Cavaliers rally, hang on to defeat Georgia Tech, 69-63

By Scott Ratcliffe

Alexia Smith (23) scores two of her 10 points in the win against Georgia Tech. (Photo by Michael Bruder)

The Virginia women’s basketball team used a big third-quarter run to build a lead that it held onto in the final minute against Georgia Tech Thursday, as the Cavaliers outlasted the Yellow Jackets, 69-63.

UVA leading scorer Mir McLean picked up a pair of early fouls and was held scoreless in the first half, as she missed her only shot attempt in five minutes of action. The junior forward exploded in the third quarter, as she almost single handedly got the Wahoos back in the ballgame.

McLean scored 11 of her team-high 13 points in the period, as Virginia (13-1, 2-1 ACC) outscored Tech 27-16 and turned a 31-28 halftime deficit into a 55-47 advantage heading into the fourth quarter.

The Jackets (9-4, 0-2) opened the second half with a pair of baskets and took their largest lead of the night, 35-28, before McLean caught fire. The Baltimore native finally saw her first bucket fall, followed it up the next trip down with another one on a spin move, then scored on an and-1 putback to get the Hoos back within three, 38-35.

“Mir’s coming off a strained hamstring, she strained it a couple days ago in practice, so she didn’t get a lot of reps either,” explained UVA coach Amaka Agugua-Hamilton. “So just to see her dig deep and push through that was really, really good. And then third quarter, we realized that, I just felt like they didn’t have an answer for her in the paint, so we started playing her more at the four than the three and isolated her on the block.

“She was able to use her athleticism and create contact, get fouled, so that helped our team. And then her rebounding ability obviously helped Georgia Tech be one-and-done and then offensively give us extra possessions. So I thought she did a great job sparking us in that third quarter, and then the rest of the team followed suit.”

Minnesota transfer Alexia Smith added a jumper to trim it to a point, then after another McLean basket, Smith put UVA on top, 41-40, out of the third-quarter media timeout.

After the Jackets split a pair from the line and tied it up, the Cavaliers closed the quarter on a 14-6 spurt and led by eight with 10 minutes to play. Senior guard Carole Miller scored 5 of her 8 points during the run, as the Hoos connected on 9-straight field goals during one stretch.

McLean was whistled for her fourth foul just 49 seconds into the fourth quarter and headed back to the bench, and the Jackets cut the lead down to 61-56 with 6:23 to go after back-to-back baskets by senior guard Cameron Swartz.

McLean was inserted back into the lineup and scored off the glass to keep the lead at five, 63-58, with 5:30 remaining. Sam Brunelle followed with a beautiful spin move off of a Taylor Valladay steal, and the Hoos led 65-60 as the clock went under four minutes.

McLean missed a pair of easy looks before fouling out with 1:53 to go with Virginia still clinging to a slim advantage. Valladay split two free throws with 42 ticks showing, pushing the lead to 66-61, but Tech made things interesting, making it a one-possession contest, 66-63, on a Tonie Morgan putback with 23.6 to play.

Brunelle was quickly fouled after a GT timeout, and the Notre Dame grad transfer calmly sank two from the charity stripe, where she’s a near-perfect 25 for 26 on the season. The Jackets took their time getting a shot off until Bianca Jackson drew nothing but air on a 3-point attempt that sailed out of bounds, and the orange-clad fans in attendance at John Paul Jones Arena began to celebrate.

“This week, we’ve been talking about just being more physical, staying together, persevering through adversity, and I thought we really did that today,” said Coach Mox. “I mean, we know every game in this conference is going to be a dogfight. Georgia Tech, their defense is tough, it’s one of the best in the country. So for us to put up 69 points on that D and then also just weather the storm throughout the course of the game, I’m just super proud of them.”

Virginia shot 47 percent (26 for 55), 43 percent from deep (3 of 7) and 58 percent from the charity stripe (14 of 24), outscoring Tech 36-22 in the paint and 14-5 in second-chance opportunities. UVA committed 16 turnovers and forced 20. The Jackets edged the Hoos on the boards, 34-32.

McLean added a game-high 9 rebounds in just 19 minutes of playing time, barely missing what would’ve been her sixth double-double of the season. Smith added 10 points and 4 rebounds, while Brunelle and Miller each finished with 8 points, and Valladay and Camryn Taylor each chipped in with 7. In addition, Valladay had 6 rebounds, 5 assists and a steal. Taylor, meanwhile, also battled with foul trouble, as she was charged with four personals in 19 minutes.

For Tech, Swartz led all scorers with 16 points, while Jackson added 14 points, 5 rebounds and 4 steals (she scored her 1,000th career point in the loss). Morgan had 12 points and 5 assists, and Nerea Hermosa finished with 10 points and 8 rebounds.

Team Notes

Courtesy UVA Media Relations

  • The game had three ties and five lead changes
  • Georgia Tech held a 34-32 edge in rebounding
  • Virginia went 11 of 14 in the third quarter (78.6 percent), including its 9-of-9 shooting streak
  • This was Alexia Smith’s second start of the season
  • This was Smith’s second-straight double-digit scoring effort
  • Taylor Valladay scored seven points with six rebounds and five assists
  • Both teams were coming off an eight-day break for the holidays. Both UVA and Georgia Tech last played on Wednesday, Dec. 21

The Hoos travel to Blacksburg next Thursday (Jan. 5) for the first of two Commonwealth Clash matchups with No. 7 Virginia Tech. Tip off from Cassell Coliseum is scheduled for 7 p.m. on ACCNX. The Hokies (11-2, 1-2) lost for the second time in their last three games Thursday, falling at Clemson, 64-59.