By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — College basketball players develop at different speeds. Guard Mikayla Venson arrived at the University of Virginia ready to contribute, and she made the ACC’s all-freshman team in 2014-15.
Her classmates Lauren Moses and Aliyah Huland El showed promise as freshmen, but each is having a considerably larger impact this season for Virginia (10-4), which opens ACC play Sunday at 1 p.m. against Miami (13-1, 1-0) at John Paul Jones Arena.
Moses, a 6-2 forward from Mount Holly, N.J., is averaging 10.9 points and a team-high 7.7 rebounds. She has started every game this season for the Wahoos, who are in their fifth season under head coach Joanne Boyle.
Huland El, a 6-1 wing from Randolph, N.J., provides energy and offense off the bench. She’s third on the team in scoring, at 11.1 points per game.
“I guess you could say the game’s slowed down,” Huland El said Tuesday night at JPJ after Virginia closed the Cavalier Classic with a 71-51 win over Richmond.
“It’s become a lot easier just to get in the flow of the game and to understand that I’m not a first-year any more. I’m not out there nervous and flopping around.”
UVA guard Faith Randolph made a similar jump early in her college career. Randolph, who averaged 5.0 points and shot 26.3 percent from the floor as a freshman, averaged 11.8 points and shot 41.5 percent as a sophomore.
“I think there’s just so much growth for all players between their first and second year,” Boyle said. “There was for Faith, there was for everybody that comes through. You get a year underneath your belt of playing college basketball. The strength and conditioning piece, you can’t get that in high school, and it takes really a year to really make any changes within your body, your frame, your conditioning, all that.
“So I just think there’s a big jump between that first and second year, if you put in the time. And I think Aliyah put in the time, and I think Lauren put in the time. Obviously Mikayla and Faith, they always put in the time.”
Moses started 30 games as a freshman and averaged 6.1 points and 5.7 rebounds. The departure of 6-2 center Sarah Imovbioh, who transferred to South Carolina after last season, thrust Moses into a new role as UVA’s top post player, and she’s handled it well.
“I thought she hurt us on the boards, and I thought she hurt us in the paint when she got down there,” Richmond coach Michael Shafer said after Moses totaled 13 points and a career-best 14 rebounds, her third double-double of the season.
On a night when no Spider pulled down more than six rebounds overall, Moses had seven at the offensive end alone.
Twenty-four hours earlier, in a rout of Coppin State, she’d contributed 17 points and five boards, and Moses was named the Cavalier Classic’s MVP at the tournament’s conclusion Tuesday night.
Of the Cavaliers who have attempted more than one shot from the floor this season, Moses has the highest field-goal percentage: 49.6.
“She worked hard in the offseason, and it’s just paying off right now,” Randolph said.
Huland El’s improvement has been more dramatic. She arrived at UVA as a heralded recruit, but she shot only 33.3 percent from the field (24.7 from 3-point range) and averaged 5.6 points as a freshman.
She’s up to 47.9 percent from the floor (28.3 percent from beyond the arc), and she’s been especially effective in transition.
“Last year was a reality [check],” Huland El said. “High school was a very different level than college. I think that it was important for me to just get back to my basics, build my foundation and get back in the gym. That is really all we can do as players, and that’s what I did.”
In 2014-15, when Randolph led the team in scoring (16.4 ppg) and field-goal attempts (439), the Wahoos finished 17-14 overall and 7-9 in ACC play.
With five players averaging 8.3 points or more, led by Venson (15.1) the `Hoos are more balanced offensively this season. Randolph (13.8 ppg) isn’t shooting nearly as much — Venson leads the team with 177 field-goal attempts — and she’s become a proficient playmaker.
The only senior on Virginia’s roster, the 5-10 Randoph leads the `Hoos with 42 assists. She’s had at least four assists in four of the Cavaliers’ past five games.
“Our team this year, we just have a lot of depth,” Randolph said. “We have a lot of great scorers, so it’s not my job to shoot the ball sometimes.”
Virginia has lost three straight to Miami, which is ranked No. 22 in the latest Associated Press poll. To upset the Hurricanes, Boyle said, above all Virginia will “have to really be in sync as a team defensively. They have two great scorers, but they [also] have a really good support group around them.
“Obviously they’re a transition team. They play very fast. I think they have real good balance this year. They have great chemistry with each other. So I think for us it’s just being able to maybe change some things up on them and slow them down. But I think it goes back to [this]: Will we defend and will we rebound?”
Heading into the ACC schedule, Boyle likes the tempo at which her team has been playing. She’s also been pleased with her players’ unselfishness and willingness to move the ball.
“I think we just have to be able to guard penetration better,” Boyle said. “In anything — in man, zone — we just have to be able to guard the ball better. And if we can guard the ball better we’ll have a really good chance.”