Tina Thompson walked to the Virginia locker room at halftime with her team trailing Miami, 42-24. The Cavaliers weren’t getting stops, and they struggled to score.
She walked to the locker room at the end of the game in a much different mood.
Behind a spirited second-half comeback, her Cavaliers defeated the Hurricanes, 69-64, on Thursday night at John Paul Jones Arena.
UVa (11-14, 6-8 ACC) used 19 second-half points from star senior Jocelyn Willoughby to outscore Miami 45-22 in the final 20 minutes. Willoughby scored 25 on the night.
“I’m really, really proud of our kids and their fight tonight, especially in the second half, coming back and keeping their composure,” Thompson said. “I’m even more excited that I was able to use my post-game speech part B and not part A, because part A was not PG-13.”
Virginia started the game at a snail’s pace.
Miami raced out to an 11-2 lead behind good jump shooting and Virginia turnovers. The Hurricanes used a 1-3-1 press to generate UVa miscues, and the defensive system gave the Cavaliers pause the entire half.
Turnovers hurt UVa’s offensive rhythm, which was nonexistent in the first half. Thompson’s team shot just 27.6% from the floor, making eight total shots. Virginia tallied more turnovers (11) than made shots.
While the Cavaliers couldn’t buy a basket, the Hurricanes connected consistently. Entering the game shooting 28.9% from 3-point range, Miami knocked down nine of its 19 first-half 3-point attempts. The Hurricanes went 5-of-9 on 2-point shots as they focused their efforts behind the arc.
Virginia seemed willing to let the Hurricanes shoot 3-point jumpers. Given Miami’s season statistics, allowing the Hurricanes to shoot seemed like an intelligent decision. Miami’s effort wasn’t typical.
Kelsey Marshall led the way, burying six first-half 3-pointers while scoring 20 points in the opening 20 minutes.
After a lackluster opening 20 minutes, the Cavaliers rallied.
They attacked the paint to start the third quarter. Miami’s shots finally stopped falling at a 50% clip toward the end of the third quarter, and the Cavaliers ended the period on a 12-0 run to cut the deficit to 54-48.
Willoughby dominated the quarter for UVa, scoring 12 points. She went a perfect 8-of-8 from the free-throw line and matched Miami’s scoring total in the quarter by herself. Dominique Toussaint added six points, including an acrobatic layup that brought the crowd to its feet. The team’s energy rose in the impressive quarter.
The momentum continued into the fourth quarter as the Cavaliers chipped away and cut the deficit to 59-55 on a Willoughby 3-pointer with 6:29 remaining.
After Miami made two of three free throws to take a 61-55 lead with 4:28 left, the Cavaliers raised their game to another level.
Willoughby made jumper to cut the lead to four.
Toussaint swished a 3-pointer to cut it to one. She then raced into the lane and finished through contact and made an additional free throw to give UVa a 63-61 lead with 1:46 remaining. It was Virginia’s first lead of the game.
“I knew from jump that we were gonna win this game,” Toussaint said. “Not to sound overly confident, but I really did.”
Lisa Jablonowski made a layup on the next possession to extend the lead to four. Two offensive possessions later, the Hurricanes fouled Willoughby, who made both free throws to give Virginia a 67-61 lead with 31 seconds remaining.
Miami knocked down a 3-pointer with 23 seconds left to cut the lead to 67-64, but Jablonowski made a pair of free throws on the next possession to stretch the lead to five. Miami couldn’t convert on its next possession and the clock ran out.
Virginia held Miami to just 22 points in the final 20 minutes after surrendering 42 in the first half, including 25 in the first quarter.
“There is no 20-point play,” Willoughby said about the comeback. “We realized that. Rather than focusing on offense, you’re like ‘Oh, we have to score, we have to score, we have to score, we have to score,’ focusing on getting stops because if we’re not scoring, they’re not scoring either. I think having that approach, it makes it more realistic when you’re chipping away.”
Willoughby and the Cavaliers chipped and chipped and chipped until the final buzzer sounded and they were victorious.
The crowd, which had been cautiously optimistic about the comeback bid throughout the second half, gave the Cavaliers a standing ovation for their gritty effort. It was a hard-fought win, and one the Cavaliers were glad to have after a rocky first half.