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Counterparts begin to emerge as Wright continues senior season

Lacking a steady second option, Virginia relies on host of young players to complement team star

Senior guard Monica Wright has received a lot of attention from members of the media and awards committees this year, and her impressive stat line suggests that she deserves it. Wright leads the ACC in two categories - 22.3 points per game and 3.7 steals per game - and ranks in the top 15 in the conference in six other categories. She leads the Cavaliers in most major categories: points, rebounds, assists, steals, three-point shooting, free throw shooting and minutes.

But as No. 22 Virginia approaches the halfway mark of its slate of conference opponents, the team still has not found a consistent back-up option for moments when an opponent's defense hones in on Wright. Instead, the Cavaliers have relied on an assortment of underclassmen, many of whom have performed solidly, despite not always being recognized for such.

"I really think that this team is coming together and getting more mature as we go," coach Debbie Ryan said after Sunday's game against Georgia Tech.

After Wright, the next leading scorers are sophomore forward Chelsea Shine and sophomore guard Whitny Edwards, who have tallied 7.9 and 7.7 points per game, respectively. But several other players lurk close behind.

In all, seven players score between 4.6 and 7.9 points per game for Virginia. Of these players, everyone but freshman forward Telia McCall has started for the Cavaliers.

A recent standout has been freshman Lexie Gerson. The 5-foot-11 guard started the team's three most recent games, peaking Sunday against the Yellow Jackets with 10 points and four assists.

"Lexie brings a lot of energy," Ryan said. "Sometimes it goes in wacky directions, but the energy is great ... She just gets her hands on the ball a lot. That's why she's in the lineup, to get us all off to a more energetic start and she does that for us every time."

Gerson leads the team with a .842 free throw percentage - a consistency that could prove essential in tight contests against ACC foes.

"She's a first-year, so she has to learn about some of the rules of the game, but she played really well" against Georgia Tech, Ryan said. "She really knocked out those free throws."

More than half of Virginia's scoring and the majority of its rebounds have come from underclassmen, even with the injuries that have been suffered by freshman guards Erinn Thompson and China Crosby, both of whom Ryan had hoped to feature prominently this year.

Particularly devastating to Virginia is the absence of Crosby, the most touted recruit to come to Virginia since Wright.

Crosby is a quick, small guard who has drawn a few comparisons to 1992 graduate Dawn Staley, who led Virginia to three Final Fours. The 5-foot-6 Crosby "plays bigger than her size," Ryan said.\nDuring her 13 appearances, Crosby started every game and dished out 2.3 assists per game while averaging 5.9 points.

Virginia has yet to settle on a starting lineup, as only Wright has started every game this season. This unpredictable lineup, however, has proven to be an essential component to the team's wins.\nAgainst the Yellow Jackets, sophomore forward Britny Edwards - who ranks last on the team in scoring - broke out for eight points. Fans saw another comeback when junior guard Paulisha Kellum - who is still recovering from a 2008 season-ending injury - scored the game-winning basket against Boston College last Thursday.

Even as Wright continues her exceptional, potentially All-American season, the team's outcome may be determined more so by secondary players' ability to step up when the team needs it.\nThe Cavaliers continue play tomorrow at 7 p.m. at John Paul Jones Arena against N.C. State.

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