UVA hangs on for 73-70 win vs. Minnesota; Hoos 7-0 for first time in 30 years

By Scott Ratcliffe

UVA junior Mir McLean recorded her fourth career double-double against Minnesota Saturday. (Photos by Matt Riley, UVA Athletics)

The Virginia women’s basketball team is off to its best start in 30 years, as the Cavaliers improved to 7-0 after hanging on to defeat Minnesota, 73-70, in the opener of the Cavalier Classic Saturday at John Paul Jones Arena.

Senior forward Camryn Taylor scored 10 of her team-high 22 points in the third quarter, and came away with an important steal with seven seconds left to help seal the victory.

“It was all because we got stops, rebounded and was able to push, and then get into offense,” said UVA coach Amaka Agugua-Hamilton. “So it’s something that we’ve just got to keep working at. I think we’ve come leaps and bounds since the beginning of the season, and it’s so great we can learn lessons through wins.”

Central Virginia native Sam Brunelle added 17 points, including three huge 3-pointers down the stretch, while junior forward Mir McLean posted her fourth career double-double (and second so far this season) with 11 points and a career-high 15 rebounds to go with 2 assists, 2 blocks and 2 steals.

The last time UVA started a season with seven-straight wins was in 1992-93, and the Wahoos had to hold off a late Golden Gopher rally Saturday to match that mark.

Brunelle knocked down her third 3-pointer of the fourth quarter to give UVA a 71-62 lead with a little more than three minutes left, but Minnesota kept chipping away behind the play of freshman guard Mara Braun.

Braun, who scored 16 of her game-high 24 points in the fourth, answered Brunelle’s basket with one of her own, then nailed a triple to trim the Virginia lead to 71-67 with 2:27 remaining.

The Hoos had several chances to ice the game at the free-throw line, but misfired on 6 of their 8 attempts in the final 1:18, leaving the door open for the Gophers.

The lead was cut to one, 71-70, on a Katie Borowicz 3-ball with 51 seconds to go. Taylor’s shot from in close with 27 ticks left didn’t drop, and the Gophers had the ball down by one with time winding down.

As Borowicz made her move towards the basket and tried to take her dribble behind her back, Taylor was able to knock the ball loose and gain possession. Although Taylor missed both of her ensuing free throws, the ball caromed out of bounds off of a Minnesota player on the second miss.

The play was reviewed and upheld, as Taylor Valladay and Kaydan Lawson each split a pair from the line in the waning seconds for the final result. Minnesota had one last crack at tying or taking the lead, but turned the ball over at midcourt with 1.9 seconds to play.

Minnesota jumped out to an early 21-11 lead before Taylor scored to beat the first-quarter buzzer. The Cavaliers had shot just 29 percent in the opening period (6 for 21), but came out firing on both ends to start the second.

The Hoos scored 18 unanswered points to take a 31-21 advantage with 5:12 left in the first half. It all started with a Carole Miller basket off of a Brunelle steal and assist, then Valladay added an easy layup before back-to-back buckets by Taylor to knot the score at 21-all.

Camryn Taylor (20) is fired up after making a big play against Minnesota.

Taylor then put the Cavaliers ahead to stay. After diving on the floor for a loose ball to force a jump ball, she intercepted the ensuing inbounds pass and found Valladay on the other end to make it 23-21.

McKenna Dale scored off another Minnesota turnover, and then after a pair of Brunelle free throws, a Valladay steal led to a Taylor jumper before Taylor came up with yet another takeaway and found Brunelle for two more, and all of a sudden, the Hoos found themselves ahead, 31-21.

“We had to bring that up — our toughness — up a little bit,” Coach Mox said, “and when we did, we were getting 50-50 balls, we were snagging rebounds and we were pushing. Because of that, we were able to get our transition game going and then the crowd got into it, and that helped us get over the hump, too. So everything kind of starts with defensive rebounding for us, but that’s how we get our energy on the offensive end, and then when we start playing in transition, getting easy shots, and it goes through the hoop when we were on our sets, then now we have more confidence because we made some shots.”

