NEWPORT NEWS Barbara Davis stands out.

To begin with, she's the only 6-foot player on Christopher Newport's women's basketball roster. And she's averaging 8.6 points and 7.2 rebounds per game in her first season with the Captains after transferring from Hampton University.

Then there's the focused fight and uncommon grace she's shown in dealing with a challenge bigger than any found on the court.

"She definitely has added another dimension that we didn't have last year," CNU coach Carolyn Hunter said. "Because of her size, she's big enough to defend in the post, and that's something that we really lacked last year."

Davis has been a big part of the Captains' 30-0 season, which continues with tonight's Division III Sweet 16 matchup against 21-6 Rochester (N.Y.) at Kean University in Union, N.J. But basketball has played just as important a role for Davis as she copes with the death of her mother, Paulette Davis, of cancer on Feb. 6.

"It's helped," Davis said. "Sometimes everything is just overwhelming, but it has helped, just to be on the court and not have to worry about anything, not have to think about a lot."

Paulette Davis, 59, had been ill for a year, Barbara said, "and then she got pretty sick the last couple of weeks, or the last month. It was kind of quick from there."

Davis missed three games after her mother's death, returning to score 19 points and grab eight rebounds in a 71-59 win against Greensboro on Feb. 19.

"I was really excited," Davis said. "Just being back out there is a rush and a thrill, and I need to get that game back for the rest of the season. … My teammates have been here for me, the coaches. A lot of people have shown their support. They're very helpful. My professors have been very helpful. Just having a lot of people understanding has really helped me get through it."

Hunter has seen how basketball has also helped Davis.

"I think that's been probably the saving grace for her, is having that to sort of divert her attention a bit from what she's going through," Hunter said. " … She just came right back in. I was quite amazed. I thought at some point, there would be a breaking point where we'd just have to say, 'OK, you need to step back,' but she came right in and just picked up where she left off and got back into it."

Davis' post proficiency has helped keep opposing defenses from focusing too much attention on CNU's perimeter players, including junior guard Cheslie Schweers, who's averaging 24.4 points per game.

"They're going to have to worry about her instead of figuring out how to get to our guards all the time," Hunter said. "She's stretched the defense a little bit."

Davis, 22, a native of Manassas and a graduate of Stonewall Jackson High, transferred from UNC Greensboro to HU to play basketball, but didn't fit in with new Lady Pirates coach David Six's plans. Six mentioned Davis to Hunter.

"We were definitely looking for some height," Hunter said. "That was one of the keys that was missing."

Davis' height, which will come in handy against a Rochester team that features one 6-1 player and four who are 6 feet, comes mainly from her 6-2 father, Bobby. Her athletic ability, however, can be traced to her 5-9 mom, who played basketball and softball and ran track.

"She was a big sports person, so she's probably pulling for me and pulling some strings or something," Davis said.

So far, so good. CNU, one of two remaining undefeated D-III teams (Amherst is 29-0), is now just two wins away from the Final Four.

"Everybody's just in it to win," Davis said. "Our record isn't so much of a factor. Everybody wants a championship, and we want it, too."

Division III women's regional semifinal

Division III women's regional semifinal

WHO: Christopher Newport (30-0) vs. Rochester (21-6).

WHEN: 6 p.m. today.

WHERE: Harwood Arena, Union, N.J.