Home Women’s Basketball: Virginia seeks ‘reset’ against Fordham in final non-ACC tuneup

Women’s Basketball: Virginia seeks ‘reset’ against Fordham in final non-ACC tuneup

Scott Ratcliffe
uva basketball
Photo: UVA Athletics

The Virginia women’s basketball team is coming off a disappointing, one-point home loss to Wofford on a buzzer-beater over the weekend, and it’s definitely one the Cavaliers wish they could have back.

Coming out of the 10-day exam break, UVA had a ton of momentum on its side, having won four of its previous five games before being tripped up by Wofford, with the only loss during that stretch coming by three points against a top-10 LSU team.

With one more non-conference contest remaining on the schedule this evening, the Wahoos have a chance to get back in the win column against Fordham (6 p.m., ACCNX) heading into league play, and they’re hoping to have a short memory and bounce back in convincing fashion.

On Saturday, Virginia led the Terriers by five through three quarters, but the visitors tied it up and the two sides were neck-and-neck going down the homestretch, with Wofford grabbing a 69-68 advantage on a 3-point shot with 1:19 to play.

The Cavaliers reclaimed the lead with 27 ticks left, as Arizona transfer Paris Clark came away with a huge steal and then set up Alexia Smith for the go-ahead layup. But Wofford’s Rachael Rose had the last laugh, banking in the game-winner on the other end just before the final horn sounded.

Head coach Amaka Agugua-Hamilton was not at all happy with the overall performance against the Terriers, which turned out to be just the third non-conference loss (18-3) in her two years at the helm — all of which have occurred this season.

Coach Mox said the Wahoos have since reviewed the game film together as a team, describing the experience as “sickening,” but added that her troops can take a lot from what went wrong in the defeat moving forward.

“We had to kind of have a restart, and I think you have to sometimes take a bad loss to get their attention and to understand what it takes to be a great team, and consistency and preparation and play,” the coach said. “Our players, they’re hungry. They want to get back out there and get under the lights again and just kind of get this out of their head.”

The Hoos were without the services of starting forward and leading scorer Camryn Taylor (14.6 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 1.1 bpg) for the entire first half due to undisclosed reasons. Taylor certainly made her presence felt after halftime, finishing with 13 points on 6-of-9 shooting in just 16 minutes.

Sam Brunelle (8.1 ppg) started Saturday, but played only 11 minutes after bumping heads with a Wofford player and exiting the game, while Yonta Vaughn and Edessa Noyan missed the game altogether due to injuries.

All that being said, Coach Mox said her team didn’t follow the game plan, didn’t execute, didn’t compete and simply overlooked the Terriers, which goes against her “respect all, fear none” philosophy. She said the Cavaliers can’t afford a repeat performance against Fordham.

“I don’t really believe in excuses,” she said. “I think everybody gets all the reps they need to get in practice, we just have to have that next-woman-up mentality.”

The best way to erase the sour taste is with a win, and the Cavaliers will look to do so in their final non-conference tuneup tonight. The Rams (5-6, 0-1 Atlantic 10) have dropped four-straight games, the last three of them away from home. They’re led by New Mexico State transfer guard Taylor Donaldson, who’s averaging 19.4 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.8 steals per contest. She also leads the team in 3-point makes with 25 on the year.

Another transfer, Emy Hayford (Pitt), puts up 12.4 points a night, and has registered double figures in five of her last six outings.

“She’s a dynamic scorer, but we’ve got to stick to the gameplan,” Coach Mox said of defending Donaldson and avoiding another upset. “We’re going to work on it, buy into that and we should be fine. But they also have [Hayford], she’s good too. So they have a two-headed monster as far as offensively, but they play hard. They’ve got a team that is going to be hungry — again — for an opportunity, just like Wofford was, so we’ve got to come out and compete at a very, very high level.”

Agugua-Hamilton hopes her team does a better job of limiting Donaldson and Hayford after failing to do so against Rose, who put up a near triple-double with 21 points, 10 rebounds and 9 assists on Saturday.

“We take defense seriously, and we just didn’t [against Rose]. I mean, we had a whole gameplan for that kid,” she said. “Pretty much the gameplan was that kid, because she’s a facilitator. She can score at three levels, she gets them going.

“She played 40 minutes and she did exactly what she wanted to do, and we didn’t take her out of it. And every huddle was about that, all the preparation was about that. So we do now understand the importance — it doesn’t matter who it is — anybody can go off on you if you’re not locked in.”

As for the Cavaliers, they have gotten steady contributions from the local first-year tandem of Kymora Johnson (10.7 ppg, 5.3 apg, 3.3 rpg, 1.7 spg) and Olivia McGhee (7.1 ppg), along with Clark (9.4 ppg), Northwestern transfer Jillian Brown (8.0 ppg, 7.0 rpg) and London Clarkson (8.9 ppg, 5.1 rpg).

Additionally, Mir McLean is still waiting for clearance to make her season debut, but Coach Mox has received no updates on exactly when that could be. In 15 games last season (13 starts), McLean averaged 12.2 points and 9.6 rebounds per game with five double-doubles, so the Hoos will obviously welcome her back with open arms if and when she’s given the go-ahead.

They can use all the fresh bodies and depth they can get with an extremely challenging slate on the horizon, especially going 4-14 in conference play and finishing 15-15 overall last season after starting 12-0.

After tonight’s game and another long holiday layoff, it’ll be time for the Hoos to enter the daunting ACC gauntlet, with five of the next seven games (and seven of the next 10) coming against currently ranked ACC opponents — No. 3 NC State twice; No. 24 North Carolina twice; home against No. 14 Notre Dame, at No. 21 Florida State; at No. 15 Virginia Tech.

The tough stretch begins with the conference opener at JPJ against the undefeated Wolfpack (12-0) on New Year’s Eve (6 p.m., ACCN), before a rematch right around the corner in Raleigh on Jan. 11.

For now, though, it’s on to Fordham. At the same time, Coach Mox admitted that she’s discussed looking ahead to postseason aspirations with her squad, mainly about what is required to even be in the conversation at season’s end.

She explained that the Hoos’ ultimate goal of going dancing in March for the first time since 2018 is obtainable if they can string a few big ACC wins together, and the coach knows there will be plenty of opportunities as the season rolls on.

“We talked about what the [NCAA Tournament] selection committee looks at,” Agugua-Hamilton said. “We talked about the consistency it takes to get there. We talked about a lot of things. So obviously, we have a lot of season left. We have a lot of great teams in our conference that we can have some quality wins, things like that. But obviously the next game is the most important game. So Fordham, bouncing back from Wofford and playing well against Fordham is our main goal.”

Scott Ratcliffe

Scott Ratcliffe

Scott Ratcliffe has worked as a freelance writer for several publications over the past decade-plus, with a concentration on local and college sports. He is also a writer and editor for his father’s website, JerryRatcliffe.com, dedicated to the coverage of University of Virginia athletics.