Svetlana Volnaya, the Virginia women's basketball team's Belorussian forward, knew how to score when she came to the United States three years ago, but she was not quite as good on defense.
But now, with one season of junior college play, one season of Atlantic Coast Conference play--and several lectures from Virginia Coach Debbie Ryan--behind her, Volnaya is as good a defender as the Cavaliers have. She proved it again today after Maryland senior guard Tiffany Brown scored 19 points in the first half, helping the Terrapins take a four-point lead.
In addition to scoring a game-high 28 points, Volnaya held Brown to six points during the second half, leading the Cavaliers to a 76-68 victory before 3,067 at University Hall.
The win was Virginia's eighth straight since starting 4-4. The Cavaliers are 4-1 in the ACC, a half-game behind third-ranked North Carolina State, which they play Monday night in Raleigh, N.C.
Asked if she would have charged Volnaya with defending the opponent's hottest player last season, Ryan said: "Absolutely, positively, no way. . . . This year, she's just learned, and been such a catalyst on this team defensively."
Volnaya, who transferred from Independence (Kan.) Community College, did not have a blocked shot or a steal today. However, she held Brown to 1-of-8 three-point shooting in the second half after Brown made 5 of 10 three-pointers during the first half. The 5-foot-6 Brown simply could not find a way around Volnaya, who is quick for someone 6-1.
Meantime, the Terrapins (10-6, 2-4) had no one who could handle Volnaya. She scored 17 points in the second half and made 11 of 17 shots overall. The performance increased her season scoring average to 13.8 points--second on the team--but Volnaya has averaged 22.4 points over the last five games.
Volnaya "has the body of a post player and the skills of a perimeter player, so she's hard to match up with," Maryland Coach Chris Weller said.
But Volnaya said her defense makes her happiest.
"Well, I think I enjoy it because Debbie actually trusts me with something," Volnaya said. "I tried my best, and I guess I did a good job. Actually, Coach told me I did."
After Brown made a three-pointer to tie the score at 60 with eight minutes left, Virginia took control with a 10-4 run. The Cavaliers broke the Terrapins' press several times, resulting in layups or open shots. In addition, forward Lisa Hosac was fouled twice, and she made all four free throws.
"They had some breakaways," Weller said. "We got frustrated with our inability to get the ball to our outside shooters. When you start to concentrate on your offensive woes, you start to break down defensively."
HOWARD 79, HAMPTON 72: Andrea Gardner had 22 points and 19 rebounds as the visiting Lady Bison remained unbeaten in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. Howard overcame 38 percent shooting to improve to 6-7, 4-0.
BOWIE STATE 78, SHAW 53: In Raleigh, N.C., Tiffany Moss scored 20 points as the Lady Bulldogs improved to 13-2, 7-1 in the CIAA. Bowie State had 21 steals and forced 30 turnovers.