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Backcourt Regains Form in Cavalier Classic Finale

Mikayla Venson

Dec. 30, 2014

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CHARLOTTESVILLE -- If one is off her game, the UVa women's basketball team might still find a way to win. But if all three of Virginia's starting guards struggle, as they did Sunday afternoon against Davidson, that proposition becomes much more difficult.

"We need our guard play, for sure," UVa head coach Joanne Boyle said Monday night at John Paul Jones Arena.

The Cavaliers' starters on the perimeter are junior Faith Randolph, sophomore Breyana Mason and freshman Mikayla Venson. In Virginia's 67-57 loss to Davidson at JPJ, they were a combined 6 for 34 from the floor and scored only 20 points among them.

The guards reverted to form Monday night against Drexel in the final game of the four-team Cavalier Classic. Venson finished with 16 points, Randolph 12 and Mason 11 in the Wahoos' 72-66 victory over the Dragons.

Virginia, which opens ACC play Sunday, closed non-conference play with a 10-3 record.

"We've played 13 games," Boyle said, "and in probably 10 of those 13 [the guards have] always showed up, and they've been there. I'm not worried about that. I just think they need to take a deep breath coming off non-conference [play], get in the gym, get some shots and feel good.

 

 

"They will. I trust them, and I know they'll be there."

For the season, Randolph (18.1 pgg) leads the `Hoos in scoring. Venson (11.1) is third and Mason (8.8) is fourth.

Against Davidson, which came into the Cavalier Classic on a six-game losing streak, Randolph made only 4 of 19 shots from the floor. In each of her previous two games, though, she had scored at least 20 points, and Randolph didn't lose confidence in herself or her team.

"When I woke up this morning," she said Monday, "I just tried to forget about the night before and just have a clear head about today's game and just try to be the way we were before that game."

For Venson, the Davidson game was the first this season in which she failed to make at least two shots from the floor. Still, Boyle focused more on the team than on individuals after the Cavaliers' shocking loss to the Wildcats (4-9), who trailed by 14 points in the first half.

"What I love about this team, they take things very personally," Boyle said Monday night. "And that loss, it hurts them, and I appreciate that.

"So coming back in today, and I texted a little bit [with players] last night, I know they wanted to do the right thing. I know they did. And they just needed to relax."

Against Davidson, UVa shot only 31.3 percent from the floor. The Cavaliers raised their accuracy to 43.8 percent against Drexel.

"We didn't have a great one tonight," Boyle said. "We just had an OK one tonight. To me, this was a grind game. Just find ways to get the ball in the basket at times."

The Cavalier Classic, whose matchups were predetermined, produced a confounding set of results Sunday and Monday. Davidson defeated Virginia, Virginia defeated Drexel, Drexel defeated Miami (Ohio), and Miami defeated Davidson.

For the `Hoos, the victory over Drexel (6-5) was significant, if only for its timing.

"I know we were really disappointed yesterday [about losing to Davidson]," Boyle said. "We were just trying to regroup and find our way and end our non-conference [schedule] with a win. It's a good win. We've got some work to do before heading into ACC play, but I'm glad we're sitting here with a W."

Senior center Sarah Imovbioh, who had 21 points and 19 rebounds against Davidson, dazzled again Monday night. She finished with 19 points and nine rebounds -- both game highs -- and also had three assists and three steals.

The victory, Imovbioh said, "was really significant. [The Davidson] game, we just talked about it as a team. There's nothing we can do about that, but just win today. And I just felt like everyone had the mentality to win.

"I just felt like everyone bought into it. It wasn't perfect, but I felt like we made up for our mistakes tonight."

Imovbioh played a leading role in one of the game's pivotal sequences. With Virginia clinging to a 44-43 lead, she passed to Randolph, who was alone under the basket.

Randolph inexplicably missed the layup, but the rebound went out of bounds to UVa, which did not squander its second chance. Imovbioh passed the ball out to Randolph, who buried a 3-pointer from the right wing with 8:01 remaining.

"Every shooter goes through moments like it," Randolph said of her missed layup, "but the good shooters just kind of forget about it and are ready to hit the next shot."

Randolph hit a pullup jumper on Virginia's next possession, Imovbioh followed with a three-point play, and then Randolph made two free throws with 5:47 left to cap a 10-0 run.

"I thought towards the end of the game, Faith just started shooting the ball ... and just got back to her old self," Boyle said.

Senior forward Sarah Beth Barnette (six points, two rebounds, two rebounds) sparked the Cavaliers with 16 productive minutes off the bench. Mason was the team's most efficient player offensively, hitting 3 for 4 shots from the floor, but she occasionally appeared reluctant to assert herself.

That's nothing new. In her 395 minutes this season, Mason has attempted only 92 shots from the floor. Freshman wing Aliyah Huland El, by comparison, has 88 field-goal attempts in 221 minutes.

"I would like her to try to do more, but Bre plays like Bre's personality," Boyle said of the soft-spoken Mason, who broke former UVa great Monica Wright's career scoring record at Forest Park High in Northern Virginia.

"She really plays to her personality. And so you're just trying to dial it up a notch. But sometimes you just gotta let her go, because if you force the issue, then she overdoes things. You just have to have a balance with it."

Next up for the `Hoos is a trip to Blacksburg. In its ACC opener, Virginia will meet Virginia Tech at 2 p.m. Sunday at Cassell Coliseum. (Tech opens conference play Friday night at Clemson.)

Since a 60-58 loss to the Hokies at JPJ on Jan. 22, 2007, the Cavaliers have won 16 consecutive games in this series. Tech desperately wants to end that streak, and Boyle expects a battle Sunday.

"It's never an easy place [to play]," Boyle said. "Blacksburg's not easy."

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Jeff White

Director of News Content

jwhite@virginia.edu

A 1985 graduate of UVA, White worked at the Richmond Times-Dispatch until July 2009. He was honored six times as the state's Sportswriter of the Year.

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