By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — With her next point, Monica Wright will take sole possession of second place on UVa’s all-time scoring list for women’s basketball. By the middle of January, if not sooner, the senior from Woodbridge figures to be No. 1.
With 2,058 career points, she’s tied for second with former star Heather Burge, and Wright is nearing the school record of 2,135 set by the incomparable Dawn Staley.
Wright pulled even with Burge on Tuesday night, scoring 19 points in the championship game of the Marriott Cavalier Classic at John Paul Jones Arena. The 5-11 guard also tied the school record with 10 steals and added 6 rebounds and 5 assists to help 23rd-ranked Virginia beat Liberty 63-54.
She wasn’t perfect — Wright had 7 of her team’s 20 turnovers — but she was too much for the Lady Flames (7-3). The tournament MVP?
“She just played outstanding for us,” UVa coach Debbie Ryan said of Wright. “I just thought that with everything that’s been going on for her, she did an outstanding job of stepping up tonight and making things happen, just staying focused and in the game the whole time.”
Basketball hasn’t been Wright’s only focus during the holiday break. Her grandmother recently passed away, and Wright has worried more about family than about personal feats.
“It’s really a non-issue right now,” Wright said Tuesday when asked about the scoring record. “This is not even in my mind right now at all. At all.
“So it’s not really going to be a relief. It’s a great accomplishment. I’m in the same company as Dawn Staley, Wendy [Palmer], some amazing players, so I’m definitely going to feel honored. But I’m just trying not to pay attention to it, because that’s less pressure on me.”
Ryan said: “I don’t think [the record is] really part of what she’s thinking about. She’s thinking about making this team better and helping people get better, and I think that’s part of her job. She’s not going to be good by herself. She knows she needs other people, and she’s helping to develop some of these other kids.”
Those “kids” include freshmen China Crosby, Simone Egwu and Telia McCall. Crosby, a 5-6 point guard, and Egwu, a 6-3 center, started against Liberty, and both played well.
Crosby came in shooting 11.5 percent from 3-point range, but she was 1 for 2 from beyond the arc Tuesday night, and her trey pushed Virginia’s lead to six with 6:17 left. She finished with 9 points, 4 assists and 2 steals, along with 5 turnovers.
“She played a very, very good game tonight,” Ryan said. “She really did. She controlled the game, she ran offense, she got through the pressure most of the time. Her turnovers, I think, were mostly trying to feed the ball somewhere as opposed to trying to beat the pressure.”
McCall, a 6-1 forward, came off the bench to score a career-high 14 points, on 5-for-6 shooting, in 21 minutes. Nerves can be a problem for McCall, but she showed poise against Liberty.
“When I get in, I just try to play hard,” she said.
In the end, the difference between victory and defeat for the Wahoos (9-3) was the play of Wright. In a game marred by 35 personal fouls and 50 turnovers — 50! — she delivered when her team needed her most.
Wright passed to Crosby for the 3-pointer that made it 54-48. She went backdoor and scored off a perfect lob pass from Whitny Edwards to make it 56-48, and she assisted on the McCall basket that gave the ‘Hoos an 11-point lead with 3:33 left. Then, in the final minute, Wright took two charges.
She led all scorers, and she could have had more points. After collecting Nos. 18 and 19 with 5:08 left, Wright twice missed shots that would have moved her past Burge on UVa’s scoring list.
The Cavaliers’ next game is Saturday night at Colorado, where Wright’s pursuit of Staley will again be a storyline to follow. She’s OK with that.
“For most of the season I have been able to ignore it, but just recently, hearing about it and everybody saying stuff, it’s kind of reminded me about what’s actually going on,” Wright said.
“But for the most part, there’s so much else we have to focus on, I really don’t think about it that much at all. Because we’re worried about teams, we’re going through scouting reports, we’re practicing, there are just other things that are on my mind. So it’s not that serious.”