Virginia women’s basketball returned home to John Paul Jones Arena Sunday afternoon to take on Clemson. The Cavaliers (10-12, 2-9 ACC) were hoping to rebound after a tough loss to Virginia Tech in the Commonwealth Clash, but the Tigers (11-12, 4-7 ACC) held off the hosts’ late comeback push and handed Virginia a 75-69 loss.
Clemson entered the game allowing the second-most points per game in the conference, and while the Cavaliers did shoot well from three-point range — to the tune of 10 three-pointers — the Tigers’ 14-point advantage at the free-throw line was the difference.
The scoring opened up after just over a minute, as freshman guard Kymora Johnson heaved a pass across the court to graduate forward Sam Brunelle, who drained a three-point shot. This would be the start of a stellar night for Brunelle, who would knock down five more three-point shots over the course of the game.
The story of the first quarter, however, was all about Clemson graduate guard Dayshanette Harris. With just over six minutes remaining, Harris received a handoff from junior forward Makayla Elmore and drove straight to the basket. Her layup went through the net as she hit the floor, and the referee’s whistle indicated an and-one opportunity which she took advantage of. Throughout the rest of the quarter, Harris would get two more and-one opportunities and finished the frame with 11 points. The Cavaliers found themselves down just 15-14 after one quarter.
However, the second quarter started off slow for Virginia. With just over eight minutes left, Johnson attempted a pass to sophomore guard Paris Clark, but sophomore guard Ruby Whitehorn read it perfectly for the steal and Clemson immediately turned the turnover into two points.
On the Tigers’ next possession, Harris brought the ball up the court and delivered a single pass to graduate forward Amari Robinson, positioned wide open near the corner. Without hesitation, Robinson sank the three-point shot. Just like that, Clemson was on a 7-0 run to start the quarter.
Fortunately for the Cavaliers, Brunelle took over for the rest of the quarter. With just under five minutes remaining, graduate student forward Amani Freeman received a pass straight under the basket. As she tried to go straight up with the ball, Brunelle came out of nowhere to slap it out of bounds. This fired up the crowd, and momentum seemed to be shifting in JPJ.
On the very next possession, freshman guard Olivia McGhee found Brunelle beyond the arc and she seamlessly made the three-point shot. Following another make by Johnson, Virginia had fired back with a 6-0 run of their own. The rest of the quarter was slower for the Cavaliers, but they entered the locker room with a reasonable six-point deficit.
Out of the break, Johnson and Brunelle kept Virginia in the game. With 8 minutes and 28 seconds left, Johnson drove to the basket but pulled back at the last second for the jump shot. This forced Harris to lean in, and as the ball went through the net, Johnson had an and-one opportunity of her own — she calmly converted the free throw. With 4 minutes and 14 seconds left, Brunelle found open space beyond the arc, received a pass from freshman forward Edessa Noyan and sank the three-point shot. Throughout the quarter, Johnson and Brunelle combined for 13 of the Cavaliers’ 17 points.
The fourth quarter was a wild ride, and it started great for Virginia. Johnson started off with two consecutive field goals, including a drive to the basket where she impressively made the floater while also drawing the foul.
Then it was sophomore guard Cady Pauley’s turn. After sinking a three-point shot to bring the Cavaliers within two, she sunk another on an assist from Johnson to finally give Virginia the lead. This capped off an impressive 11-0 run by the Cavaliers to start the final frame.
It was a back-and-forth affair for much of the remaining time, with both sides trading baskets for nearly five minutes. Unfortunately, the Tigers started to pull away with just over two minutes remaining. After three consecutive offensive rebounds by Clemson, senior guard Mackenzie Kramer made a three-point shot from the wing to put Clemson up by four. Then, on the next possession, after Harris fell down with the ball, she managed to find Kramer again for another three-point make.
Brunelle was able to make a few more shots before the final buzzer, but it ultimately wasn’t enough to get Virginia over the line. Coach Amaka Agugua-Hamilton noted her team’s lack of rebounding as a key factor in the defeat.
“There is no reason why we should have been minus-11 on the boards,” Agugua-Hamilton said. “Honestly, we’re never in that situation. We just have to commit to that. Rebounding is usually a staple for us and something that we take pride in, and we average 40-41 rebounds a game. In the last two games, we’ve been in the 30s, so we got to get better.”
While rebounding is typically a strength for Virginia, they allowed 15 Clemson offensive rebounds — their season high — and were outrebounded for the second straight game. Additionally, the Tigers found a way to get to the free-throw line 28 times, while the Cavaliers took just nine free throw attempts. Much of that can be credited to the play style of Harris and her driving ability, but Virginia could stand to improve on their fouling tendencies.
With just seven regular season games remaining, the Cavaliers don’t have much time left to fix their struggles before the ACC Tournament comes along. Virginia will look to get back to winning ways when it hits the road Thursday to take on Boston College. The game will tip off at 6 p.m. and can be streamed on ACC Network.