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Virginia women's basketball team looks to move forward as 'a different kind of team'

Absent the program's all-time scoring leader, the Virginia women's basketball team understands that this season, more than any other in recent memory, the Cavaliers will have to focus on executing precisely to their strengths.

Earlier this fall, gathered in their locker room at John Paul Jones Arena, the players took turns writing on a board what they do best on a basketball court. The excercise was designed to force the Cavaliers to be truthful to themselves and to their teammates about how they can most effectively contribute on a nightly basis.

As Virginia ventures into life without all-American guard Monica Wright -- who averaged 23.7 points per game while leading the squad to a 21-10 record and a third straight NCAA tournament appearance in 2009-10 -- it must be more disciplined in its approach, yet more democratic in its production.

"We're going to have to be a team that four or five players have to be in double figures, or at least three players in double figures with a lot of other people contributing from a lot of different areas," said Coach Debbie Ryan, who is entering her 34th year at Virginia. "And I think it's more fun that way. I think a lot more people are involved and engaged and happy that they are going to be a part of what's going on."

At the same time, Ryan noted, "we've really made it clear that if we're going to be good, we have to be good doing the things that are really accomplished at doing, instead of trying to do 15 things that we think we are accomplished at doing."

And so Ryan expects junior guard Ariana Moorer to stand by what she wrote on the board that day in the team's locker room, that she's a good pull-up shooter. Moorer took the third-most three-point attempts (76) on the team last season and made just 19.7 percent of her shots from beyond the arc. Should Moorer demonstrate more control over her shot selection -- and take a few more pull-up jumpers, rather than three-pointers -- she'll likely average more than the 7.0 points per game she recorded as a sophomore.

Moorer is just one of the Virginia players who will be expected to take on larger roles this season. Another is sophomore point guard China Crosby, who missed the final 18 games of her freshman season after suffering a knee injury Jan. 2 at Colorado. Crosby said Monday her knee is at 90 percent and that she expects to receive clearance to fully participate in practice at some point next week. Right now, she can do everything but contact defensive drills.

While rehabbing her injury during the second half of last season, Crosby said she was able to pick up on some of the finer traits of her teammates. She noticed that sophomore center Simone Egwu is stronger going to her left than to her right, and she deciphered that redshirt senior guard Paulisha Kellum is a better dribbler when she's driving toward the basket.

"I learned little things about everybody's game," Crosby said. "And I feel like now being on the floor I can help them a little bit more this year."

As for her own skills, Crosby said she believes she's a much better shooter than her percentages from her first collegiate season would indicate. Crosby shot 29.1 percent from the field and 14.3 percent from three-point range in 13 games last year.

"Coach Ryan always talks about how I need to find a set shot for me," Crosby said. "It seemed like a lot of shots that I took last year were three-point shots and I wasn't set. I was rushing it. I know I can get back into that flow if I take my time and just keep working hard at it."

Virginia will depart from its dependence on many of the set plays designed to feed the ball to Wright at particular spots on the floor last season and turn more toward a motion offense that will incorporate more screening away from the ball, more cuts to the basket and more balance in the team's shot attempts, according to Egwu, who started 29 of 31 games last season as a freshman.

When Virginia needed two points last season, the Cavaliers knew they could pass the ball to Wright and -- more often than not -- get those two points, Egwu said. Who will the team turn to in such situations this season? Ryan mentioned Crosby and Moorer, as well as freshman guard Kelsey Wolfe, as potential candidates to fill that role.

Ryan said Wolfe "has distinguished herself a little bit" in recent weeks with her passing ability, long-range marksmanship and sound decison-making.

But the Cavaliers also must fill the void Wright's departure left on the defensive end. Wright -- last season's ACC defensive player of the year -- often guarded the opposing team's most potent scorer, a role Ryan said she could envision freshman guard Ataira Franklin filling. Ryan raved about Franklin's long arms and precocious defensive acumen.

Virginia still is growing accustomed the to post-Wright era, a process that will continue into the 2010-11 season. But Ryan and her players feel as though they will adapt just fine.

"I think it's going to be a different kind of team this year," Egwu said. "Obviously, we don't have Monica Wright anymore, and that's a 30-point deficit that we need to fill. I think everyone understands that and is capable of stepping up to the plate and realizing that things may be distributed differently this year."

By Steve Yanda  | October 19, 2010; 3:44 AM ET
Categories:  Women's Basketball  
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