By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — With 28.1 seconds left, after Monica Wright scored her final point at John Paul Jones Arena, the horn sounded, and fans rose to their feet.
Into the game came Jayna Hartig, and out went Wright, and they hugged as applause filled the arena. Wright then hugged UVa coach Debbie Ryan before working her way down the bench, embracing assistants, teammates and support staffers.
“If you were to paint a picture of a basketball player,” Ryan told reporters later, “this is the person that you would paint. You would paint Monica Wright, because she just has all the right stuff on both sides of the ledger.”
The ACC and NCAA women’s basketball tournaments await Wright, so her college career isn’t over. But she’ll never again play for the Wahoos at JPJ, the scene of so many spectacular performances by the program’s all-time leading scorer (2,474 points and counting).
The 6,264 fans who showed up Sunday afternoon saw another gem from Wright. In the regular-season finale for both teams, the 5-11 senior from Woodbridge totaled a game-high 27 points and added 10 rebounds, 2 blocked shots and 2 steals as No. 21 UVa rallied to thump Virginia Tech 55-46.
“I thought Virginia played like a team that wanted to get a last home victory for Monica Wright,” Hokies coach Beth Dunkenberger said.
The win also locked up the No. 3 seed and a first-round bye in the ACC tournament for the Cavaliers (9-5, 21-8). Tech fell to 4-10, 15-14.
When the game ended, the Cavaliers stayed on the court. Wright was exhausted — she’d needed an IV at halftime — but her big day wasn’t over yet.
A video celebrating her storied career was shown, bringing many of her teammates to tears, and then a banner high above was unfurled, marking the retirement of Wright’s No. 22 jersey.
Wright didn’t break down — “I’m not a big drama person,” she said later — when she took the mike. She calmly thanked God, her coaches, her parents and her teammates, among others, and also saluted the UVa fans.
“To everybody, thank you for a great four years,” she said.
Already in the rafters were the names of former UVa greats Dawn Staley, Cathy Grimes, Donna Holt and Wendy Palmer, who’s now one of Ryan’s assistants.
On Jan. 11, at JPJ, Wright had passed Staley to come Virginia’s career scoring leader. But UVa lost 61-60 to ACC rival Maryland that night, and Wright was in no mood afterward to celebrate her accomplishment.
That wasn’t lost on her teammates.
“I kept reminding the team that we owed Moni one, since she broke the scoring record and we came out and lost,” said guard Paulisha Kellum, a redshirt junior who entered UVa with Wright in 2006.
The ‘Hoos got Wright her Hollywood ending this time, though they looked sluggish early. Given that Ryan’s team had played late Friday night at Duke, the slow start wasn’t surprising.
The Hokies went into halftime up 25-20, but that deficit didn’t worry the Cavaliers. UVa took its first lead with 15:26 left, on a three-point play by sophomore forward Chelsea Shine, and never trailed thereafter.
Wright made 6 of 8 shots from the floor in the second half, and she didn’t have mixed emotions after this one.
“It’s a lot more satisfying [to be honored after a win],” she said. “I feel so much better. It’s not bittersweet.”
The victory was the Cavaliers’ eighth straight over the Hokies. Unless the teams meet in the ACC tourney, which starts Thursday in Greensboro, N.C., Virginia Tech never again will have to face Wright. And that’s fine with Dunkenberger.
“Let’s have a big party and welcome her to the WNBA,” she said with a smile.
Freshman guard Lexie Gerson had 11 points and 4 steals for Virginia, and Shine contributed a game-high 12 rebounds, 8 points and 2 blocks.
In the end, though, the day belonged to Wright.
“It’s an honor to have my name in the rafters forever,” she said, “as long as UVa exists.”
She’s not the only one who feels blessed.
“I’m honored every day to walk into JPJ and know I have a player like Monica Wright on my team,” Ryan told the crowd. “She gives and gives and gives and never says no.”