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Virginia hoops prep for Russian National Team

The preseason doesn't look to get much easier for the Cavalier women's basketball team as the Russian national team comes calling at University Hall tonight at 7:30 p.m.

The Russian national team comes into tonight's showdown continuing their seven-game American tour after previous stops in Atlanta, Raleigh, Chapel Hill and Clemson. The Russians have proven themselves to be formidable opponents, beating the No. 8 Tar Heels and drubbing Clemson. Their only defeats have come at the hands of No. 18 N.C. State and Georgia Tech.

The Cavaliers, meanwhile, are coming off a hard fought game Friday, against the U.S. national team where they were manhandled by the likes of Lisa Leslie and other WNBA stars.

Since next year is an Olympic year, the world's best in women's basketball are assembling to play the best collegiate programs in the nation as a warm-up for the 2000 summer games.

Although scheduling such tough competition in the preseason is a tremendous challenge, the experience gained from playing such strong competition should make the opening of the season somewhat of a relief for the Cav women.

The Cavaliers put up a valiant effort against the U.S. All-Stars, but in the end the talent of the WNBA players overwhelmed the youth of the team.

Led by Renee Robinson and pre-season All-ACC selection Erin Stovall, the Cavaliers will look to regain some of their confidence against the Russians.

Tonight's match-up "gives us a chance to get back on the floor against a very good team -- a team that's already beaten most of the teams in the ACC," Virginia Coach Debbie Ryan said. "The good news is that we have already played the best so anything from this point on is a different look."

And although the 52-point loss to the U.S. national team is discouraging, the Cavs said they are continuing to improve each day.

"I see a lot of good signs from my team," Robinson said. "A lot of positives, a lot of things that we are working with. A lot of things that we're doing better than we've done in my past three years here. We have a good team. I see good signs from our posts, guards. We're moving people around shuffling them on the outside."

The Cavaliers are hoping their experienced players, like Robinson, Stovall, Elena Kravchenko and Lisa Hosac, can adapt quickly and take on more prominent roles this season, a job that's especially important until the first years become more comfortable with their roles on the squad.

Tonight's game will be the last opportunity for the team to gel before the regular season starts Sunday against St. Joseph's. The game will be a good indicator of where the team now stands.

"We're still trying to get our game together," Stovall said. "We're working on it though, and everything is correctable."

One of the correctable situations is improving the Cavs' scoring: The Cavaliers' shot 30 percent from the field Friday. The team also will be looking to cut back on turnovers. The national team torched the Cavs for 35 points off turnovers Friday but, then again, the Cav women aren't facing the likes of Dawn Staley and Chamique Holdsclaw tonight. They are facing a talented, unknown bunch from Russia, but a victory could bring a welcome swing of momentum to ride into the home opener Sunday.