Throughout the season, the Virginia women’s basketball team has been aiming for more consistent performances.
On Sunday, the Cavaliers got one.
Virginia put together a solid 40 minutes of basketball against Syracuse, leading wire-to-wire in a 57-41 victory over the Orange in the annual Play4Kay game at John Paul Jones Arena.
“Necessary win for us. I’m really excited for our kids,” Virginia coach Tina Thompson said. “We needed to get this one today and we played from start to finish. We’re doing a much better job of playing a complete game and stringing quarters together and when we can do that, we have very positive results.”
The Cavaliers (9-13, 4-7 ACC) jumped out to a quick 6-0 lead in the first quarter and never looked back, outscoring the Orange (10-11, 4-6 ACC) in every quarter.
“I think one of the biggest things for us was our start,” Virginia guard Jocelyn Willoughby said. “I felt like we came out very energetic and sustained that throughout the whole game, so that’s a huge improvement for us.”
Sunday’s success was anchored by a strong defensive performance. Virginia held Syracuse to its lowest point total since 2007, limiting the Orange to 26% shooting, including an anemic 12% from 3-point range, while forcing 18 turnovers.
“It was very important, specifically because they’re an offensive team,” Thompson said of her team’s defensive performance. “They hunt 3-pointers in transition, they’re trying to get to the basket, 2s and 3s, very aggressive offensively so the fact that we were able to take away their transition points and guard them on the three-point line was very big for us.”
The Cavaliers held standout Syracuse guard Kiara Lewis, who entered the game ranked fourth in the ACC in scoring at 17.7 points per game, to just two points on 1-of-11 shooting. Virginia also did a good job in the post and on the glass. The Wahoos outrebounded the Orange 46-31 and held a 34-24 edge in points in the paint. UVa had four players finish with at least seven rebounds, led by Kylie Kornegay-Lucas, who snagged 12 boards.
“We emphasized boxing out,” Thompson said. “Kylie does a really good job from the point guard position of getting back and getting rebounds and she was definitely key when our bigs … were boxing out their bigs and getting the ball. Jocelyn is always one of the top players on our team in the rebounding respect, but Tihana [Stojsavljevic] did a great job coming in and taking care of the boards. We had a total team effort in that area.”
Willoughby put together another strong performance, finishing with 24 points and seven rebounds. Willoughby, who leads the ACC in scoring, eclipsed the 20-point mark for the 10th time this season and went 10-of-12 from the free throw line.
“I think I’ve been in a pretty good groove,” Willoughby said. “The last couple games haven’t been as productive as I would’ve liked but I’ve just been working on getting back into that groove and trying to be more consistent day in and day out. For me, it’s not just about being in a groove, it’s about trying to be better every day.”
Shemera Williams added 11 points off the bench, while Lisa Jablonowski chipped in eight points, seven rebounds, three assists and two steals.
The Cavaliers now turn their attention to Thursday’s matchup with Clemson. Virginia has put together complete performances in its past two home games, both double-digit wins over ACC opponents. The Wahoos hope to continue that recent trend of strong start-to-finish performances against the Tigers.
“We’ve shown that we can do it. The question is ‘Is that who we are going to be on a day-to-day basis?’” Willoughby said. “That’s yet to be answered. I have full confidence that we can do it.”