The Virginia Cavaliers improved to 3-0 on Wednesday night with an 80-51 win over William & Mary inside John Paul Jones Arena.
Here are three takeaways from UVA’s 14th consecutive non-conference win since the arrival of Coach Mox.
Sam Brunelle is back
With 5:11 remaining in the first quarter, Sam Brunelle checked into the game for the first time this season, garnering a huge ovation from the fans at JPJ. Brunelle’s presence was huge for the ‘Hoos as she finished with 12 points (4-6 FG, 2-4 3PT) and 4 rebounds in 15 minutes of action.
Brunelle averaged 11.0 points and 4.0 rebounds per game last season on a .461 FG% and .400 3FG%, but she missed the latter half of conference play due to a foot injury. After undergoing multiple surgeries this offseason, it was awesome to see Brunelle make her season debut against the Tribe and the energy she provided for the team and for the fans at JPJ was palpable.
According to Coach Mox after the game, Brunelle was on a minutes’ restriction in this one which is why she came off the bench. But in her first live basketball experience of the season and with limited time to get settled into the game, Brunelle didn’t seem at all rusty.
Her first bucket of the year came late in the first quarter on an open layup off a baseline out-of-bounds play, and she flashed her vision with a nice entry feed into London Clarkson on the next possession.
Brunelle’s first highlight of the night came in the second quarter as she converted on a strong and-one, sending JPJ into a frenzy. Brunelle was clearly fired up after her first big time bucket of the year, and she got hugs up and down the bench after hitting the free throw and checking out of the game.
Later, Brunelle flashed her ability as a knockdown shooter, hitting a pair of huge threes in the closing minutes of the third quarter as the ‘Hoos began to pull away from William & Mary. One of the two triples came off a nice Kymora Johnson outlet pass in transition, a combination that UVA fans have been dreaming of all offseason and one that should be a lethal offensive one-two punch moving forward.
Nothing but net for Sam Brunelle in her season debut!— Virginia Women's Basketball (@UVAWomensHoops) November 16, 2023
She's got 12 points on 4-of-6 shooting pic.twitter.com/evNTdCzFb0
Brunelle returns at the perfect time for Virginia, who has their first big test of the season on Sunday when No. 25 Oklahoma travels to Charlottesville.
Jillian Brown is still dominant
The junior guard continued her early-season dominance, stuffing the stat sheet again on Wednesday with a team-high 17 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, and a team-best plus/minus of +31 in 26 minutes of action.
Brown has arguably been Virginia’s most consistent weapon so far this season, providing immense value not only as a scorer, but as a rebounder and distributor as well. Through three games, Brown is averaging 14.3 points and 9.0 rebounds per game.
Her rebounding ability as a perimeter player has been incredibly impressive, and her versatility on offense has been crucial for the ‘Hoos. Brown has been one of the most effective Cavaliers in the fast break, demonstrating a great ability to finish at the rim — which she did routinely against the Tribe’s three-quarter-court zone press on Wednesday — or dish to open teammates when needed.
And when Virginia can’t get out in transition, Brown has been a Swiss army knife in the half-court offense. Virginia has primarily utilized a ‘horns’ set in the half-court so far, with a ball handler up top, two players near the top of the key on either side of the point guard, and two players in the corners. Brown has seemingly made plays at every position in this set, burning defenders on backdoor cuts from the corner, and on Wednesday, playing at the top of the key where she put on a passing clinic while feeding Camryn Taylor in the post.
Brown is a perfect weapon for this Virginia squad as someone who will make an impact in just about every game whether she’s scoring or not.
The ‘Hoos were once again reliant on a late offensive explosion
Following a similar script to the Cavaliers’ win over Campbell on Sunday, Virginia let the Tribe hang around into the third quarter before slamming the door shut with a big scoring run to close out the game.
It never felt like this one was really in doubt, but the Tribe were within six points deep into the third before Brunelle and Brown kickstarted the offense heading into the final quarter.
Camryn Taylor was once again the Cavaliers’ closer as she scored 9 of her 12 points in the fourth on 3-of-3 shooting from the floor and 3-of-3 from the foul line. In addition to Taylor’s interior dominance, Olivia McGhee hit a pair of triples in the final quarter and the defense once again clamped down late as Virginia put the game well out of reach, finishing on an extended 37-13 run that began with a minute-and-a-half to go in the third quarter.
· · ·— Virginia Women's Basketball (@UVAWomensHoops) November 16, 2023
Also see: Camryn Taylor pic.twitter.com/90PCSXAjHx
The huge scoring runs have been fun against mid-major competition, but the ‘Hoos need to come out faster moving forward. No. 25 Oklahoma is next up on the schedule, and Virginia travels to Grand Cayman for the Cayman Islands Classic on November 24th-25th for matchups with Tulane and the reigning national champion No. 7 LSU Tigers.