After the loss to UCLA in December, Virginia women’s basketball coach Tina Thompson stressed the importance of developing depth, especially offensively, heading into the teeth of Atlantic Coast Conference play.
The second-year coach got her wish Sunday afternoon as four different players scored in double figures as the Cavaliers rolled to a 90-60 victory over Notre Dame at John Paul Jones Arena.
Carole Miller scored a career-high 18 points to go along with two rebounds and a pair of assists in less than 20 minutes of action as UVa (8-11, 3-6 ACC) snapped a three-game losing streak.
“It felt really good because I had felt that I hadn’t been playing the best that I could, so this was a good game for me personally,” Miller said. “When you have people around you telling you that you can score, you can do this, you can do that, but it takes you to go out and do it. This game, I just felt it. I had in my head that they just can’t guard me and I poured that on to the floor.”
The Cavaliers were in control early behind sharing the basketball offensively and a committed defensive presence in the half-court set. Six different players scored in the opening frame, including six from Miller, as UVa built a 17-9 lead. Former William Monroe standout Samantha Brunelle kept Notre Dame in the game with five points, including a 3-pointer from the top of the key, to trim the lead to 19-12 after one quarter.
The Wahoos continued their strong play in the second quarter as they made 9-of-11 shots from the floor over the first seven minutes to build a commanding 42-18 lead. Jocelyn Willoughby was the catalyst with nine points. Dominique Toussaint added an acrobatic reverse layup as the Cavaliers led 53-29 at intermission.
The Cavaliers shot nearly 59% from the floor in the first half, including 46% from behind the arc. Defensively, they forced 12 turnovers and scored 18 points in transition.
“I thought Virginia played really well,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. “They shot the ball better than they probably have and I think credit our defense for that. We gave them a lot of really easy looks and they took advantage of it. I thought they played hard defensively. They pressured us and we couldn’t handle it and we just caved. We looked like a young team again today and unfortunately, that’s what it’s going to look like for the rest of the year.”
Miller wasn’t the only first-year player to leave her mark on Sunday’s game. Kylie Kornegay-Lucas made the most of her first collegiate start for the Cavaliers by stuffing the stat sheet with four points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists.
“Starting the game was exciting, so I just wanted to play with a lot of energy, especially on the defensive end,” Kornegay-Lucas said. “We had a team goal of getting more offensive rebounds, so I just tried to rebound as much as I could and really energetic on the defensive side.”
Thompson couldn’t be happier of her two youngsters.
“I can’t say enough about how our first-year kids played today,” she said. “They played with a lot of confidence, but also with a lot of aggression. It’s what we expect of them. They’re in abnormal circumstances in regards that they’ve been thrown to the fire immediately and we expect so much of them right away. I think that we’re kind of getting to that point.”
The second half was more of the same as Thompson’s team continued to push the pace and wear down the Fighting Irish. UVa outscored Notre Dame 20-8 in the third quarter and led by as many as 38 early in the fourth quarter.
After watching two leads evaporate earlier this month, Miller was impressed with the way her team closed the deal.
“It felt great, especially playing all these games that we know we should’ve won,” Miller said. “Coming out and showing our home crowd, ‘this is us’, this is how we play and that felt really good.”
Willoughby registered 17 points and seven rebounds in 24 minutes of action to lead the Cavaliers. Shemara Williams, another first-year product, contributed 15 points, six rebounds and six assists off the bench. Toussaint added 14 points and six assists to pace a balanced attack. Brunelle led Notre Dame with 21 points.
“Although we put together a complete game today, we were kind of building up to this point,” Thompson said. “Even though our last couple of games resulted in losses, but how we played over three quarters or three and a half quarters, we were playing really, really good basketball. Tonight, we were able to put together a complete game together. It’s an example of how we can be from this moment on.”