A late heroic second-half comeback by Virginia is thwarted in the final minute of the game
Charlottesville,Va- The Virginia women’s basketball team (2-4) lost 67-65 to the Saint Louis Billikens (1-4) on Sunday afternoon at John Paul Jones Arena in the final game of the Cavalier Classic Tournament. In what was a one-sided affair for 34 minutes, no one expected the subtle surge that brought the crowd back to their feet.
Trailing by as much as eight points earlier in the first quarter, Virginia simply appeared slow on the defensive end, allowing Saint Louis to gain dribble penetration, score easy baskets, and clean up the offensive glass. Leading the charge was Billiken’s five-foot-ten redshirt senior guard Kerri McMahan, who had six points, two steals, and one rebound in the first quarter. She opened up the scoring, slashing through the defense for a quick layup. But outside of this, Saint Louis and Virginia’s offenses were stagnant, shooting 35.3% and 31.3% respectively.
One early differentiator came on the glass in the opening quarter. Saint Louis had their way boxing out Virginia’s small and speedy lineup. They had three offensive rebounds to Virginia’s two, giving them needed second-chance opportunities. These second chances frustrated Virginia’s defense, wearing them down all the way until halftime. The driving lanes began to open up for the Billiken’s guards, who consistently capitalized on Virginia’s weariness from each offensive board. Every time help side defense came, rotations would come late and leave openings for perimeter shooters.
It’s been an adjustment phase without Virginia’s lone center Felicia Aiyeotan, who had sustained a knee injury in the NC A&T game. Aiyeotan has been Virginia’s defensive anchor, leading the ACC the past two seasons in blocked shots and was instrumental in the team’s journey to the NCAA tournament.
“Find somebody else six-foot-nine. I mean that’s just our reality. We are small. We are playing in positions that they’re not necessarily used to playing in. We are asking Mone as well as Lisa who are three-fours to play center, “ Virginia head coach Tina Thompson said.
Heading into halftime, Virginia trailed 11 points, which looked a lot more like climbing Mount Rushmore. Their three-point defense was nonexistent, allowing the Billiken’s to shoot 44% and impose their will on Virginia’s players. There was a feeling of frustration and unneeded urgency leading into the half, as Virginia shot contested three-point shots and deviated from their offensive gameplan. It almost appeared Throughout the game, working the ball inside the paint, was the team’s bread and butter. Virginia’s senior forward Mone Jones played a pivotal role, as she was able to hit key mid-range jumpers in the perimeter, scoring six points.
“That was not our plan. We were open, but that was not our game plan. We needed to get to the basket and to get them moving,” Thompson said.
The post-turkey hangover finally faded away in the second half as Virginia’s offense erupted, opening up on a 12-4 run. They came out as the aggressors, pushing the pace and getting the ball inside the paint against Saint Louis’ smaller guard lineups. Both forwards Jones and junior forward Lisa Jablonowski were finding their touch and attacking the rim. The floodgates began to widen once help was sent in towards the paint, leaving Virginia’s perimeter shooters on their own island. Particularly, Virginia’s freshman guard Erica Martinsen, who just transformed into Steph Curry for the day, draining five of nine three-pointers. She forced the Saint Louis defense to choose where they would rather lose, whether that be inside the paint or outside the arc. There was nothing slowing her down at all and her teammates continued to keep finding her.
Virginia led by as much as seven with 3:09 remaining, but the Billiken’s did not throw in the towel. They were chipping away behind six-foot-four center Amber Lindfors and sharpshooting guard Jordyn Frantz. Frantz was able to hit a crucial three-pointer to cut the Billiken’s lead to four with 2:25 remaining. Lindfors provided a strong rebounding presence, winning a key offensive rebound then finishing it off the glass to cut the lead to two. Another unproductive possession by Virginia and momentum rising gave the Billiken’s all the motivation to regain the lead.
Freshman guard Ciaja Harbison was able to hit a jump shot to tie the game with :47 seconds remaining. After a Jones miss, the Billiken’s proceeded on with their unbelievable run, as Harbison once again nailed another big shot, putting them up two with :17 seconds remaining. Unfortunately, Virginia’s star guard Dominque Toussaint couldn’t tie up the game, after a missed layup, leaving fan’s completely heartbroken after their stunning second-half comeback.
Despite the tough loss, there was one positive takeaway from this game. The team showed they were resilient. No matter how large the lead was, this team showed fight, knowing that they could stand toe to toe with their opposition. Regaining composure and trusting one another were essential ingredients to the nearly completed comeback.
Virginia’s next game is on the road in Lansing, Michigan against the Michigan State Spartans on November 28th at 7:00 pm.