By Kevin Carroll -- SPORTS EDITOR The Hofstra women’s basketball team slayed another power-conference giant Tuesday night in its run through the WNIT, knocking off the University of Virginia 65-57 at the Mack Sports Complex to advance to the team’s first WNIT quarterfinal since 2007.
“What a phenomenal win, not just for Hofstra but for the CAA,” said Hofstra head coach Krista Kilburn-Steveskey after the game. “It’s a proud moment to be coaching these women here.”
Aleana Leon, making just her fourth start on the season, led the Pride with 15 points. She also had five rebounds, three steals and a block. Leon was frustrating the Cavaliers all night on both ends of the floor, causing turnovers on one end, and turning them into fast-break layups with her speed and hustle on the other end.
“I’m that kind of player who’s running the court, no matter what,” said Leon after the game.
“She’s playing like a rockstar,” added Kilburn-Steveskey.
Anjie White chipped in a double-double with 13 points and 10 boards, despite not having Ashunae Durant down there with her due to an injury sustained by Durant in the opening-round win over Harvard last Thursday.
It was a tight contest throughout, but the Pride was able to hold off its ACC foe, largely on the strength of some stellar defense. Hofstra forced the Cavaliers to turn the ball over 25 times, including on multiple crucial possessions late in the fourth quarter.
Despite having played from behind for most of the second half, Virginia had tied the game at 51 with 6:14 left to play, and the Cavaliers had a chance to take the lead after an offensive foul was called on Anjie White.
However, Krystal Luciano, in her second straight game coming off the bench, was able to knock the ball loose from Virginia’s Aliyah Huland El, and send it upcourt to a streaking Leon, who laid it in to put the Pride ahead.
The Cavaliers would turn the ball over on three of its next four possessions after that, and the Pride would take advantage, stretching its lead to 61-53 with just 2:33 left to play, and without a consistent three-point threat, Virginia was unable to muster a comeback.
“We made some adjustments, these guys covered the passing lanes, and we generated offense off of that,” said Kilburn-Steveskey.
Virginia presented a stark contrast to the matchups Hofstra had seen in its first two WNIT games. While Harvard and Villanova used fast motion and three-pointers, Virginia was slow, big, and very physical.
That was apparent from the get-go, as Hofstra couldn’t get any dribble penetration, often turning it over while trying to force the ball inside to White. When Virginia took a 16-10 lead on a 6-0 run, forcing Kilburn-Steveskey to call timeout, it looked as though the Cavaliers’ size may be too much for the Pride.
After that timeout, though, the Pride had been completely reinvigorated. Leon scored her first bucket of the day on a layup after pulling down an offensive board. Then Jakelle King-Gilchrist, the leading scorer in Hofstra’s first two WNIT games, knocked down a three.
Virginia looked lost out there, as Hofstra used its superior speed and ball movement to get open looks. By the time the first quarter came to a close, Hofstra had put together a 13-0 run, taking a 23-16 lead into the first intermission.
The Cavaliers would recover, pulling back into the game, and even taking the lead for a brief moment in the second quarter, but a Kelly Loftus three-pointer, her only one of the game, put the Pride back on top.
Loftus is averaging nine points a game off the bench in the WNIT, after an elbow injury hampered her performance down the stretch in the regular season. Krystal Luciano, who has also been coming off the bench in the WNIT, added seven points, including a three-pointer in the first-quarter that she launched from way beyond the arc.
Hofstra will wait until Wednesday to find out who it will be taking on in the WNIT quarterfinals, as Tulane and Florida Gulf Coast duke it out at 7 p.m. down in Florida. Hofstra will play the winner of this game, and game time and location will be announced in the coming days.