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February 14, 2013

New year hasn't been kind to Tech women's team, as young Hokies struggle with confidence

By: Marc Mullen

Lauren Evans has gotten plenty of on-the-job training this season, as she leads all of Tech’s freshmen with 20 starts as of Feb. 6.

When the calendar turned to 2013, the Virginia Tech women’s basketball team was coming off a three-game winning streak, which included a victory over Wake Forest in the team’s ACC season opener.

And after three narrow losses – a pair on the road at Virginia (a four-point loss) and at No. 15 North Carolina (a three-point loss), and one at home to Boston College (by seven points) – the Hokies appeared to have made strides in improving as a program.

However, since then, they’ve dropped six more games – three to ranked teams – but all by double figures, and they head into the final four weeks of their season on a nine-game losing skid.

In the span, the defense had been streaky – limiting No. 4 Duke to just 58 points, but allowing more than 65 on three occasions. Meanwhile, the Tech offense has fallen flat, scoring more than 50 just once and failing to hit the 40-point plateau three times.

“We’re still a work in progress,” Tech coach Dennis Wolff said after the Boston College game. “So every game is going to be an interesting entity. In this league, there isn’t a ton of high-scoring games in league play, so everybody’s playing hard defense.

“We didn’t get 50 the other day. Neither did Carolina. Again, everybody is fighting on the defensive end. We have to – from our standpoint – play better on offense. We need to be more efficient offensively, and we need to execute better.”

Wolff pointed to a pair of things that needed to be improved upon to help his team right the ship. One was getting a better start in games.

Only twice in the nine-game streak had the team scored its 10th point of the contest before the 10-minute mark of the first half. Six times during ACC play, the Hokies trailed by 10 by halftime.

“You can’t come into a game and be running uphill the whole game. We aren’t good enough to do that,” Wolff said. “That’s what it feels like to us on the bench.

“And whether it’s stage fright, whether we’re playing not to lose, whatever it is, it has to change. We’re in the ACC, and when we come out and start so slowly and we make similar mistakes as we do in other games, then you can just almost look at the look of our team, and we become deflated and we have to somehow collectively try and end that.”

Ending that feeling, Wolff believed, would come with gaining confidence.

“We have to collectively try and find a way to restore some confidence in some of the kids,” Wolff said after the Clemson loss. “There were some good shots in the first half that we missed, and then when those things happen, individually we lose confidence.”

Ugoka notches two more double-doubles

It took junior Uju Ugoka just two games to register her first double-double in a Tech uniform, and since, she’s added two more to her totals – both in ACC games – as she continued to be a critical asset for the Hokies.

In her first 11 games at Tech, Ugoka scored in double figures eight times and grabbed at least nine rebounds seven times, including a pair of double-doubles against Boston College (21 and 13) and at Miami (12 and 13), while posting Tech’s highest rebounding effort of the season with 14 against Clemson.

“Uju plays really hard. She’s on the offensive glass hard, and she’s very aggressive,” Wolff said. “But she’s struggling big time (from the floor).

“I think what is happening with her, too, is that she misses her first one, and then it seems to be a snowball rolling downhill. And we are taking her out and talking to her about catching it first and gathering herself. What she has to do is slow down and then try and finish”

She was shooting just over 37 percent from the floor for the season, but was certainly making her presence felt in the ACC. Ugoka was sixth in the league in both overall (8.5) and offensive rebounding (3.3) in league games only.

Freshmen gaining experience

There are five freshmen on the 2012-2013 Tech roster, and none of them are playing the waiting game. Each is cutting her teeth in her first season with the Hokies, as all five have been averaging at least 10 minutes per game and have combined for 45 starts as of Feb. 6.

Lauren Evans led the pack with 20 starts and 26 minutes per game, while Taijah Campbell had 15 starts and 24 minutes, and Hannah Young logged 20 minutes a game.

They were gaining valuable experience for the future, but Wolff was definitely expecting more from this group as the season wound down.

“We need more people to contribute,” Wolff said after the Clemson game. “I think that these players have the ability to be better shooters than they are right now. I think that Alex (Kiss-Rusk) is a good shooter. I think that Lauren and Hannah have the potential to be good shooters. I think Alexis (Lloyd) is a good shooter.

“We have to remember that, in their cases, those kids are freshmen. I’m not giving them a pass because we are now in February, and they’ve got to start acting like college players. They’ve got to be confident going through (the rest of the season).”