Women’s basketball: Virginia downs Syracuse, 68-63

uva basketballThe Virginia women’s basketball team (9-6, 2-0 ACC) picked up its fifth straight win, downing RV/23 Syracuse, 68-63, on Sunday (Dec. 31) at John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville, Va.

The Orange (12-3, 0-2 ACC) led by as many as nine points in the first half and held a 36-32 advantage at halftime, but the Cavaliers fought back and took a 40-38 lead with 6:59 remaining in the third quarter, the first of nine lead changes in the second half. Virginia held a 59-58 advantage heading into the final two minutes when redshirt senior J’Kyra Brown (Rocky Mount, N.C.) hit a jump shot to push the UVA lead to three. After a missed three on the opposite end, Brown came up with the defensive rebound and converted a layup with 1:05 remaining to give the Cavaliers a 63-58 edge. Syracuse cut the lead to three with 38 seconds remaining, but the Cavaliers made four free throws in the final 30 seconds to close out the victory.

Senior guard Aliyah Huland El (Randolph, N.J.) scored a team-high 15 points, going 3-of-5 from three-point range. Sophomore center Felicia Aiyeotan (Lagos, Nigera) had her second straight double-double, fourth overall for the season, with 12 points and 10 rebounds. Brown finished the game with 12 points and six rebounds.

Tiana Mangakahia led the Orange with 20 points and eight assists.

“I’m just excited, and am especially excited for the girls,” head coach Joanne Boyle said. “I thought they were really focused and it was a great win for us. We’ve always had great games against Syracuse, so it’s nice to come out on top here at home. It was a great crowd for us today at home and was really good energy from the team.”

The Cavaliers built up an early 9-3 lead, fueled by five points from Huland El. The Orange struggled early, missing their first six shots of the game, but finished the quarter converting six of eight attempts and mounting a 14-2 scoring run to lead 17-11 at the end of the period.

Syracuse continued its tear in the second quarter, with Mangakahia draining a three-pointer to start the period to put UVA down by nine points. Sophomore Jocelyn Willoughby (East Orange, N.J.) answered with a three on the opposite end to halt the Orange’s run. Back-to-back layups from Aiyeotan made it a 26-21 deficit, but the Orange built back up an eight-point lead, 29-21, after Gabrielle Cooper hit a three with 4:22 remaining in the half. Senior forward Lauren Moses (Mount Holly, N.J.) started a Cavalier rally. After sophomore guard Dominique Toussaint (Staten Island, N.Y.) added a pair of free throws, Moses hit another layup. Toussaint capped an 8-0 run by hitting a jumper in the paint to tie the game at 29. After a Syracuse score, a three from freshman guard Brianna Tinsley (Madison, Va.) put UVA back up one, 32-31, but Mangakahia scored five points in the final 1:09 to send Syracuse into the break with a 36-32 advantage.

Huland El hit a three-pointer to start the second half and then tied the game, 38-38, on a second three with 8:28 remaining in the third. Aiyeotan put UVA up 40-38 on a hook shot a minute and a half later. The two teams traded baskets and lead changes through much of the quarter with sophomore forward Lisa Jablonowski (Ernster, Luxembourg) hitting a jumper with 2:02 remaining for a 47-46 UVA lead and Aiyeotan hitting a layup with 1:05 remaining for the 10th lead change of the game. Brown built on the lead, putting Virginia up 52-48 with a three-pointer with 20 seconds remaining. Mangakahia hit a three pointer in the final three seconds of the period to cut the Virginia advantage to 52-51.

Brown hit a three three minutes into the fourth quarter for the 12th lead change of the game, putting UVA up 55-53. After the game lingered at 55-55 for two minutes, Willoughby gave UVA a 56-55 edge with a free throw. Toussaint followed with a three, building up a 59-55 lead, but Miranda Drummond answered with a long-range shot of her own on the opposite end 12 seconds later. Brown’s four points in a span of 46 seconds proved to be the turning point, boosting Virginia to a 63-58 lead heading into the final minute of play. The Cavaliers scored six of their 16 points in the period off turnovers and went 6-of-12 from the free throw line in the period.

This was the Cavaliers’ first victory over Syracuse since the Orange joined the ACC in 2014, snapping an 0-of-4 streak. This victory comes on the heels of the Cavaliers’ victory over Pitt on Thursday (Dec. 28), UVA’s first win over the Panthers since they joined the ACC in 2014.

The Cavaliers shot 40.4 percent (23-of-57) while Syracuse went 21-of-57 (36.8 percent). Virginia held a slight 38-37 edge in rebounding. Virginia had 15 steals to the Orange’s nine.

“We finished our non-conference schedule strong, picking up three wins,” Boyle said. “Like many teams, we had a lot of injuries during the non-conference schedule. Now we are getting people back healthy and getting them back into a rhythm. I feel like that has been a big part of our success during these five wins. A lot of growth, a lot of discipline and a lot of camaraderie amongst the team. There is also a huge buy-in from the players with what they want to do this year. I think they started to see some of that success, and now there is a lot of confidence.”

Virginia will head out on the road to play at NC State (12-3, 1-1 ACC) on Thursday, Jan. 4 in Raleigh, N.C., before returning home to host Clemson (10-3, 0-0 ACC) on Sunday, Jan. 7 at 2 p.m. at John Paul Jones Arena.

Single-game ticket prices for all home games are $10 for Reserved seating, $8 for adult General Admission and $6 for youth (18 & under), senior (60 & over) and UVA faculty/staff General Admission. Fans may purchase home game tickets through the Virginia Athletics Ticket Office online at VirginiaSports.com, by phone and in person. The Virginia Athletics Ticket Office is located in Bryant Hall at Scott Stadium and open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. Telephone purchases can be made by calling 1-800-542-UVA1 (8821) or locally at 434-924-UVA1 (8821).

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