Here are five takeaways from the ‘Hoos encouraging performance in George Town.
Virginia can compete with the best
While the ‘Hoos couldn’t come away with the win, Saturday’s performance against the reigning champs was a clear sign that Coach Mox’s squad is ready to take on anyone in year two of her tenure.
Virginia gave LSU all they could handle in this one. The ‘Hoos never trailed by more than ten points, had the game knotted at 48 going into halftime, and were a missed Sam Brunelle three-pointer with five seconds remaining from possibly forcing overtime.
While the Tigers were without their superstar center Angel Reese in the Cayman Islands, they still have one of the most talented rosters in the country and are arguably Virginia’s stiffest competition on the schedule this season.
Yet Virginia didn’t look one bit overmatched, and even in a loss, this was still an incredibly encouraging performance for the ‘Hoos.
Sam Brunelle has been unleashed
After missing the first two games of the season, Sam Brunelle has been slowly eased back into action since making her season debut in November 15th’s matchup against William & Mary.
On Saturday, however, Brunelle was finally unleashed as she made her first start of the year and played a season-high 32 minutes (which was also a team-high for UVA against the Tigers).
Brunelle made the most of her increased role as she poured in 15 points on 5-of-11 shooting to go along with 3 rebounds. All eleven of her attempts in this one came from beyond the arc as she stretched the Tigers defense while putting on an elite shooting display.
Brunelle’s performance was huge against LSU as two of Virginia’s usual offensive weapons, Kymora Johnson (4-13 FG, 0-7 3PT) and Camryn Taylor (1-9 FG), struggled from the field. Once the ‘Hoos can get all three of Brunelle, Johnson, and Taylor going in the same game, they will be very hard to stop.
Yonta Vaughn continued her huge weekend
After her 14 point, 5 rebound, 4 assist performance in game one of the Cayman Islands Classic against Tulane, Yonta Vaughn continued her dynamic weekend with 13 points and 7 assists against LSU on Saturday. The consecutive huge outputs from Vaughn earned the Cavaliers’ sixth-woman all-tournament honors.
Vaughn’s ability as a facilitator has been on display all season, but her 7-for-12 shooting from three-point range was a welcome spark to the offense over the weekend. That type of elite long-range efficiency will be hard to sustain, but the sophomore point guard really flashed as a reliable producer off the bench for the ‘Hoos all weekend.
Paris Clark is an x-factor
Brunelle wasn’t the only Cavalier to make her first start of the season on Saturday, as Paris Clark joined the starting five for the first time as well.
And like Brunelle, Clark quickly made the most of her opportunity. The sophomore transfer from Arizona had 10 points on 5-of-7 shooting in the first quarter on her way to a 19 point, 7 rebound, 3 steal performance against the Tigers.
One of four former McDonald’s All-Americans on this Virginia roster, Clark was a highly touted recruit coming out of high school before an up-and-down, injury-impacted freshman season at Arizona. Now, after missing the first three games of this season for the ‘Hoos with an ankle sprain and getting inconsistent minutes in her first two games back in action, Clark finally had her breakout game for UVA on Saturday.
Known as a three-level scorer and strong two-way player, Clark’s potential was never a question. So, to see such an impactful performance against Virginia’s stiffest competition to date is immensely exciting for this squad and raises the ceiling of what we could see from the 2023-24 Cavaliers.
Time to start racking up W’s
Six games into the season, Virginia now sits at 4-2 with four dominant wins against UMES, Campbell, William & Mary, and Tulane, and their only losses coming in hard-fought matchups against ranked opponents (then No. 25 Oklahoma and now No. 7 LSU).
You never want to look too far down the schedule, but the ‘Hoos have a great opportunity to build off the positive momentum coming out of the Cayman Islands Classic and start piling up some wins.
The ‘Hoos host an inconsistent Missouri squad on Thursday before traveling to La Salle on December 3rd and then returning to Charlottesville for home matchups with Rider (Dec. 6th), Wofford (Dec. 16th), and Furman (Dec. 21st). Virginia should be favorites in all five of these games.
With a Dec. 31st matchup against No. 10 NC State representing the start of an intense ACC schedule, the ‘Hoos would be well served to rack up some wins and continue to build their confidence. Vibes are high coming out of tropical George Town, so it would be great to keep them there with the dog days of winter fast approaching.