By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — In her team’s latest victory, a 90-68 rout of host Minnesota in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, UVa women’s basketball coach Joanne Boyle used nine players. Seven of them scored at least seven points, and the other two added five points apiece.
Such balance is not uncommon for Virginia (5-1), which hosts No. 23 West Virginia (3-3) at 2 p.m. Sunday at John Paul Jones Arena. Three Cavaliers are averaging at least 12 points per game: sophomore forward Sarah Imovbioh (13.7) and junior guards Kelsey Wolfe (13.2) and Ataira Franklin (12.2).
“I like our growth,” Boyle said Friday. “I think our biggest thing is I love how this team is playing team basketball. Last year we were so dependent upon [Ariana Moorer’s] scoring, and it’s really nice to see the development and maturity this season.”
A former Duke player and assistant coach, Boyle remembers a season when the Blue Devils “had four players average in double figures, and we were so hard to scout. And it’s really nice to see that rotation, where at any particular time somebody can step up. It really adds to the chemistry of the team and the camaraderie, because it really is team basketball right now.”
Franklin’s contributions are no surprise. A season ago, she averaged 12.4 points and received All-ACC honorable mention. But Imovbioh and Wolfe have been revelations.
Imovbioh, a 6-2 forward, graduated from nearby St. Anne’s-Belfield School. She attended UVa in 2011-12 but, because of an eligibility issue, wasn’t able to practice or play with the team. With Imovbioh, the Wahoos might not have missed the NCAA tournament. In addition to leading the Cavaliers in scoring this season, she’s their top rebounder (7.5 per game).
The Washington Post named Wolfe its All-Metro player of the year after her senior season at Seneca Valley High in Germantown, Md. But she averaged only 1.4 points in 2010-11, UVa’s final season under coach Debbie Ryan, and was barely more productive (2.9) in 2011-12, when Moorer, Franklin and Lexie Gerson split most of the minutes in the backcourt. (Gerson is redshirting this season because of a hip injury.)
All of which made Wolfe’s play in Minneapolis more remarkable. Against the Golden Gophers, she made 9 of 14 shots from the floor, including 3 of 6 from beyond the arc, and finished with a career-high 25 points. She also had three assists, three steals and one blocked shot.
After Jazmin Pitts’ breakout game as a Cavalier — the 6-1 forward scored a career-high 20 points in a Nov. 23 win over Vanderbilt at the San Juan Shootout — more than one observer asked, “Where did that come from?” The same question could be raised about Wolfe’s gem.
Boyle may not have seen a performance of that magnitude coming, she said Friday, “but I think the thing that’s been great about Kelsey is, she just [focuses on] business. She’s not a complainer. Obviously last year she wanted a bigger role, and with Ari and Lexie and Frankie playing so well, that was hard at times, and I think it shook her confidence a little bit. I think she just decided in the offseason that `I’m going to do whatever I need to do to get myself ready for more minutes,’ and she just worked her butt off, and then she came in and Lexie was hurt right away. So she had to do it.”
Wolfe leads the ‘Hoos in steals (3.2 per game), and she’s second in rebounds (5.2 per game) and third in assists (3.5 per game). Only Franklin (197) has logged more minutes this season than Wolfe (185), a natural shooting guard who slides over to the point when senior China Crosby goes to the bench.
“Kelsey’s been able to play through mistakes a lot more, and that always helps,” Boyle said. “But, honestly, I don’t feel like she’s made tons of them. She just kind of came in with a different level of confidence. And I think it’s that it’s her junior year, too. When you’ve had two years of college basketball, you’ve kind of figured out your routine and your system, and there’s nothing really new.”
Senior center Simone Egwu, who started 34 games last season, made her 2012-13 debut Thursday night. Egwu collected five points and three rebounds — and four fouls — in eight minutes.
“She kind of limited [her playing time] with her foul trouble,” Boyle said. “But she looked strong. Obviously, her endurance, she’s going to have to work on that to get that back, but she still seems very aggressive, so that’s nice. She’s not going to be able to play a whole game against West Virginia, I don’t anticipate, but she’s back in the rotation with no limitations.”
The `Hoos have stumbled only once this season, losing 74-73 to Syracuse in the championship game of the San Juan Shootout. The Cavaliers last played at JPJ on Nov. 18, when they crushed Providence 61-42.
After hosting the Mountaineers, Virginia will head back on the road. Its ACC opener is Thursday night against No. 10 Maryland in College Park.
“It’s been a grind, and we go away next week, again,” Boyle said, “so it’s nice to get one at home.”