A late 9-0 Minnesota spurt pulled the Gophers within four by halftime, 35-31. Taylor was 5 for 7 from the field in the third quarter, and Virginia maintained a 51-45 edge heading into the fourth.

Up until then, the 3’s hadn’t been falling for the Cavaliers, as they’d connected on just 1 of 17 from downtown. Brunelle changed that tune with her first triple from the top of the key, then hit another from the same spot the next trip down, and Virginia led by 10, 59-49, with 7:37 left.

“Those were huge, because then it got [the Gophers] out of the paint,” Agugua-Hamilton said of Brunelle’s 3-point bombs. “Now they had to guard her so we could get touches inside with Cam, Mir, London when she came in, even just getting touches off of drives. I think [Valladay] got to the rim a little bit. So those were big.”

Minnesota refused to throw in the towel, using a quick 10-2 run to trim the UVA lead to 61-59, but McLean responded with an and-one putback to push the lead back to five. It was one of McLean’s team-high 4 offensive rebounds, as the Hoos produced 18 second-chance points on the afternoon and escaped with the hard-fought victory.

“I’m coming off a thumb surgery, so I’m still getting comfortable with my right hand again,” said McLean, “but I think that’s just a testament to mentality. We needed a lot more rebounds than we do any other night, this was a big game for us, so I think that just pursuing the basketball was what I was interested in tonight.”

Virginia made 31 of its 76 field-goal attempts (41 percent), shot 20 percent from beyond the arc (4 for 20) and 54 percent from the charity stripe (7 for 13). The Cavaliers racked up 20 assists, edged the Gophers on the boards, 44-41, only committed 12 turnovers and converted 22 points off of 22 Minnesota giveaways, as UVA recorded an eye-popping 16 steals for the game, a season high.

Every starter had at least two takeaways (Taylor’s steal in crunch time gave her a game-high three), with Miller and transfer Alexia Smith, who was playing against her former school, also coming away with a pair of steals off the bench.

“I mean, we had 16 steals — that’s a lot,” said Coach Mox, “and we didn’t even really press, we were just aggressive and understood the gameplan, and we were able to kind of rattle them at times. But 20 assists, only 12 turnovers, forced them into 22 turnovers. Those stats are things that we celebrate. I know everybody looks at points and things like that, but we want to fill the stat sheet, so I was really happy to see that we did that.”

Valladay finished with 7 points and 6 assists, while Smith added 7 points and Miller contributed 6 assists as well.

Team Notes

Courtesy UVA Media Relations

  • Virginia shot 44.4 percent (31 of 76), while Minnesota went 25 of 61 (41.0 percent)
  • The Cavaliers were 3 of 9 from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter, while Minnesota was 7 of 7. Virginia was 7 of 13 overall (53.8 percent) from the free-throw line
  • Virginia held a 44-41 edge in rebounding
  • The Cavaliers had 20 assists, the second time this season reaching the 20-assist mark in a game
  • The Cavaliers had 16 steals, the most they have had since a January 9, 2020, game against Duke
  • This was Camryn Taylor’s second 20-point game of the year and the eighth of her career
  • Taylor was 11 of 22 from the field
  • Taylor scored 14 of her points in the second half
  • Mir McLean was 4 of 5 from the field
  • McLean’s previous career high for rebounding was 14 last year against Duke
  • Sam Brunelle scored 17 points, her fifth double-digit scoring game of the season
  • Virginia was 1 of 17 from 3-point range before Brunelle made three 3-pointers in the fourth quarter
  • The last time UVA started the season 7-0 was an 8-0 start to the 1992-93 season
  • The seven-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)
  • UVA guard Alexia Smith played two seasons for the Golden Gophers before transferring to UVA last summer

The Cavaliers will be back at JPJ tomorrow afternoon at 2 p.m. to wrap up the Cavalier Classic against East Carolina (ACC Network).