The Tina Thompson era in Charlottesville got off to a bit of a bumpy start as the Virginia Cavaliers fell to the No. 6 Mississippi State Bulldogs, 72-44. Virginia fell behind big early, but showed fight in the second half, especially in the third quarter. After getting demolished 45-17 in the first half, the Hoos tied the Bulldogs 27-27 in the second.
Third year Dominique Toussaint led the Hoos with 19 points on 7-for-18 shooting, and Felicia Aiyeotan had 16 rebounds and added four blocks. Mississippi State’s Andra Espinoza-Hunter and Chloe Bibby had 13 points each to lead the Bulldogs, and Teaira McCowan notched a double-double (12 points and 12 rebounds).
Seventeen of Virginia’s 24 turnovers came in the first half as the Bulldogs built an insurmountable lead. “That was definitely something we talked about and emphasized during halftime,” Coach Thompson said of the Cavaliers’ turnover woes. “We were better, and when we can give ourselves an opportunity to get looks at the basket, to take shots, it makes a difference in the game. We definitely have to be a lot more resilient, a lot tougher when we have the ball in our hands.”
“I think it was just lack of execution,” Toussaint stated of their troubles in the first half. “We knew what we had to do—we practiced it in practice—but I think that our exhaustion and lapses in judgement caused those turnovers. They’re unforced turnovers, so that was just on us.”
Mississippi State, the runner-up in the last two national championships, played every bit like its No. 6 ranking. The Bulldogs jumped out to an 11-0 lead before Virginia finally broke into the scoring column thanks to a layup from Toussaint at the 5:24 mark of the first quarter. Virginia’s eight first quarter turnovers allowed MSU to take a 26-13 lead at the end of the first 10 minutes as the Bulldogs scored 12 points off of turnovers. The Hoos shot just 27% in the first quarter, while the Bulldogs went 11-for-22 from the field (and 3-for-6 from three).
Much like the first quarter, the Bulldogs opened the second on an 16-0 run to extend their lead to 42-13 with 4:26 to play. Aiyeotan made a layup nine seconds later to break open the scoring for the Cavaliers in the second quarter. It was one of two baskets in the half for the home squad as Mississippi State outscored the Hoos 19-4.
Jocelyn Willoughby opened the scoring in the second half with a nifty stop-and-start move to a layup. The Hoos had more energy offensively after the break, with Toussaint converting on the old fashioned three-point play one possession later. On the play, Virginia passed their second quarter point total (four) in the first 3:38 of the third quarter. UVA outscored MSU 18-10 in the period, holding the Bulldogs to 29% shooting from the field and forcing five turnovers (that led to seven points for Virginia).
In the second half, Virginia came out with more purpose, better ball control, and sharper shooting. Their 18 third quarter points outscored their first half production (17). All around, Virginia just looked better than they had in the first 20 minutes. Mississippi State outscored the Cavaliers in the final stanza, 17-9, responding to Virginia’s strong third, but the Hoos have momentum to build on going forward.
“I am very encouraged by our second half,” Thompson said after the game. “Just executing and doing the things that we’ve coached and preached up to this season. In the first half I think the nerves got the best of us just a little bit. We were just kind of rushing and not executing in the way that I’m used or that was comfortable for us to get to things that we needed to in order to put some points on the board.”
The Cavaliers plan to press the ball in transition and play quickly, but turnovers plagued Virginia early in a game where they were already out-matched by the highly rated Bulldogs.
Over 4,400 fans showed up in support of the Cavaliers in Coach Thompson’s debut, a fact that didn’t go unnoticed. “Excited, definitely, about the crowd. I appreciate Charlottesville showing up for our kids,” Thompson said of the crowd. “They’re working really, really hard and we are building something. We’re under some renovations a little bit, but we are building.”
Virginia’s roster is slim with only 11 players listed and two—Amandine Toi and Dani Lawson—unable to play due to injury and NCAA transfer rules, respectively. Moné Jones is the lone senior on the team, with five underclassmen on the roster. That’s not keeping Coach Thompson from thinking her squad can do some damage this season.
“I’m not discouraged,” Thompson said resolutely. “I believe in this team and although we’re kind of short-manned a little bit, we have pieces that we can actually make things happen.”
The Hoos will have a chance to rebound as they head to Kentucky on Thursday, November 15 for an 8:30pm game.