NORFOLK, Va. (AP) -- There's nothing like a two-year absence from the NCAA tournament to inspire a team to bring its best when it returns. Right, Virginia?
Lyndra Littles scored 17 points and the Cavaliers (24-9) used a 16-0 run early in the second half to break open their first-round game against UC Santa Barbara on Sunday night, then kept pouring it on to win 86-52 in the Greensboro regional."I felt like once we got into a rhythm running the ball, that's how we pulled away and got some separation," Virginia coach Debbie Ryan said. Her team won despite a six-point performance and 0-for-10 shooting by scoring leader Monica Wright (18.2 ppg).Wright's numbers and the final score seemed incongruous to UCSB coach Mark French."If you would have told me that Wright was going to go 0-for-10 from the floor, I would have said that that was going to give us an opportunity to compete with them," French said. "They have a lot of kids, a lot of weapons that played really well."The victory sets the Cavaliers up for a showdown with Old Dominion for state bragging rights on Tuesday night. The Lady Monarchs beat Liberty in the early game, and as Virginia's victory became apparent, most of the Lady Monarchs fans filed out.Aisha Mohammed added 15 points and Sharnee Zoll had 13 for Virginia. The Cavaliers outscored UC Santa Barbara 31-12 from the line, and had a 47-31 rebounding edge.Zoll, a senior and the lone Cavalier who played in their last tournament appearance three years ago, said a sense of urgency for her was a driving force."We've worked through a lot of adversity the last couple of years and we fought through it and were determined to keep this going and stay on this track," she said. "We knew if we kept running and running, it was going to take a toll."The Gauchos (23-8), who won the Big West tournament for the 10th time in the past 12 years, lost for just the second time in 21 games. The Gauchos were hurt by foul trouble that largely kept Big West player of the year Jessica Wilson on the bench.Wilson still finished with a team-leading 13 points before fouling out with 5:28 to play in what was her final college game. Ashlee Brown added 10 points.Virginia took advantage of its size edge by attacking the basket relentlessly on offense and playing stout defense that twice held the Gauchos scoreless for stretches of 5 minutes. The second came as Virginia turned a 45-38 lead with 17 minutes left into a 61-38 margin with 12 minutes remaining, and the lead kept on growing."We knew that it was going to be a really physical game," Brown said.The victory was especially sweet for Ryan, who has guided the school to 22 NCAA tournaments, an achievement matched by only five other schools. In her 31st season, Ryan also will be inducted in the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in June.It was also big for Zoll, who this season broke Dawn Staley's Atlantic Coast Conference career assist record and badly wanted to get Ryan back to the tournament.The Cavaliers trailed 19-18 before going on an 18-8 run over a span of nearly 8 minutes. The Gauchos went 5:10 without a point during that futile stretch.