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Defense makes strides before Upstate contest

No. 12 Cavaliers

The No. 12 women's basketball team takes on USC Upstate at home tonight in its third contest of the season.

The Cavaliers will have to watch out for senior guard Courtney Hawkins and junior forward Chelsea McMillan, either of whom could engineer an upset if given the chance. Hawkins and McMillan are averaging 14 points and 13.5 points, respectively, through the Spartans' first two victories, and McMillan has emerged as a defensive force as well, snagging 10 rebounds per game.

Though Virginia is fresh off trouncing Manhattan 86-68 on Sunday, coach Debbie Ryan said she is not entirely pleased with the state of her team, especially on the defensive side of the ball.

"I thought offensively we looked pretty good most of the game," coach Debbie Ryan said. "Defensively, we're not where I need to be. I think we're still very much a work in progress."

Virginia's defensive woes were particularly evident during the first half of its season-opening 68-57 victory against the UMBC Lady Retrievers, who shot 48.4 percent from the field. The Cavaliers will need to put up a more resilient defense against the Spartans - a team that is 2-0 after pulling off a 71-59 comeback victory against Longwood. Down 18 with 3:40 remaining in the first half, freshman guard Tee'Ara Copney made back-to-back steals at mid-court for uncontested layups, starting a run of 11 straight points for USC Upstate. Copney's 16 points and five steals also aided greatly in the win.

The Virginia offense has been impressive in its own right, though. During Sunday's game against Manhattan, senior guard Monica Wright delivered a 31-point performance, finishing 12-for-14 from the field and 6-for-8 from the free-throw line. Thus far this season, the team has scored a total of 154 points compared to 125 by its opponents. And with plenty of games left to play, Wright said the team's youthful core - five freshmen and four sophomores - can only continue to mature and improve with time.

"They really, really work hard," Wright said. "They genuinely want to get better and they're here for the same purpose as everyone else."

The contest against USC Upstate is the second of three consecutive home games for Virginia. The Cavaliers host Tennessee on Nov. 22.

"I'm sure the whole Cavalier nation is getting excited about [the game], and we're definitely excited about it," Wright said. "But we have a lot to work on between now and then"

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