The Virginia Cavaliers (9-10, 1-7 ACC) fell to Pittsburgh 56-52 on Thursday night inside John Paul Jones Arena. It was a very disappointing loss for the ‘Hoos, who after knocking off then-No. 15 Florida State on the road over the weekend, seemed primed to start a winning streak on their home floor.
Here are five takeaways from UVA’s frustrating night.
It’s déjà vu for UVA
Thursday’s bout with the Panthers played out as nearly a mirror image of Virginia’s most recent home game — last Thursday’s (Jan. 18th) loss to then-No. 19 Notre Dame. In both contests, the ‘Hoos dug themselves huge second-half holes with disastrous third quarters only to come roaring back (but ultimately fall short) in the fourth quarter.
After taking a 26-23 lead into halftime against Pitt, Virginia was outscored 24-to-6 in the third quarter as the ‘Hoos went just 2-of-16 (12.5%) from the floor and 0-for-8 from three in the period. It took until the 4:46 mark of the third quarter for UVA to even get on the board after halftime as the Panthers grew their lead to as many as 17 early in the fourth quarter.
But just like against the Fighting Irish, Virginia flipped the switch in the fourth quarter. A three-and-a-half-minute 12-0 Cavaliers run highlighted by a pair of Kymora Johnson old-fashioned three-point plays cut the margin to just 49-44 with 4:28 to play. Virginia’s run fizzled, however, with a frustrating 4:28-long field goal drought as their third quarter meltdown proved to be too much to overcome.
As was the case last Thursday, it seemed like the ‘Hoos found their sense of urgency a touch too late. No matter how hot you get down the stretch, creating double-digit deficits for yourself in the second half isn’t an ideal way to win a ballgame.
Turnovers doomed the ‘Hoos
On a night when the ‘Hoos shot just 28.3 percent from the floor, they couldn’t afford to also give away possessions by being sloppy with the basketball. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened as Virginia compounded their poor shooting night with 22 turnovers that led to 22 Pittsburgh points.
The Panthers deserve a lot of credit for confusing the Wahoos by switching between a few different zone defenses and slowing Virginia’s pace with a three-quarter court press, but UVA’s offensive execution was far from crisp. Between the turnovers and lack of inside production (Virginia managed just 14 points in the paint), the Cavaliers didn’t have enough to overcome a cold shooting performance.
Virginia can’t afford to lose Camryn Taylor
The fifth year forward went down with an apparent left knee injury midway through the second quarter on Thursday and didn’t re-enter the game. After limping off the floor, Taylor briefly went to the locker room before returning to the bench for the second half with an ice pack taped to her knee.
Coach Mox didn’t have an update on the severity of Taylor’s injury during her postgame press conference but alluded to it not being very serious.
Hopefully Taylor is back sooner rather than later because Virginia’s offense looked out of sorts without their leading scorer on the court. Even factoring in Thursday’s injury-impacted four-point output, Taylor still leads Virginia with 14.1 points per game this season on a 45.2 field-goal percentage while doing the bulk of Virginia’s inside scoring.
If Taylor is forced to miss time, London Clarkson would likely be in line for increased shot attempts, and we might see some more Edessa Noyan action off the bench. Against the Panthers, however, only Kymora Johnson scored in double-figures as no one really stepped up to fill Taylor’s void.
Kymora needs some help
Speaking of last week’s ACC Rookie of the Week and U.S. Basketball Writer’s Association National Freshman of the Week, Johnson stayed hot with another big performance Thursday, finishing with 17 points (6-14 FG, 3-7 3FG), 7 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals.
Thursday was Johnson’s sixth-consecutive game with at least 13 points and her third-straight time leading Virginia in scoring. Unfortunately, the freshman didn’t get a lot of help against the Panthers with Taylor out of commission.
Ten ‘Hoos got on the board as Coach Mox searched for a spark off the bench, but outside of Johnson, only Paris Clark managed to top five points as she was Virginia’s second-leading scorer with seven.
UVA has been searching for someone to step up as a consistent third scorer behind Taylor and Johnson, and that need has only grown after Thursday.
This one stings
After their explosive fourth quarter against the Fighting Irish and huge upset victory over Florida State last week, it seemed like Virginia was finally getting on a roll following their six-game losing streak to start conference play. And with Pitt (previously 0-and-6 in ACC play) coming into town, the opportunity to keep building on that momentum seemed too good to be true.
Unfortunately, things don’t always work out as planned and Virginia still remains in search of their first two-game ACC winning streak since February 17th and 20th of 2022 (home games against Duke and Pittsburgh).
Now, the ‘Hoos will once again have to regroup as they welcome their eighth ranked opponent of the season into JPJ on Sunday at noon when they take on No. 20 North Carolina for the program’s 50th anniversary celebration.