LOS ANGELES (AP)
Monica Wright wasn’t about to allow an upset.
Virginia’s junior guard scored all of her 13 points in the second half including two key 3-pointers down the stretchto push the fifth-seeded Cavaliers past No. 12 Marist 68-61 in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Saturday.
Ariana Moorer led the Cavaliers (24-9) with 16 points. Aisha Mohammed had 14 points and 10 rebounds, and Lyndra Littles scored 13. Virginia will face California in a second-round game in the Trenton regional on Monday.
“I just started loosening up more, getting into a rhythm more,” Wright said of her second half. “Offensively, we started running. We started getting momentum from the defensive end first off then once we got stops, we were able to run and get quick shots. Then, if we missed, Mohammed and Kelly Hartig were definitely there to clean it up and get two points.”
Erica Allenspach scored 18 points to lead the Red Foxes (29-4) and Rachele Fitz had 17 points and 10 rebounds.
The Cavaliers hit four 3s in a row to stretch the lead to 13. Wright had two from deep and Ariana Moorer and Britny Edwards each hit one.
“The three consecutive 3s hurt,” Marist coach Brian Giorgis said. “We wanted to give up the perimeter shot, but those just kind of took the wind out of our sails.”
Marist, which advanced to the regional semifinals just two years ago, ran a zone defense throughout and it worked to limit the Cavaliers in the first half. Then Virginia started scoring.
The Cavaliers had five 3s in the second and shot 45 percent from the field. Moorer scored 12 in that half and Littles added nine.
The Cavaliers started the second on a 9-0 run to erase the five-point halftime deficit and Wright, ninth in the nation in scoring with 20.5 points, scored her first basket of the game with 16:08 remaining. Littles’ putback just before that gave Virginia the lead for the second time.
Virginia tried a full court press and half-court man-to-man defense to try and limit the Red Foxes. The Cavaliers stuck with the man-to-man in the second and it worked.
“We had a lot of difficulty scoring in the first 8 minutes. They really got physical. It was very hard to move and come off screens,” Giorgis said. “I thought (Monica) was the turning point. She got her hands on balls, got a couple of steals.”
The Red Foxes hit five consecutive 3s in the final 3 minutes, including three from Allenspach, but Mohammed hit two free throws and Moorer had three to stifle a comeback.
“(Julianne) Viani and (Kristine) Best, very quick with the ball,” Wright said. “It was hard covering them. We just tried to contain them for as much as we could, take up as much of the clock as we could. They gave us a scare there in the end of the game with those 3s. They are definitely a scrappy team.”
Virginia had a decisive 16-3 run midway through the second half. Wright started it with 8:50 left with a 3 and Littles had a layup to give the Cavaliers a 57-40 advantage with 6 minutes to go.
The Cavaliers were playing without starter Britnee Millner, who was serving a one-game suspension for violating team rules. Moorer started in her place for Virginia, which was making its 23rd appearance in the tournament.
Millner is a game-time decision against California.
The 12th-seeded Red Foxes, facing Virginia for the first time ever, gave Virginia trouble early with its motion offense.
Fitz got open off of screens and converted to give Marist a 26-21 halftime lead. She was two rebounds shy of a double-double and had 13 points in the half.
Virginia limited her touches in the second, though, and Virginia coach Debbie Ryan gave Mohammed the task of covering Marist’s all-time leading scorer.
Fitz was 2-for-6 in the second.
Viani, who finished with 11 points, played in her last game for Marist.
“It’s been quite a career. Everything has been quite an experience,” Viani said. “It’s a tough way to end, but it happens. It’s been an awesome ride.”