The Virginia Cavaliers fell to 8-6 (0-3 ACC) on Sunday afternoon with a 60-56 loss to Duke inside John Paul Jones Arena. After starting the season 7-2, the ‘Hoos have now dropped four of their last five contests.
Here are five takeaways from a hard-fought but disappointing home loss.
The ‘Hoos were cold once again
On a fairly comfortable, 50-degree winter afternoon in Charlottesville, the ‘Hoos were ice cold inside JPJ.
Since ACC play began, Virginia has yet to shoot better than 35% from the floor, and that unfortunate trend continued against the Blue Devils. UVA went 16-for-54 (29.6%) overall and 2-for-10 from beyond the arc. The ‘Hoos have struggled from deep for much of the season, but on Sunday even the bunnies weren’t falling as they shot just 10-for-32 on layups.
A lot of the credit should go to the Duke defense as the Blue Devils have a lengthy, athletic squad that put a lot of pressure on the ‘Hoos all afternoon. But you have to make shots to win a basketball game and Virginia has learned that lesson the hard way in their first three conference matchups.
Holding UVA to 27% FG!! ⬇️⬇️ pic.twitter.com/vwr8OwdHu8— Duke Women’s Basketball (@DukeWBB) January 7, 2024
At least they can shoot free throws
What kept Virginia in the game on Sunday was their ability to get to the charity stripe and knock down their free throws. The ‘Hoos went 22-of-26 (84.6%) from the line as Camryn Taylor (7-9), Kymora Johnson (4-4), and London Clarkson (3-4) were all able to force the issue and force the Blue Devils to foul them around the rim.
Despite the overall offensive struggles, UVA has been able to lean on their free throws all season. The ‘Hoos entered Sunday ranked 22nd in the nation with a 77.5% team free throw percentage.
Camryn Taylor has been the catalyst of Virginia’s free throw barrage all season. She entered Sunday as the nation’s 17th-best free throw shooter at 89.8% on over four-and-a-half attempts per game.
As long as the Cavaliers continue to be cold from the from the floor, they need to continue attacking the rim and taking advantage of their strength from the line.
Coach Mox is looking for a spark
All 13 available Cavaliers saw the floor against the Blue Devils as the ‘Hoos continue to look for a spark in the rotation.
A core eight has developed over the past couple games that includes Camryn Taylor, Kymora Johnson, Paris Clark, London Clarkson, Sam Brunelle, Alexia Smith, Yonta Vaughn, and Jillian Brown, but that group hasn’t necessarily proved they’re ready to take care of business yet.
Among the five ‘Hoos not in that group, freshman Olivia McGhee has shown flashes this season, Taylor Lauterbach has had great moments as an interior defender, and Kaydan Lawson has knocked down five three-pointers on limited attempts, but there hasn’t been much consistency either from the back end of the rotation.
In her postgame press conference, Coach Mox emphasized that they’re still waiting for everybody to play their best basketball on the same day, meaning the opportunity is right there for someone to step up and earn minutes as the ‘Hoos are desperately in need of some juice.
Foul trouble has hurt the ‘Hoos in consecutive games
After tying their season-high by committing 24 fouls against Georgia Tech on Thursday night, the ‘Hoos surpassed that mark with 25 fouls against the Blue Devils on Sunday.
As the offense has sputtered, Virginia has ramped up the intensity on the defensive end of the floor. They did limit Duke to well under their season average of 71.5 points per game, but their increased aggressiveness has also caused UVA to rack up fouls at a troubling rate.
UVA’s leading scorer Camryn Taylor (17 points, 5-10 FG) fouled out with 5:25 left in the fourth quarter while London Clarkson (4 fouls), Jillian Brown (4 fouls), and Paris Clark (3 fouls) were all limited by foul trouble as well.
Virginia can’t afford to have their most consistent players, especially Taylor, on the bench down the stretch. While the ‘Hoos will certainly need to lean on their defense and rebounding moving forward, they’re going to have to figure out a way to do so without fouling.
Kymora Johnson continues to look comfortable
Her shooting percentages aren’t sky-high, but even in ACC play Kymora Johnson continues to look incredibly comfortable as a freshman starting point guard.
The five-star recruit and 2023 McDonald’s All-American finished with 15 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, and 3 steals against the Blue Devils while continuing to serve as UVA’s primary ballhandler and facilitator.
On the season, Johnson is Virginia’s second-leading scorer at 11.7 points per game and she leads the ‘Hoos in both total assists (75) and steals (27). Perhaps most impressively, her season-long plus/minus of +165 leads the squad and is 39 points higher than the next closest Cavalier.
Johnson hasn’t quite found her three-point stroke so far this season (22.8 3FG%), but that is sure to come with time. Despite Virginia’s recent string of losses, Johnson’s play has been a great sign for the program going forward.