Virginia Basketball Makes Carolina Blue
What a difference a week makes.
On Wednesday, the North Carolina Tar Heels rallied from a quick run by N.C. State in the second half to hammer the Wolfpack in the RBC Center and right the ship after a disastrous start to the ACC season.
On Thursday, the Cavaliers choked away a 10-point lead with three minutes to go against their bitter in-state rival to fall from their completely unexpected perch atop the ACC standings.
One team had all the momentum in the world and the other one may have lost what little confidence it had gained after its hot start under a new head coach.
It certainly looked like Sunday night's game was a mismatch and indeed it was, just not the way anyone expected.
The Virginia Cavaliers bounced back in tremendous fashion, defeating the Tar Heels 75-60 in the Dean Dome, the biggest winning margin by a Cavalier team in school history at Carolina.
Sylven Landesberg redeemed himself after a poor final stretch against the Hokies and scored a season-high 29 points on the road. The reigning ACC Rookie of the Year is the only player in the entire conference to score in double figures in every game this season, but he was noticeably absent in the final minutes against Virginia Tech.
Trying to win the game with desperation heaves and missed free throws will not earn you many victories. Landesberg looked pedestrian and fans looked mutinous after a heart-breaking defeat.
After a disheartening loss it is typical for a team to press and only add to their misery by losing faith in the system. You could see this with the Tar Heels, who lost all sense of unity when they got behind and individuals tried to take over the game, rather unsuccessfully. Fortunately for Cavalier fans, Virginia took the seemingly season-ending loss and preached something that had to seem almost insane: patience.
Indeed, patience will be the name of the game this season for the Cavaliers. Certainly anything that new coach Tony Bennett can achieve this season with Virginia is nice, but it's gravy. Bennett is trying to create a program for long-term success.
That is why he is willing to sit his best players when they are in foul trouble rather than gamble the game away; he needs the supporting cast to gain confidence.
Bennett came under heat for benching Mike Scott and Sylven Landesberg late in the first half when both were saddled with two fouls and the Wake Forest Demon Deacons went on an insurmountable run. A similar run took place in the following game when the Hokies came back from 12 points down to turn the game's momentum at halftime with Landesberg riding the pine.
Sure, the strategy can be criticized and Bennett admitted he may have to look at those decisions again, but, make no mistake, those losses helped Virginia win this game Sunday against the Tar Heels.
Let's face it, Virginia will not be successful if it has to rely on Landesberg each and every game. The other players may not have to carry the team but they need to prove they can hit the big shots when called upon.
Case and point, with three minutes to go against Virginia Tech, junior guard Jeff Jones jacked up a three-pointer in transition which would have sealed the game with a 13-point margin. With a 4-on-2 break it is not the worst decision, but you have to make it.
Jones missed badly and the Hokies ran in transition for a quick score. That one decision turned the momentum and resulted in an overtime loss for a team that had the game in hand nearly the entire contest.
On Sunday, sophomore guard Sammy Zeglinski had nearly the exact same situation and in the corner he drilled it. He provided the 18-point margin and the dagger to any North Carolina comeback.
You see, bad decisions are only bad if you fail to execute. When it goes in, no matter how foolish the choice, people forgive you.
Although Landesberg stole the show last night, the supporting cast sealed this victory. Zeglinski's 19 points, freshman point guard Jontel Evans's six assists, and Jerome Meyinsse's stellar defense helped bring Virginia a big win over a team full of McDonald's All-Americans in a place full of banners and retired jerseys.
The game even marked the return of senior captain Calvin Baker, someone who has clearly been in the dog house with coach Bennett for some time now. Instead of moping though, he played 18 solid minutes and provided key leadership down the stretch. This victory was redemption for the entire team.
A victory over an arch-rival cannot fully salve the wounds of losing a winnable game to another rival. However, Virginia fans cannot help smiling as they enter February just half a game out of first place in the ACC standings.
The Cavaliers are certainly a work in progress; their offense is highly contingent on their ability to knock down shots from behind the arc.They are still a young team learning how to deal with these raised expectations and the road will only get more difficult. At this point, Virginia could win or lose just about any game on their schedule in this unpredictable ACC season.
Nevertheless, this victory is a statement win to the entire conference. Virginia is not going to just lay over and play dead. Maybe in year's past the Cavaliers would fade quietly into the night but this team has the heart and hustle to cause headaches for each and every team they play the rest of the year.
Yes Virginia, basketball season is alive and well in Charlottesville and for the first time in quite some time, the future is bright.
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