt began the half on a 12-0 run, including a three-point jumper from graduate forward Jala Jordan and a second-chance layup off an offensive rebound, also by Jordan. 

The first third-quarter field goal for Virginia came with three minutes left in the period when sophomore guard Cady Pauley drove to finally put a basket on the scoreboard. Unfortunately, the Cavaliers could only manage one more field goal and a few free throws in the quarter. Within ten minutes, Virginia had turned a three-point lead into a 15-point deficit. 

Though things looked dreary for the Cavaliers, they came alive in the fourth quarter, led by Johnson’s efforts. With under eight minutes left, Johnson found space and was fouled as she drove to the basket, making the shot and sinking the subsequent free throw. On the next possession, Johnson showcased her playmaking skills, finding McGhee in the corner for the three-pointer to narrow the deficit to 11 points. Then, about a minute later, Johnson once again made a big play, this time on the defensive end, recording a steal on Virginia’s side of the court and quickly turning it into a bucket. Just a few seconds later, after running the length of the court, she blocked Jordan’s shot and turned it into two fast-break points. 

Johnson’s exploits helped the Cavaliers cut their deficit to just six points with a minute remaining. However, back-to-back empty possessions left Virginia on the outside looking in as the clock closed in on zero.

Graduate forward Sam Brunelle drained a shot from three-point range to cut the lead to four, but with only 13 seconds remaining, it wasn’t enough. The Cavaliers watched the clock tick down on their seventh conference defeat in eight games, putting them in a tie for second-to-last in the ACC.

Coach Amaka Agugua-Hamilton was frustrated after the game, emphasizing that her team needs to show up with the same desire to win no matter the opponent. 

“Lack of urgency, lack of competitiveness, lack of want-to in our gym was pretty disappointing,” Agugua-Hamilton said. “You can’t just get up for ranked teams. I don’t understand why we disrespected Pitt.”

The Cavaliers started both halves of this game slowly, with several preventable turnovers. The third quarter was particularly brutal, but Virginia’s performance in the second and fourth quarters showed its potential. Looking forward, the Cavaliers need to find a way to come out of the locker room strongly and avoid early mistakes. 

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