The Virginia women’s basketball team establishes a clear identity under Agugua-Hamilton

Perhaps more impressive than Virginia’s perfect eight-game start under first-year coach Amaka Agugua-Hamilton is that the Cavaliers’ identity is unmistakable through those back-to-back victories.

It’s not confusing how they want to work on the floor.

When they’re at their best, it’s frenetic pace that defense uses to provoke offense, which can demoralize opponents unwilling to match UVa’s pace, and there’s also Tenacity on the glass that opponents take advantage of who don’t fight for every rebound.

Agugua-Hamilton also doesn’t ride the same players every minute of every game, so she uses the depth at her disposal — proving that 10 out of 11 Cavaliers in the roster have scored in double digits at least once this season. This willingness to use anyone keeps the Hoos fresh and allows them to thrive in the strenuous style she’s preached since she was hired last March.

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“Coach Mox doesn’t like slow basketball,” freshman guard Yonta Vaughn said with a grin earlier this season.

And this past weekend, in victories over Minnesota and East Carolina, the Cavaliers showed exactly why Agugua-Hamilton’s approach serves them well.

On Sunday against ECU, UVa used a 17-3 run in the third quarter to break away from the Pirates. The Hoos hit four offensive rebounds and had six second-chance points during the spurt as well as seven fast-break points, including a 3-pointer in transition from veteran guard McKenna Dale.

The day before, the Cavaliers racked up 16 steals and forced 22 Minnesota turnovers, resulting in 22 points fewer turnovers in the win.

“That is a lot [of steals] and we didn’t even really push,” Agugua-Hamilton said after dispatching the Golden Gophers, “but we were aggressive, we understood the game plan and we could mess them up at times.”

The points that fall into the hustle category — second chance and fast-break buckets — were the ones the Cavaliers scored in each in that first month of the campaign, which concludes with Wednesday night’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge game had great advantages Pennsylvania.

UVa has accumulated more second chance points than his opponent in each of the first eight contests, surpassing a combined 137 second chance points to 43 points. Junior guard Mir McLean’s 3.7 offensive rebounds are the fifth-highest for any ACC player.

UVa also has a combined fast-break point lead of 113 over their opponents’ 64 in their first eight games.

“If we intervene, that’s great for us on defense,” said junior guard Alexia Smith, “because with the high pace on offense we’re actually getting where we want to be and where we’re aiming for quick breaks.”

The Cavaliers can easily find the open player even when switching. They had 20 assists in their win against Minnesota, and their 130 total team assists for the season is the most in the ACC.

UVa’s leading scorer Camryn Taylor, a senior forward who averages 13.9 points per game and had a team-best 22 against the Gophers, said ball motion helped her get her points against Minnesota.

“I got good touches,” Taylor said. “But how many assists did we have? We had 20 assists and I think getting those good dumpdowns and moving the ball allows me to open up. [Forward] Sam [Brunelle] was hitting shots and that also opened the ground for me but drove and kicked the ball because a lot of people drove further [guard Taylor Valladay] and she was able to download it for me.”

The overwhelming factor is that these Cavaliers appear to grow in strength as games progress, allowing for those competitive second-half runs or even withstanding their opponent, as they had to do deep into the fourth quarter against Minnesota.

They can play fast when they should be slowing down because they have been trained to do so.

“I’m a freshman year here and in that first practice I had here I died and came to life,” Vaughn said with a laugh. “I’m telling you. We do a lot of transition and a lot of pickups all over the court and there is no walking around in all of our drills. All our drills are fast and there is always competition with our drills. There is always a winner and a loser. We don’t want to walk extra. There is already enough running in our drills so we try to compete as much as possible and that’s why the pace is fast.”