Joe Dodson, Staff Writer
Women’s basketball won its first-ever Atlantic 10 championship title, beating UMass 81-69 Sunday afternoon at the Stuart C. Siegel Center.
“It’s just an incredible feeling to finally cut down those nets,” coach Beth O’Boyle said.
Senior guard Taya Robinson was named Most Outstanding Player after averaging 20 points, seven rebounds and four steals. She logged four rebounds and shot 71% from the 3-point range in the championship game.
Robinson, along with freshman guard Sarah Te-Biasu were both named to the A-10 All-Championship team after ending the game with 19 points each.
VCU ended the game with 10 steals, four of which came from senior guard Tera Reed. The Rams also scored 12 points off of turnovers.
“Stops create momentum,” O’Boyle said. “We knew in a championship game in the A-10, it was all about momentum and that really was coming from our defense.”
VCU shot 50% from 3-point range and outrebounded UMass 36-31.
Robinson and Te-Biasu combined for six 3-pointers in the first quarter. VCU jumped out to a 19-7 lead after making five consecutive baskets, seven minutes into the first quarter.
“We wanted to have an explosive start,” O’Boyle said. “One of the things we talked about is that we wanted to come out of the gate ready to play.”
VCU had a 26-19 lead at the end of the first quarter. They shot 64% from the field, including 67% from the perimeter. Te-Biasu finished the quarter with 13 points on 4-5 shooting.
Both teams shared a two-minute scoring drought toward the end of the first half. Redshirt-junior guard Madison Hattix-Covington resparked VCU’s offense with a converted and-one layup to give VCU a 37-28 lead.
VCU shot 64% from the perimeter while UMass shot 25% through the first half. Robinson finished the half with a team-high 14 points after getting all four of her 3-point attempts to fall.
Robinson’s strong shooting game continued into the second half when she hit a falling 3-pointer to stretch VCU’s lead to 47-39 early in the second half. UMass guard Sydney Taylor responded with two consecutively made 3-pointers to bring the Minutewomen within 2 points of the lead five minutes into the third quarter.
VCU went on a 0-of-4 shooting stretch from the field and were held scoreless for three minutes in the third quarter. A pair of free throws made by Te-Biasu resparked VCU’s lead, bringing the Rams ahead to 53-49 with one minute left in the third quarter.
UMass guard Ber’Nyah Mayo hit a buzzer beater 3-pointer at the end of the third quarter to end an over three-minute-long field-goal drought for UMass. VCU narrowly led 55-53 at the end of the third quarter after being outscored 16-13 in the period.
UMass took their first lead since the first quarter after Breen dropped two free throws two minutes into the final period, giving UMass a 56-55 lead in the fourth quarter.
The lead changed four times in the next minute after VCU redshirt-junior guard Janika Griffith-Wallace and UMass’ Taylor traded 3-pointers.
“Until that buzzer goes off we’re gonna do this the VCU way,” O’Boyle said. “They made a run, they tested us and we stayed together.”
VCU regained control of the game after Griffith-Wallace hit her second consecutive 3-pointer to give VCU a 66-61 lead with five minutes to play.
“Everybody wanted it and everybody knew ‘you never know when your number’s going to get called,’” Robinson said. “Janika hit a big three.”
Hattix-Covington hit a mid-range jumper off of an assist from Reed to stretch VCU’s lead to 71-65, with just over two minutes left in regulation. Sophomore forward Chloe Bloom made two shots at the free-throw line with one minute remaining to bring the lead to 75-67.
Reed made her fifth and sixth free throws of the game with 45 seconds remaining to give VCU a double-digit lead. Te-Biasu was fouled after grabbing a missed shot and made both free throws to stretch the lead to 79-67 with 40 seconds remaining.
Reed was fouled after receiving an inbound pass and was slow to get up and take her free throws due to an injury. Senior guard Ogla Petrova came in to replace Reed and went 1-2 from the line.
Petrova did the same on the next VCU possession, giving VCU a 81-69 lead with 13 seconds remaining. VCU held UMass to a 1-of-11 shooting stretch to end the game.
The win marked VCU’s first-ever conference championship title, spanning back to their time in the Colonial Athletic Association before the 2011-2012 season.
It will be VCU’s first appearance in the NCAA tournament since 2009, and it will be O’Boyle’s first appearance after coaching for 20 years.
“We kept our focus on playing our best basketball in March,” Reed said. “I think that’s the main goal and we did that.”
The Rams will have to wait until Monday for the NCAA Women’s College Basketball Tournament Selection Show to find who they will face in the tournament in San Antonio, Texas. It will be televised at 7 p.m. on ESPN.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly indicated that Taya Robinson and Sarah Te-Biasu were selected for the Atlantic 10 All-Tournament Team. They were selected to the Atlantic 10 All-Championship Team