In just her second season as a head coach, Virginia’s Tina Thompson has already proven she isn’t shy about playing many of the best teams in the country.
In late July, the UVa women’s basketball team released its 2019-20 nonconference schedule, which includes games against UConn, Kentucky, USC, UCLA and possibly Mississippi State. Thompson said expect college basketball’s blue bloods to dot Virginia’s schedule from now on.
“We are preparing for the ACC,” Thompson said. “There is not one game in the ACC where you can take a day off, so it’s a disservice to play a cupcake nonconference schedule so we have a good record, but then we go into the ACC unprepared.”
Scheduling competitive games out of conference should also pay off at the end of the season as teams are battling for a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
“We have to be prepared to compete day in and day out. It’s absolutely necessary,” Thompson said. “At the end of the year, your RPI is really important. I wish it was as easy as ‘Hey, you wanna play? Let’s play,’ but there’s a lot of thinking and strategy that goes into scheduling.”
Some games were set in motion before Thompson arrived. The Cavaliers went to Kentucky last season and lost, 63-51. This winter, the Wildcats come to Charlottesville on Nov 16. UConn announced its home and home series with Virginia last year.
This season, UVa heads to Storrs, Connecticut, on Nov. 19. Next year, the Huskies come to John Paul Jones Arena.
Kentucky went 25-8 last winter and lost to Stanford in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. UConn went 35-3 and fell to Notre Dame in the Final Four. This will mark the first time the Cavaliers have faced the Huskies since 2007.
“They’ve been one of the greatest programs in the country for a lot of years,” Thompson said. “They’re always going to be well coached and always going to have great players, but we’re going in there to win.”
While those matchups were set in stone long before Thompson arrived, she has left her imprint on the schedule. On Nov. 9, Virginia will travel across the country to play her alma mater, USC, which went 17-13 last winter and missed the NCAA Tournament.
Before going on to WNBA stardom, Thompson graduated from USC in 1997, and she’s still top five all-time among the Trojans’ scorers and rebounders. She’ll have plenty of family in the building. All four of her siblings and her father still live in California, and her mother and son will likely make the trip.
Virginia and USC haven’t played since 1995, and it will be the first time Thompson has coached against her alma mater. She admitted there will be some nostalgia, but the mission won’t change.
“I want to go home and beat my alma mater,” Thompson said. “There will be a lot of hugs and handshakes. All of my family and friends will be there, but the intention is to win. We can get back to that after the game. There will be no uncomfortable emotions for me. Combat is combat.”
UCLA – a Sweet 16 team a year ago – comes to Charlottesville on Dec. 1 as part of Virginia’s annual Cavalier Classic. Virginia also heads to Las Vegas in December where it will face Mississippi State or South Florida in the second round of the Duel in the Desert. It would be the third year in a row that the Cavaliers have faced the Bulldogs. They played in Charllottesville last winter in the season opener and UVa lost, 77-42. In 2017-18, UVa traveled to Starkville, Mississippi, and lost, 68-53.
The Cavaliers are coming off a 12-19 campaign. They’ll be led again this season by fourth-years Jocelyn Willoughby and Dominique Toussaint, both of whom eclipsed 1,000 career points last winter.
Six-foot-nine senior Felicia Aiyeotan and redshirt freshman guard Amandine Toi are coming off knee injuries, forward Dani Lawson is eligible after sitting out last year following a transfer from Purdue and fourth-year forward Lisa Jablonowski returns after she emerged last season in the post.
Thompson also brought in what looks like an exceptional first recruiting class, led by guards Shemera Williams and Carole Miller. Williams is the No. 54 recruit in the country, according to ESPN, and Miller is No. 82.