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Staff file photo by C.B. Schmelter / Abbey Cornelius has been given more of a playmaking role for the UTC women's basketball team this season, and the junior forward has responded with 42 assists — one more than she had in her first two seasons combined.

Little by little, Abbey Cornelius is starting to understand that as much as she has been able to contribute to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga women's basketball program, the coaching staff still believes there's more she can do.

And in her three seasons, the coaching staff has been proven right.

The 6-foot-2 forward from Knoxville has added a new facet to her game each season with the Mocs. After averaging 2.9 points as a freshman in 2018-19, she has yet to score fewer than four in any of the Mocs' 17 games this season. She shot 44% as a sophomore, but has raised that success rate to 54% as a junior. And with her 15 points in Thursday night's 60-52 Southern Conference win at Wofford, she bumped her scoring average to double digits, at 10.1, for the first time this season.

But it's not just points. In fact, the most notable jump this season for Cornelius is with her passing, as a tweak to the offense has her at more of a playmaker position for coach Katie Burrows' team. She has handed out 42 assists this season, which is second on the team and one more than she had in her first two UTC seasons combined.

Photo Gallery

UTC junior forward Abbey Cornelius

In the past five games, the Mocs have split series with SoCon-leading Samford (10-7, 7-1) and second-place Mercer (13-5, 7-2) before topping the Terriers to pull into a tie with them for third in the standings — UTC (10-7, 5-3) is at Wofford (9-6, 5-3) again at 2 p.m. Saturday — and Cornelius has been a big part of her team's success in that stretch.

Her scoring average the past five games is 13.6 points, with her rebounding average 11.0; she also had two blocks in three of those games. Although she did not have an assist in the opener against Samford and had just one against Wofford, she had six in the second game against Samford and five in each matchup with Mercer, giving her an average of 4.3 assists the past four games.

Cornelius was moved to the high post this season, which with her size has allowed her to find open cutters for layups or another post player inside for a basket.

"I know me and (assistant coach) Jon (Goldberg) have talked about when the ball goes through me, I can make good decisions," Cornelius said Wednesday. "They (coaches) really worked to get not only me, but all of our forwards and centers up there to make those reads. We work on it all the time in practice."

Cornelius appears to be the best at it right now, though. Some of it came from being asked to do some playmaking during her high school career at Hardin Valley Academy, where she was coached by Burrows' sister-in-law Jennifer (Wilson) Galloway, a former Moc.

The harder adjustment has been becoming more aggressive and looking for her shot more often, which is what coaches expect. It's been a struggle at times, with Burrows expressing frustration that Cornelius wasn't aggressive in last week's loss at Mercer. Two days later, Cornelius was 6-for-12 from the field and had 14 points and 13 rebounds for her third double-double this season as both she and the Mocs bounced back.

"I think it's a testament to her and the long hours she put into her game and her willingness to learn and grow," Burrows said Wednesday. "She's not been satisfied; she's even utilizing her step-back (move) in the paint now that we've been challenging her to do it. It's going to make her that much more versatile, and I think she can grow in her final year to make that even more consistent."

Contact Gene Henley at ghenley@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @genehenley3.

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