The Virginia Cavaliers women’s basketball team took care of business Wednesday night, starting off their 2023-24 campaign with a 76-52 win over University of Maryland Eastern Shore inside John Paul Jones Arena.
Here are three takeaways from opening night of year two of the Coach Mox era in Charlottesville.
Get ready for lots of lineup fluctuation
Five new faces made their UVA debuts Wednesday, and right off the bat we saw a surprising group take the floor as Jillian Brown, Kymora Johnson, Alexia Smith, Edessa Noyan, and Camryn Taylor made up the starting five for the ‘Hoos.
Sam Brunelle, Mir McLean, Kaydan Lawson, and Paris Clark, who all missed last week’s exhibition vs Pitt-Johnstown, remained out for Virginia on Wednesday as they recover from various ailments. The ‘Hoos were also hit with an unexpected addition to the injury report right before tip when expected starter and team captain London Clarkson had to be scratched from the rotation, as, according to Coach Mox after the game, she tweaked something during pregame warmups.
With the rotations having to be adjusted last minute, Virginia deployed a variety of unique looks. Clarkson’s absence thrust freshman Edessa Noyan into the starting lineup for her collegiate debut and caused freshman Olivia McGhee to primarily play the four when she was on the floor, a role she didn’t practice much this preseason.
Even before Clarkson was ruled out, Coach Mox had made it clear that there was going to be a lot of lineup-tinkering early on this season as she learns what works with the newcomers and as the previously-injured Cavaliers start returning to the lineup. This does provide the opportunity for some fun lineup combinations to take the floor, including an exciting Kymora Johnson, Cady Pauley, Yonta Vaughn, Olivia McGhee, and Edessa Noyan look we saw late in the first quarter that featured three freshmen and two sophomores.
Obviously, no one wants to see the injury bug ravaging the Cavaliers rotation the way it did last season, but one silver lining might be the game experience some of the young ‘Hoos are getting that will be incredibly valuable as Virginia returns to full strength later this season.
Camryn Taylor can flat out take over a game
Whether due to some opening night nerves or the last-minute rotation adjustments, it took a while for the ‘Hoos to get warmed up on Wednesday, as Virginia went just 4-18 from the floor in the first quarter and 1-7 from three. While the shooting picked up as the game went along, UVA let UMES hang around deep into the evening. Each time Virginia would gain some separation, the Hawks of Maryland Eastern Shore would make a few plays to get back within striking distance.
With the ‘Hoos up 52-42 early in the fourth quarter, however, fifth year forward Camryn Taylor decided enough was enough and ripped off 13 of Virginia’s next 15 points as the Cavaliers put the game well out of reach.
Taylor, a second team All-ACC selection last season, finished with a team-high 22 points (7-15 FG) to go along with nine rebounds, and her masterclass in the fourth quarter was a reminder of how dominant she can be in the paint. UMES had no answer for Taylor’s array of post moves except often to send her to the free throw line where she went 8-for-9. Taylor was all over the boards as well, fighting for seven offensive rebounds which led to a lot of easy putback opportunities.
When the outside shots aren’t falling and while fellow frontcourt scorers Brunelle and McLean remain sidelined, Virginia will have to lean heavily on Taylor offensively. If Wednesday is any indication though, she’s more than up to the task.
The ‘Hoos can rely on a combination of speed and hustle this season
Virginia’s desired style of play was evident from tip-off on Wednesday. It’s no secret that Coach Mox preaches the importance of tempo for her squad, and that emphasis on pushing the pace was on display all evening. The ‘Hoos had 24 fastbreak points against UMES, stemming from 8 steals and the Virginia guards constantly looking up the floor off rebounds and outlet passes.
UVA’s style is more than just looking for fastbreak opportunities, though. It’s also about playing with a high level of effort, something Virginia had no shortage of against UMES. The Cavaliers fought for 20 offensive rebounds, and although it doesn’t show up on the stat sheet, were diving all over the floor for 50/50 balls throughout the contest. At one point, Olivia McGhee ended up on the ground halfway into the tunnel after chasing down a loose ball, and with under two minutes to go in a blowout, multiple Cavaliers were still getting on the floor to keep loose balls inbounds.
No one served as a better example of being all over the court than Jillian Brown. A junior guard who transferred from Northwestern this offseason, Brown put up 14 points, 13 rebounds, three blocks, and one steal in her Virginia debut. Brown was constantly in the mix fighting for rebounds on both ends of the floor and really stepped up on defense as well. Brown has a high motor and is an important veteran presence among a group of young Cavalier guards.
With so many key players out right now, Virginia will have a lot to improvise when it comes to lineups and finding consistent scoring. But if the ‘Hoos can consistently rely on energy and effort, they should be able to stay in most ballgames.
After their strong showing Wednesday night, UVA will look to build on their season-opening performance on Sunday at 2 p.m. when the Campbell Fighting Camels visit JPJ.