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Five takeaways from UVA women’s basketball’s big win over No. 20 UNC

The ‘Hoos took down a ranked opponent for the second time in eight days.

Virginia v NC State Photo by Lance King/Getty Images

The Virginia Cavaliers (10-10, 2-7 ACC) played some of their best basketball of the season Sunday afternoon as they took down No. 20 North Carolina inside John Paul Jones Arena.

After a cold first quarter, the ‘Hoos overcame an early 13-point deficit with a 21-to-5 run to close out the first half. After the break, the Tar Heels traded buckets with Virginia in the third quarter before UVA broke the game open with a surgical fourth-quarter performance.

Here are five takeaways from another big win for Coach Mox and the Cavaliers.

Virginia is figuring out how to finish games

The ‘Hoos have come out on the losing end of a lot of close games this season, but they’ve flipped the script with great performances down the stretch against both Florida State and North Carolina.

Against the Tar Heels, the ‘Hoos kept their composure as North Carolina ramped up their defensive pressure in the fourth quarter, easily dicing through the full court press and working the clock with their half-court offense.

Virginia also continued their hot shooting in the fourth quarter — knocking down three of their eleven total triples — and iced the game at the line by knocking down 8-of-10 free throws in the final period.

We’ve seen close games get away from the ‘Hoos on multiple occasions (they have a 2-and-6 record in games decided by 10 or fewer points), but in front of an energized crowd of 5,690 on Sunday they slammed the door shut on the Tar Heels with arguably their best fourth quarter showing of the year.

The ‘Hoos came alive from three

Virginia went 11-of-19 (57.9%) from beyond the arc on Sunday, their best percentage from distance this season and their third-most three-point field goals made (behind their fifteen 3PM vs Tulane on 11/24 and twelve 3PM vs Fordham on 12/21).

After some serious cold stretches from deep, the ‘Hoos are finally starting to shoot the ball with confidence as of late. Sunday marked the sixth-consecutive outing in which the ‘Hoos have made at least six three-point field goals.

Against the Tar Heels, five different Cavaliers hit at least one shot from beyond the arc, including four triples each by Kymora Johnson and Sam Brunelle.

The three-point shot is the great equalizer in basketball, and Virginia showed once again on Sunday that when their shooters are locked in, the ‘Hoos can hang with just about any team in the country.

Sam Brunelle broke out

The Ruckersville native admitted after the game that she’d been in a shooting slump for a while now, but Brunelle broke out in a major way against the Tar Heels on Sunday, finishing with 14 points (5-9 FG, 4-5 3PT), 7 rebounds, and 2 steals in 30 minutes of action while making just her ninth start of the season.

After being named to the Katrina McClain Award Watch List for the top power forward in the country this preseason, the 2019 McDonald’s All-American has had a bit of an up-and-down year. Brunelle has had big outings, notably against Tulane and LSU in the Cayman Islands, but she has seen her minutes reduced in recent weeks and hadn’t scored in double figures since December 3rd. On Sunday, however, she was absolutely pivotal in the Cavaliers’ big win.

Eight of Brunelle’s fourteen points, including a massive pair of back-to-back threes, came in the 2nd quarter while the ‘Hoos flipped the game on its head. A clear fan favorite, Brunelle’s production and energy had JPJ in a frenzy as the ‘Hoos came storming back before the half.

Brunelle’s reemergence could be a major development for the ‘Hoos who looked like a completely different team with multiple shooters roaming the perimeter.

The ‘Hoos channeled their ‘next woman up’ mentality

With leading scorer Camryn Taylor out of action due to the left knee injury she suffered in Thursday’s contest against Pittsburgh, several ‘Hoos stepped up to fill the void.

Brunelle and Kymora Johnson (25 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists) led the way, but Paris Clark (14 points, 5 steals), London Clarkson (10 points), Alexia Smith (7 points, 6 rebounds), Jillian Brown (5 rebounds, 4 assists), and Edessa Noyan (5 points) all chipped in to make up for Taylor’s absence.

The ‘Hoos don’t have one single person who can make up for all of Taylor’s missing production, so as long as their superstar forward is sidelined, Virginia needs to lean on their depth and get group efforts like Sunday’s.

The program continues to trend in the right direction

Sunday was the women’s basketball program’s 50th Anniversary celebration, with festivities including the honoring of dozens of former players and coaches during halftime. As fans were reminded of the program’s storied past, Sunday showed that Coach Mox has Virginia’s future looking bright as well.

This season hasn’t been the national coming out party we were hoping for as disappointing close losses against elite competition coupled with letdown performances against beatable teams have defined much of the year, but for the second time in eight days, UVA fans have been treated to previews of the standard of excellence that Coach Mox is hoping to restore at Virginia.

After securing multiple wins over ranked opponents in a season for the first time since 2016-17, the ‘Hoos travel to Blacksburg on Thursday for their first of two matchups with the Hokies this season.