In their final tune-up before the regular season gets underway next Wednesday, the Virginia Cavaliers women’s basketball team bested Pittsburgh-Johnstown in an exhibition matchup 102-51.
Coach Mox has made it clear that her lineups are going to fluctuate early on this season, but our first look at a UVA starting five was Kymora Johnson, Jillian Brown, Alexia Smith, Camryn Taylor, and London Clarkson.
Granted, the Divison II Mountain Cats of UPJ aren’t exactly the Las Vegas Aces, but nevertheless there was plenty to be impressed by from Coach Mox’s ‘Hoos, so here are three competition-adjusted takeaways from Thursday’s action.
@UVAWomensHoops starters for Thursday's exhibition vs Pitt-Johnstown:— Corbin Lathrop (@corbinlathrop) November 2, 2023
Out: Sam Brunelle, Mir McLean, Kaydan Lawson, Paris Clark
Virginia is going to push the pace this season
It should come as no surprise that Coach Mox had the Cavaliers playing faster than ever in Thursday’s exhibition. Pushing the pace and getting out in transition is a key component of Coach Mox’s coaching philosophy, but Virginia simply didn’t have the bodies last season to keep up with her ideal tempo. This year’s squad looks like they’re better up to the task. The ‘Hoos still aren’t completely healthy, as Sam Brunelle, Mir McLean, Kaydan Lawson, and Paris Clark were all not in uniform Thursday as they work back from various injuries. Even so, the depth is much-improved overall.
The ‘Hoos racked up 29 fast break points against UPJ Thursday and showed flashes reminiscent of the Showtime Lakers. Of course, the competition certainly played a part in Virginia taking it up a gear as the Cavalier guards pestered UPJ’s less talented backcourt all night, generating near-constant turnovers and kickstarting fast breaks. But on those fast breaks, the ‘Hoos looked incredibly comfortable.
The skillsets of freshman Kymora Johnson and sophomore Yonta Vaughn, Virginia’s one-two punch of point guards, fit especially well with Coach Mox’s system. The pair consistently made the right plays in transition Thursday, getting to the cup themselves when needed, but more often dishing it to open teammates for easy layups.
While the pure volume of fast break opportunities might not be there once Virginia gets into their tough non-conference schedule and ACC play, Coach Mox’s desire to get out and run combined with the ‘Hoos plethora of talented guards should make this Virginia squad a fun watch all winter.
The ‘Hoos can light it up from deep
While Virginia might not always be able to dominate in transition and in the paint like they did against an undersized UPJ squad, the ‘Hoos showed that they have plenty of three-point weapons to keep them in ballgames against more elite competition. In all, UVA went 10-24 (41.7%) from long range Thursday — Cady Pauley knocked down four triples, Johnson and Vaughn each hit two, and senior Alexia Smith and freshman Olivia McGhee made one apiece.
In attendance for the UVA women's exhibition: Reece Beekman, Andrew Rhode, Ryan Dunn, Blake Buchanan, Leon Bond, Elijah Gertrude, Taine Murray, and Desmond Roberts— Corbin Lathrop (@corbinlathrop) November 2, 2023
Great to see the men's team out here supporting @UVAWomensHoops
Between Pauley and Johnson, Virginia has two bonafide long-range weapons that can really stretch a defense. Pauley’s four long-balls built on her stellar performance in the Blue-White Scrimmage; she’s beginning to look like a true sparkplug that Coach Mox can utilize off the bench. As for Johnson, in addition to handling starting point guard duties, she notably had several plays drawn up for her to get open looks from three, including a nifty elevator screen coming off a baseline out-of-bounds play.
McGhee and Vaughn are sneaky three-point shooters as well and Sam Brunelle will provide another threat from beyond the arc when she returns. It was a welcome sight to see McGhee, who suffered an injury in the Blue-White Scrimmage, in uniform Thursday and showing flashes of brilliance. At 6’3, her length is a weapon in the paint against smaller guards, but she has a silky-smooth jumper as well. She hit her triple in the second quarter and looked like a great running partner for Johnson all night on the break. Vaughn is usually a pass-first point guard, but she hit back-to-back threes midway through the third quarter and finished tied for the team-high with 18 points.
Camryn Taylor looks ready to put up another All-ACC season
Taylor’s 13.9 points per game led the squad last season and was 10th in the ACC last year, earning her a spot on the All-ACC second team. Inexplicably, however, the fifth year forward was snubbed from the 2023-24 preseason all-ACC team last week at ACC media day in Charlotte. But Taylor looked ready to prove the haters wrong with a dominant performance against UPJ. Taylor matched Vaughn with a team-high 18 points and added a team-high nine rebounds, albeit against an undersized UPJ frontcourt. She was relentless on the offensive boards and put a variety of post moves on display.
Without Sam Brunelle and Mir McLean for now, Virginia is going to have to lean on Taylor heavily to begin the year. If she can stay out of foul trouble, something she struggled with last season, it’s hard to envision Taylor not repeating with an All-ACC caliber season.