Hoos stay unbeaten with 72-50 win against East Carolina in Cavalier Classic finale

By Scott Ratcliffe

Sam Brunelle led the Cavaliers in scoring with 15 points against East Carolina. (Photo by Michael Bruder)

Virginia stayed perfect in the month of November with a convincing 72-50 win over East Carolina Sunday at John Paul Jones Arena to wrap up the 36th Cavalier Classic.

UVA (8-0) is off to its best start since the 1992-93 season, and on Sunday against the Pirates, dominating the glass was a major factor in terms of why the Cavaliers are still unbeaten. The Wahoos pulled down 56 rebounds, including 19 on the offensive end which led to 25 second-chance points on the afternoon.

Coach Amaka Agugua-Hamilton touched on the importance of winning the battle of the boards.

“I mean, 56-25 is pretty good, really good, and that’s a staple for what we do — defend and rebound,” said Coach Mox after checking the rebounding differential on the stat sheet. “I think we did that at an elite level today. But I think also the beauty of our team is that we’re deep, so we have played a lot of games. This is our eighth game this month, nine counting the exhibition game, but we are able to sub and keep people fresh.”

Junior forward Mir McLean recorded her second double-double in as many days, putting up 11 points and hauling in a game-high 14 rebounds, just one shy of her career high of 15 that she pulled down against Minnesota on Saturday. McLean also ripped away a game-high 4 steals.

Junior guard Kaydan Lawson added 11 points (including a pair of 3-pointers) and 6 rebounds, while McKenna Dale broke out of her shooting slump, knocking down three triples on the afternoon to finish with 10 points and 8 rebounds.

Just like she did Saturday against the Golden Gophers, senior forward Sam Brunelle finished strong, scoring 9 of her game-high 15 points in the fourth quarter.

The Pirates (5-2) came into Sunday’s contest ranked in the top five nationally in multiple defensive categories, and their tough 3-2 zone gave the Virginia offense fits in the early stages.

The Hoos turned the ball over 18 times in the opening half, but still managed to hold the lead for almost the entire 20 minutes, thanks in part to an 11-2 run in the second quarter — highlighted by Dale’s first 3-pointer of the season — that stretched the Virginia lead from two to 11.

Dale had misfired on her first 15 attempts from beyond the arc this season, so seeing that first one go through the hoop gave her some added early confidence.

“Yeah, that felt really good,” said Dale. “I mean, obviously, I’ve been struggling a little with my shooting this year, but this team makes it really easy for me to gain my confidence back.

“Like in practice, if I miss a shot, everyone in the gym just tells me keep my head up, ‘You’re gonna make the next shot.’ So I have the coaches behind me, I have my teammates behind me, honestly all the staff members in this program behind me, so even though it’s been a little off, I know they all believe in me and that makes it really easy for me to believe in myself.”

Added Agugua-Hamilton of Dale’s breakout performance: “I told her, I told them, ‘We’re going to shoot well today,’ and she did. She came out, shot 50 percent from the 3, kind of got that monkey off her back, and now we’re good.”

Clemson transfer Danae McNeal, ECU’s leading scorer, poured in the Pirates’ final eight points of the second quarter (in the last 2:21) to pull her team within six by halftime, 31-25.

“We really haven’t had a chance to work on ourselves,” said Coach Mox, referencing the amount of games thus far without a ton of preparation time. “I say that a lot here because it’s important, and no one has played this zone. We knew that coming in. They’re going to probably play us 40 minutes of zone but we didn’t really go against zone live and practice probably since preseason. So I think the first half, we had to kind of settle in and find our rhythm, and then we did that in the second half.”

Mir McLean posted her second-straight double-double with 11 points and 14 rebounds. (Photo by Michael Bruder)

McLean scored six quick points out of the break, capped by a sweet dish from Brunelle that notched her fifth career double-double and gave the Hoos a double-digit advantage.

Add to that another 10-0 spurt and the Cavaliers were cruising, ahead by 20, 48-28, midway through the third period, as Dale sank her third long ball of the day in front of an exuberant UVA bench.

Brunelle scored on a fadeaway jumper to close the third, as Virginia held a comfortable 53-32 advantage. The Ruckersville native carried that momentum into the final 10 minutes, scoring on a spin move off the glass while going 4 for 4 from the free-throw line to give the Cavaliers their largest lead, 62-35, with 5:12 to play.

The Notre Dame transfer then helped put the finishing touches on the Pirates with her 12th 3-pointer of the season, and freshman guard Yonta Vaughn’s basket on the final offensive possession put all 10 Cavaliers in the scoring column. Senior forward Camryn Taylor, the team’s leading scorer on the season, finished with 8 points and 6 rebounds, 

Virginia shot 44 percent (24 for 55) on the afternoon, including 33 percent from downtown (7 for 21). The Hoos converted 17 of their 24 attempts from the foul line (71 percent), assisted on 18 of their 24 field-goal makes (senior point guard Taylor Valladay dished out a game-high 6 of them), recorded 10 steals and 8 blocks, and forced 18 ECU turnovers.

UVA took better care of the ball in the second half, but still committed 30 turnovers in the contest, something Coach Mox jokingly admitted she was hoping she wouldn’t have to address in the postgame press conference.

“We talked about that when we had 18 turnovers at halftime — that’s just so uncharacteristic of us,” she said. “But again, I think we just got a little rattled with how they’re playing their zone. You know, a lot of people play 2-3, which is a little bit easier to go against if you haven’t been doing a lot of practice, but 3-2 is a little different. So once we settled in, we were better. But 30 turnovers is just not good.”

Coach Mox added that the other things the team did well — and obviously the final result — ultimately overshadowed the miscues, and that the team will just continue to keep working on improving in all areas.

Photo Gallery by Michael Bruder

Team Stats

Courtesy UVA Media Relations

  • Virginia held a 56-25 edge in rebounding (plus-31)
  • UVA had 19 offensive rebounds, scoring 25 second-chance points
  • UVA shot 43.6 percent (24 of 55), while ECU shot 31.3 percent (20 of 64)
  • East Carolina was 2 of 16 (12.5 percent) from 3-point range. Virginia was 7 of 21 (33.3 percent)
  • Virginia committed 20 turnovers in the first half. The team was averaging 12.9 turnovers per game heading into the contest. UVA had 30 total for the game
  • Mir McLean’s double-double was her second of the weekend and third of the season
  • McKenna Dale is the 10th different Cavalier to score in double figures in a game this season (on a roster of 11 players)
  • Dale grabbed eight rebounds. She also had an eight-rebound performance on Wednesday against Campbell
  • Both McLean and Kaydan Lawson were 4 of 6 shooting. Sam Brunelle was 5 of 7 from the field and 4 of 4 from the free-throw line
  • UVA’s 8-0 start matches the 8-0 start to the 1992-93 season
  • The eight-straight victories are the longest win streak for the team since winning eight in a row during the 2017-18 season (Dec. 17- Jan. 11)
  • UVAWBB alumna J’Kyra Brown (’18) is in her first season as the Director of Recruiting at East Carolina. ECU head coach Kim McNeill and associate head coach Corey McNeill spent five seasons on Joanne Boyle’s coaching staff at UVA (2011-16), with Kim being promoted to associate head coach in 2013

Virginia travels to take on undefeated Penn State (7-0) on Wednesday at 7 p.m. as part of the ACC-B1G Challenge.