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Quarles drains buckets for Cavs

After torching Boston College for a career-high 24 points Sunday and leading the Virginia women's basketball team to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time in three years, Telisha Quarles sat before reporters and waved her right hand out in front of her, fanning it for the room to see.

It was quite a night for Quarles, but even after sinking five three-pointers and playing all 40 minutes in her biggest game in Cavalier uniform, the hand was still on fire.

"They noticed I had the hot hand, and I was going out there and shooting it," Quarles said. "I felt real relaxed and I was real focused."

Quarles began the season on the bench, backing up Erin Stovall, who left the team in December, but the sophomore shooting guard has been carrying the Cavaliers on her slender shoulders lately. The 5-foot-8 Louisa native not only pushed the Cavs past the Eagles with her clutch long-range shooting but also helped down Pepperdine in the NCAA first round Friday with a game-high 18 points.

"Telisha was great," Virginia coach Debbie Ryan said following the second-round victory. "I knew she was going to be great. I just had a feeling about it. She was shooting well in practice, and she showed up for the game Friday night against Pepperdine."

After taking over Stovall's starting two-guard spot in late December, Quarles struggled early, shooting over 40 percent only twice in eight games. Her troubles reached a head in mid-January, when she shot 1-for-8 against Maryland and scored only two points in a home victory.

But as Quarles became acquainted with her heavier load she improved dramatically, and the ACC took notice. In the Cavs' biggest road win, an 80-73 triumph over then-No. 6 N.C. State, she registered the best game of her young career to that point, a 21-point performance with 57 percent shooting.

Since that Jan. 17 contest, Quarles has provided the Cavs with a reliable outside shot, speedy defense and a hearty desire to win. Ryan said she admires Quarles, a high school point guard, for putting her unselfish tendencies aside and coming through for the Cavs in crunch time.

"She is a real team player," Ryan said. "She could care less about the individual stuff. She just wants the team to win. She knew she had the hot hand, and she stepped up big time. I'm real proud of her."

The Cavs' tournament train stops next at Memphis for a Mideast Regional contest against No. 2 Tennessee, owner of six national championships. Quarles will be asked to contain one of the Volunteers high-scoring guards, freshman Kara Lawson (14.1 points per game) and Semeka Randall (14.2 ppg), a herculean task for a player once considered to be an offensive specialist.

But as Ryan points out, Quarles' defense has improved dramatically as the season has worn on, and in Sunday's game, she held Alissa Murphy, the Eagles second-leading scorer, to only three points.

"Telisha has been playing very good defense from the ACC Tournament on," Ryan said. "She played excellent defense at the ACC Tournament, and she's really learned a lot. She's come a long, long way. I'm really proud of her development because that was her weakness. Now, she's turned into a really good defensive player."

But just the Cavs will worry about containing Lawson and Randall, Tennessee will have to devise a game plan to cool off Quarles' scorching shooting. As the leader of younger players on the squad, Quarles feels a responsibility to keep her team alive in the tournament.

"It means a lot to me," to make it to the Sweet Sixteen, Quarles said. "It's just a different atmosphere. I want to do it for the younger players that haven't made it so far."


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