Cavaliers cough up late lead as Carolina closes strong to win, 70-59

By Scott Ratcliffe

Virginia’s Camryn Taylor (20) draws defensive pressure during Thursday’s game against North Carolina. (Photos: UVA Athletics)

The Virginia women’s basketball team, playing its first game after losing leading scorer and rebounder Mir McLean to an unfortunate season-ending injury, let a comfortable, late lead slip away against No. 22 North Carolina Thursday night at John Paul Jones Arena, as the visitors closed the game on a 22-2 run to win, 70-59.

For the Cavaliers (13-4, 2-4 ACC), it was their third-straight loss and first at home this season. UVA rallied from a 3-point halftime hole to double up Carolina 24-12 in the third quarter, outscoring the Heels 15-4 to start the period. After leading by 11 at one point, the Wahoos entered the fourth quarter with a 51-42 lead and a ton of momentum.

The Tar Heels (11-5, 2-3) quickly trimmed it to five before Wahoo forward Sam Brunelle sank her fifth 3-pointer of the night to make it 54-46 as the game went under the 8-minute mark. Senior guard Carole Miller then nailed her second clutch triple of the second half from the same spot, and it looked like the Hoos were on their way to an upset, leading 57-48 with 6:45 to play.

That’s when the Heels mounted their comeback. A Kennedy Todd-Williams 3-pointer capped a quick run of 7 unanswered points, forcing Amaka Agugua-Hamilton to call a timeout with 5:11 remaining, with her team only up by a 57-55 margin.

UNC knotted the score out of the break, as Alyssa Ustby came away with a steal and a layup, then took the lead for good on an easy Todd-Williams bucket in transition with 3:49 to go. It was the Heels’ first lead since halftime, when it was 30-27.

“They’re a ranked team and some of their players just wanted to push them over the hump and really turned it up there at the end,” said Coach Mox, “but I thought we played good enough to win — the score doesn’t really tell the story of the game to me.”

After a pair of Deja Kelly free throws, Virginia senior forward Camryn Taylor scored to cut it to two, 61-59, with 2:51 left, but that would be the last Cavalier basket of the evening, as the Heels finished the game with the final nine points as they defeated UVA for the sixth-straight time.

Despite the fourth-quarter collapse, Coach Mox saw a lot of positives from her shorthanded squad.

“Just some self-inflicted errors, just some things defensively we need to clean up, hit a couple more shots and it’ll be a different game,” she said. “But I liked the progress that we’re making. I thought our team battled, I thought we competed and really got better in certain areas, but we’ve just got to clean up some stuff.”

Sam Brunelle drives to the basket against the Tar Heels.

Taylor was one of several Wahoos that battled with foul trouble throughout the game, including both Brunelle and senior point guard Taylor Valladay, who exploded for 12 points in the first half. Valladay, who knocked down a pair of triples in the first quarter, and Taylor each were playing with four fouls in the game’s deciding moments, while Brunelle picked up two personals in the game’s first four minutes to limit her productivity.

With all that being said, and playing without McLean, the Cavaliers were still able to outrebound the Heels by a 48-37 margin, with a lot of that coming on the offensive end. Virginia secured 16 offensive boards which translated into 14 important second-chance points.

In the end, though, UVA misfired on 8 of its final 9 field-goal attempts and turned the ball over eight times after Miller’s big 3-pointer, as the Hoos were outscored 28-8 across the last 10 minutes.

“We’re a really tough team,” said Brunelle. “We battled this game, and I think that’s why I’m so upset, is because so many people stepped up today. So many people stepped up in every way… I’m just really proud of everybody for what they brought tonight, and we’re gonna bounce right back.”

Virginia shot 31 percent on the night, both from the field (20 for 64) and from long range (9 for 29), while going 10 of 16 (63 percent) from the charity stripe. UVA committed 21 turnovers, which the Tar Heels turned into 18 points on the other end.

Valladay, who fouled out in the waning moments, scored a team-high 16 points to go with 5 rebounds and 3 assists, while Brunelle finished with 15 points (5 for 7 from deep) and a game-high 9 rebounds. Taylor had 9 points and 4 rebounds in just 17 minutes of action, while Miller added 8 points and 4 rebounds in the loss.

UNC was led by Kelly and Todd-Williams, who each produced a game-high 21 points, while Ustby added 15 points, 7 rebounds, 4 steals and 3 blocks.

Mir McLean cheers on her teammates in warmups. (Photo courtesy NBC29 Sports).

McLean, who was averaging 12.2 points and 9.6 rebounds on the season, went down in the third quarter of Sunday’s loss at NC State, grabbing at her right knee and screaming in pain after an awkward landing in the pursuit of an offensive rebound. Coach Mox later confirmed that she’d be without her top scorer and board-getter for the rest of the campaign, but now she knows that her team must come together even more to make up for some of McLean’s lost productivity, which they collectively displayed on Thursday.

“It’s a next-woman-up mentality,” Agugua-Hamilton said of losing McLean for the year. “Obviously, you hate to see a kid go down, and she’s a big part of our family and we’re gonna be there and support her through her injury, but it’s the next woman up.

“The season isn’t going to stop, because that’s a part of the game, unfortunately, but I think everybody kind of rallied. It doesn’t matter who it is. It doesn’t matter if it’s a starter or if it’s the last person on the bench, it all matters. If somebody goes down with an injury, the team rallies, and I was really proud to see we did that, but you can’t dwell on things like that.”

Game Notes

Courtesy UVA Media Relations

  • North Carolina has won six consecutive games vs. UVA and 26 of the last 29 contests.
  • With a 15-point performance, Sam Brunelle is up to 995 points scored during her collegiate career
  • UVA outrebounded UNC by a 48-37 margin. The Cavaliers came into the contest ranked second in the ACC and 10th nationally in rebound margin at plus-10.9.
  • The match-up was UVA’s third consecutive against an AP-ranked opponent.
  • UVA matched its season high with nine 3-pointers.
  • North Carolina scored 18 points off of turnovers.
  • UVA dominated second-chance points with 14, compared to just two for UNC.
  • This was the first home loss of the season for the Cavaliers. They are 9-1 at John Paul Jones Arena

Virginia concludes the week with another tough conference opponent, as Boston College visits JPJ Sunday at noon (ACC Network).