By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Ariana Moorer usually rises early, but it was all she could do to drag herself out of bed Monday morning.
“I barely got up,” Moorer said early that afternoon. “It was a real struggle for me.”
That’s understandable. In a span of about 70 hours, the UVa women’s basketball team played two ACC games, both on the road, both emotionally draining.
The first, Thursday night against NC State in Raleigh, was the longest game in the history of either program. It ended when Moorer, a junior guard, hit a runner as time expired in the fourth overtime to give UVa a 94-92 victory.
Sunday afternoon found the Cavaliers in College Park, Md. Fighting off fatigue, Virginia rallied to beat No. 11 Maryland 60-57 before a crowd of 9,304 at Comcast Center.
“Craziness,” UVa coach Debbie Ryan said Monday morning when asked to summarize the previous four days. “Crazy, crazy, craziness.”
The team bus pulled up to John Paul Jones Arena around 3 a.m. Friday after a long drive back from Raleigh. It was well past dark when the Wahoos got home from College Park on Sunday night.
“That might be the most tired I’ve ever been,” Moorer said.
The ‘Hoos (4-7 ACC, 15-12 overall) have some time to rest. They don’t play again until Sunday afternoon, when Boston College visits JPJ.
“This is kind of coming at a good time, because this was a really tough road trip,” Ryan said.
“I think it’ll be good to get people a little break, a little time off. We’ll probably take two days off this week at some point and practice the other days, but I think it’ll be a good time to sort of hone in on some things we’ve needed to work on.”
A season ago, the ‘Hoos had All-America guard Monica Wright, and she led them in virtually every phase of the game. Without Wright, a team that includes only two seniors — guard Paulisha Kellum and forward Jayna Hartig — has struggled to form an identity.
“We’ve been playing well at times during the year — very well in a lot of our losses,” Ryan said. “The problem was, we weren’t finishing. I think the NC State game helped us. It just seems like [the players] have a new-found confidence.”
Moorer can sense it. After the wins over the Wolfpack and the Terrapins, the players are “definitely much more lively,” she said. “The mood has been so dull, dry and, I guess, sad. Now everyone’s alive, everyone’s confidence is up.”
In the win over Maryland, to which UVa lost in overtime at JPJ last month, Moorer scored a game-high 17 points, and junior guard Whitny Edwards added 13.
Virginia’s top scorer at NC State was sophomore guard China Crosby (19 points). Equally important were the contributions of Edwards (13 points and 11 rebounds) and freshman guard Ataira Franklin (18 points and 11 rebounds).
Crosby missed most of the 2009-10 season after tearing her left anterior cruciate ligament, and she re-injured that knee in the Nov. 12 opener at Hofstra. The diagnosis this time was less severe — a sprain and a severe bone bruise — and she returned after missing nine games.
“China coming back in the lineup has really, really helped us,” Ryan said, “because what it does is, it frees up Ari to have a little more freedom, basically, because she doesn’t have to take on all the ballhandling responsibilities. She doesn’t have to take on all of the things that you have to do at the point guard position. It puts two point guards on the floor a lot during the game, and they’re water bugs. They’re tough to deal with, because they come up with big steals.”
Moorer said: “China takes a lot of the pressure off me when we’re in the game together. We complement each other very well.”
The play of the 5-11 Franklin, who on Monday was named ACC rookie of the week, has been a revelation. She was not a heralded recruit, mainly because of knee problems that hampered her at Riverdale Baptist in Maryland, but Franklin has become a fixture in UVa’s starting lineup.
“She’s the most consistent player we’ve had here in a long time,” Ryan said.
In ACC games, Franklin is averaging a team-high 12.7 points and 4.5 rebounds, and she’s shooting 57.1 percent from 3-point range, 94.1 percent from the line and 52.5 percent from the field. She has more assists than turnovers and leads the ‘Hoos with 12 blocks in conference play.
“What else can you ask for from a player?” Ryan said.
Part of what makes Franklin special, Ryan said, is her intelligence.
“The questions she asks are so on-point,” Ryan said. “I forget what she asked in the overtime the other night, but it was just the right question at the right time. She just really gets it, and she’s kind of a coach’s dream, because whatever you tell her to do, she goes and does.”
UVa is trying to advance to the NCAA tournament for the 25th time in Ryan’s 34 seasons as coach. If the ‘Hoos make the NCAAs, they would play at least once at home. JPJ will be the site of two first-round games on March 20 and a second-round game on March 22.
“That is definitely great motivation for us,” Moorer said. “We know what we must do to get to the NCAA tournament. We don’t bring it up, but I’m sure it’s in the back of everyone’s mind.”
With only three regular-season games left, including a Feb. 24 date with No. 7 Duke at JPJ, plus at least one game at the ACC tourney, UVa’s margin for error could not be much smaller. Her players are aware of that, Ryan said, and so the coaching staff doesn’t talk about the NCAAs with them.
“They’ve been living with this pressure all year,” she said. “It’s not fair to them. There’s no sense in beating a dead horse, and right now I just want them to relax and play, because that’s when they play the best.”