Commentary

Cavs score rare win over Lady Vols

Baylor rules 1-2 showdown with Notre Dame, but Virginia upset steals headlines

Originally Published: November 20, 2011
By Mechelle Voepel | ESPN.com

There were tears from some players on both sides as Virginia stole the show Sunday in the women's basketball world.

No. 1 Baylor versus No. 2 Notre Dame? Got overshadowed a bit. It was a game that had its moments, but ultimately was won by both superstars -- Brittney Griner and Odyssey Sims -- for the Lady Bears, 94-81 victors in the Preseason WNIT championship game.

We'll come back to that a little later. But first, about the emotion shown in Charlottesville, Va., after the unranked Cavaliers' 69-64 overtime victory against No. 3 Tennessee. We're not even to Thanksgiving, so college basketball results at this time of the season are -- even when they're very surprising -- mostly very faded by March. Losses now aren't necessarily supposed to hurt a great deal, nor cause all that much euphoria, either.

But for a youngster such as Tennessee freshman guard Ariel Massengale, this is the first big college disappointment and she naturally is going to take that pretty hard. A lot has been put on her shoulders because of her talent, and like most blue-chip freshmen, she's not used to falling short. She was 1-of-6 from the field Sunday for just two points. And while she had seven assists, she also had seven turnovers.

[+] EnlargeChina Crosby
AP Photo/Andrew ShurtleffFive Cavs, including China Crosby (13 points), scored in double figures as Virginia beat Tennessee for just the third time in 16 tries.

Backcourt mate Meighan Simmons, a sophomore, also struggled with a 1-of-7 shooting day for three points. She had four turnovers and no assists.

With center Vicki Baugh missing the game with leg problems, Tennessee was without her as a steadying presence. And unlike their victory Tuesday over Miami -- in which Tennessee shot 50 percent from 3-point range -- the Lady Vols were just 5-of-24 (20.8 percent) from behind the arc Sunday. That misfiring helped Virginia's zone defense be as effective as it was … although you also could say the zone was good enough that it caused some of Tennessee's troubles from long range.

The best consistency for Tennessee between Tuesday and Sunday was provided by junior Taber Spani, who once again led the way in scoring with 22 points (she had 20 against Miami).

Meanwhile, we saw some tearful joy from Virginia senior guard Ariana Moorer, and that also makes sense despite it being only November. The Cavaliers missed the NCAA tournament last season for just the third time since 1984 -- but all three of those misses have come in the past decade: 2004, '06 and '11.

Former Cavs coach Debbie Ryan still had her supporters at the program she had presided over since 1977, but there was also a long-loyal fan base that was ready for a change. That it came in the person of Joanne Boyle, a former ACC player and assistant coach (Duke) who several Virginia fans also had followed when she was head coach at Richmond, made the transition easier.

Those longtime UVa supporters know just how much damage Tennessee has done to the Cavs over the years. Coach Pat Summitt always says the Lady Vols' 1990 Elite Elite defeat at the hands of Virginia was her most painful loss, but Tennessee has paid that back multiple times.

The worst loss to Tennessee for the seasoned (sounds nicer than, um, "old") Virginia fans was the 1991 NCAA championship game, which the Lady Vols won 70-67 in overtime. Second-worst was a 52-46 Elite Eight loss in 1996, a game in which -- as the score no doubt tells you -- the Cavs' offense went into the deep freeze in the second half.

Players the likes of Massengale and Moorer have no connection to such memories. And for the first time, neither does anyone on Virginia's coaching staff. However, the UVa fans at John Paul Jones Arena might remember those days, when the Cavs' home court used to be University Hall across the street. Tennessee has ruled the series -- the record now is 13-3 in the Lady Vols' favor -- and this was the first time in three visits to Charlottesville that the Orange Crush have lost.

The previous UVa victories over Tennessee were the aforementioned Elite Eight game 20 years ago -- that was in Norfolk, Va. -- and Nov. 17, 2008, in Knoxville, Tenn.

[+] EnlargeSkylar Diggins
AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)Brittney Griner, left, had 32 points and 14 rebounds, while Notre Dame's Skylar Diggins finished with 27 points on 9-for-20 shooting.

That latter loss came during Tennessee's most difficult season in decades, when the departure of Candace Parker and her four fellow starters from the 2008 NCAA title team wreaked relative havoc on the program. "Relative" because despite the shock of an NCAA tournament first-round exit in 2009, Tennessee lost just three games each of the past two seasons.

That they fell Sunday to an unranked foe -- committing 24 turnovers and shooting just 52.4 percent from the foul line in the process -- is a concern for the Lady Vols. Although it's important to keep in mind the mitigating factors of Baugh's absence and Massengale's youth.

But it's also necessary to credit Virginia, a team that appears eager to show this is a new "era" for the program. Virginia hasn't advanced past the second round of the NCAA tournament since 2000, and in that time ACC foes Duke, Maryland and North Carolina all have been to the Final Four, with the Terps winning it all in 2006.

Today's Cavs don't have any memory of the Dawn Staley-led Virginia teams that represent the program's peak, but they've seen all the photos at JPJ Arena and know theirs is a program with a proud history.

UVa senior forward Chelsea Shine never left the floor Sunday, playing all 45 minutes and compiling 18 points and nine rebounds. She was one of five Cavs who scored in double figures, joined by China Crosby (13 points), Ataira Franklin (12) and Moorer and Lexie Gerson with 10 each. Moorer also had 10 rebounds.

It's important for Virginia to savor this triumph, but also try to carry the good vibrations over into the Cavs' upcoming trip to Hawaii. Boyle will face her friend and former boss at Duke, Gail Goestenkors, as the Cavs play Texas in Honolulu on Friday. Then UVa will meet the host Rainbow Wahine, followed by Boyle going against the program she left to take over at Virginia: Cal.

Meanwhile, Tennessee has this holiday week to prepare for a team that did nothing to ease any foes' worries Sunday. Baylor will visit Knoxville next Sunday, and the Lady Bears definitely looked the part of the nation's top women's college hoops team against Notre Dame.

In both halves, Baylor took Notre Dame's best shot and stood up to it. The Irish showed grit, led by standouts Natalie Novosel (28 points) and Skylar Diggins (27). But Baylor's dynamic duo was also locked in: center Griner had 32 points, 14 rebounds and five blocked shots, while point guard Sims had 25 points, six assists and six steals. And the Baylor supporting cast did what it needed to do, led by Destiny Williams with 15 points and 13 rebounds.

With the Nos. 2 and 3 teams losing Sunday, we'll see who ascends in the rankings. The media votes Sunday night, before Monday's meeting between No. 4 UConn and No. 5 Stanford in Hartford, Conn. (ESPNU, 7:30 p.m. ET). The coaches vote after that.

There's no doubt who's staying at No. 1, but now look to Virginia to join the rankings, too.

Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com. Read her blog at mechellevoepelblog.com.

Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.

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