In their first big test of the season, the Virginia Cavaliers fell to No. 25 Oklahoma 82-67 inside John Paul Arena. While it was a disappointing result, the ‘Hoos showed a lot of fight against a ranked opponent.
Here are three takeaways from the loss to the Sooners.
The ‘Hoos fought
The fifteen-point final margin isn’t pretty, but this game was a lot closer in the second half than the score would suggest. After digging themselves a seventeen-point halftime deficit which quickly inflated to twenty at the beginning of the third quarter, Virginia clawed their way back to within five points on a London Clarkson and-one with 5:42 to go in the fourth.
With JPJ in a frenzy and all the momentum on their side, it looked like the ‘Hoos were going to complete the comeback, but their final push stalled, and Oklahoma ballooned the lead in the game’s final minutes.
The slow start was ultimately too much to overcome for Virginia, but the ‘Hoos didn’t look overmatched against the ranked Sooners squad. UVA was energetic and pesky on defense, forcing 24 Oklahoma turnovers, and the Cavaliers were competitive on the glass (the Sooners grabbed 49 boards to the Cavaliers’ 43, but UVA had 18 offensive rebounds which led to 15 second-chance points), which was an area of concern coming into the contest.
Virginia also got solid performances from Camryn Taylor (17 points on 6-of-12 shooting and 6 rebounds) and freshman Olivia McGhee (14 points on 6-of-15 shooting and 5 rebounds), who looked completely unfazed in her first collegiate action against a power-five opponent.
McGhee was arguably the biggest bright spot for Virginia. She worked her way into the starting group to begin the second half, and in addition to showing off her smooth and versatile offensive game, she was locked in on defense and lit up JPJ with a highlight-reel transition block.
Three-point shooting was the Cavaliers’ downfall
Unfortunately, no matter how much fight you play with, it’s borderline impossible to win against a ranked opponent when you shoot just 1-for-23 (4.3%) from three-point range as the ‘Hoos did on Sunday afternoon.
It’s never this simple, and there were plenty of other reasons why Virginia came up short against the Sooners, but it really feels like if the ‘Hoos had just shot their season average from three-point range this one could’ve flipped in UVA’s favor.
While Oklahoma’s defense was certainly a factor in limiting the Cavaliers’ effectiveness from deep, Virginia also missed a lot of open looks which normally go down as UVA’s usual outside threats Kymora Johnson (0-for-7), Olivia McGhee (0-for-5), Sam Brunelle (0-for-2), and Jillian Brown (0-for-3) all went cold on the same day.
To make matters worse, Oklahoma walked into JPJ and shot the lights out on the other end of the floor. The Sooners went 13-of-30 (43.3%) from three-point range, and seemingly each time Virginia had the momentum on their side, Oklahoma would drill a deep ball to silence the crowd.
Three-point shooting should be an asset for this group, so hopefully this was an outlier of a performance. And if I had to bet, I think it will be. This Virginia squad has too many proven deep threats for this to be a long-term issue… hopefully.
The rotation began to take shape, but there are still questions
Virginia had two key pieces back on Sunday in the form of Kaydan Lawson and Paris Clark, who both made their season debuts against the Sooners. That leaves just Mir McLean as the lone ‘Hoo waiting to suit up this season after UVA was missing four players to begin the year.
With 13 healthy ‘Hoos ready to go against the Sooners, Coach Mox was forced to make some serious decisions regarding minutes for the first time this year, and quickly we saw that the rotation will become more limited as the competition ramps up.
Jillian Brown, Kymora Johnson, Alexia Smith, Camryn Taylor, and London Clarkson got the start, and only three Cavaliers — Sam Brunelle (23 minutes), Kaydan Lawson (15 minutes), and Olivia McGhee (27 minutes) — really played significant minutes off the bench.
That left Yonta Vaughn (10 minutes), Edessa Noyan (4 minutes), Paris Clark (7 minutes), Cady Pauley, and Taylor Lauterbach left out of the equation for now.
However, this doesn’t seem like the final draft of Coach Mox’s rotation. For starters, Clark figures to play a more significant role moving forward — she was actually the first one off the bench on Sunday — but she’ll need some time to settle back into the flow of things. Additionally, Yonta Vaughn and Edessa Noyan both proved themselves to be important pieces in Virginia’s first three games.
Obviously, Coach Mox won’t be able to find consistent minutes for all thirteen players as conference play begins and she figures out who she trusts when the game is on the line. But it seems likely that we’ll see a lot of lineup tinkering over the next few weeks as roles begin to take shape.