UVA-Clem: Supporting Cast Leads Cavaliers to Upset Win

Ben GibsonSenior Analyst IFebruary 15, 2009

Holy upsets, Batman!

It appears miracles really do happen on Valentine's Day weekend.

The Virginia Cavaliers had lost eight straight games heading into this afternoon's contest. 

Their lone win in 2009 had come against Brown University and a ninth loss would equal their longest slide in 35 years.

Virginia has a redshirt freshman point guard going up against a tenacious and aggressive Clemson press. 

It was playing a team that had beaten them by 30 last year in Charlottesville, and Virginia's best player on that team, Sean Singletary, was too busy getting his jersey retired at halftime to be of any help to this year's squad.

In other words, coming into this match Clemson was going to be Godzilla and Virginia was playing the role of Tokyo.

So how did the Virginia Cavaliers shock the college basketball world and knock out the No. 12 Clemson Tigers 85-81?

For that answer, we need to go back to a few weeks ago.

Virginia was trailing 42-22 to Boston College at home and the Cavaliers looked destined for another humiliating loss.

Then Virginia coach Dave Leitao drew a line in the sand.

He started the second half with Slyven Landesberg, Jeff Jones, Calvin Baker, Solomon Tat and Assane Sene.

Then Leitao kept them out there for 19 minutes of action before a foul out and injury forced his hand.

Solomon Tat had barely appeared in any games in his Virginia career and Jeff Jones had multiple DNP's already on the season.

So why the bizarre line-up that had a 6'5" guard playing power forward?

“I wasn’t really interested in playing anybody who wasn’t going to play the game in the right way.”


Specifically ouch to Sammy Zeglinski and Mike Scott, the two starters who saw nothing but the bench in the second half of that game.

You could make a laundry list of reasons to explain Virginia's poor ACC performance this season, but a great deal of Virginia's poor form is because of Scott and Zeglinski's inconsistency.

Mike Scott is Virginia's second best player behind freshman phenom Sylven Landesberg and today he acted like it.

Landesberg is one of the top scorers in the ACC and Virginia fans have come to expect 20-point performances from him—just like his 23 points that brought Virginia to victory against the Tigers.

Scott's 18 points this afternoon, though, are something Virginia fans have been waiting on for quite some time.

Scott is Virginia's second leading scorer with 10.8 points per game, but had scored in double figures only once in his previous five games.

As good as Scott is, he has a tendency to drift out of the game.  Blame it on the fact that Virginia has done a terrible job over the year of getting him the ball in the paint but slumping your shoulders and feeling sorry for yourself is not going to make your teammates want to give you the ball.

Scott has mentioned that, even as a sophomore, he wants to be a leader on this team.

Well Scott certainly has the talent to be a leader, now he has to exude the confidence and toughness of one.

Perhaps the Boston College game served as a wake-up call for the big man because his 18 points and 10 boards against Clemson was his seventh double-double on the year and a personal best in terms of offensive production in the ACC.

It was the most points he had scored since he knocked down 16 against Maryland, all of which came in a second half explosion.

When Scott is on, he can go toe-to-toe with some of the best in the ACC.  If Leitao has found the light switch he needs to make sure it stays on the rest of the year.

Sammy Zeglinski has the excuse of youth on his side, but after eight straight losses, Virginia fans are tired of hearing it.

Zeglinski is commended for his point guard skills and he does make some spectacular plays.  Then again, he also makes plays that make you want to scratch your head.

As a result, his assist-to-turnover ratio is bad...very bad.

For the year, Zeglinski has 73 assists to 59 turnovers.  However, in the four previous games leading up to the Boston College debacle, Zeglinski had 7 assists and 14 turnovers.

In a Florida State game where Virginia shot 3-for-22 in the first half, Zeglinski finished with four turnovers and zero assists.

Hard to get your offense going when you're too busy handing lay-ups to the opposition.

Well, since the benching, Zeglinski has 11 assists to eight turnovers in his last three games.  All of which, by the way, were against ranked teams and two of them on the road.

It may be a small step for Zeglinski but it is a big leap for Virginia basketball.

Zeglinski must still learn to cut down on his turnovers—he had six assists and six turnovers today—but he showed better decision-making and finally made some shots.

Zeglinski showed some good form, going six-for-six from the floor including three treys.

Virginia, a team that is dead last in the ACC from behind the arc, shot 7-for-15 for the game.

Luck?  Maybe, but when you're 2-8 in the ACC you could use some positive mojo coming your way.

In the end, this is just one game.

Maybe Clemson was sleepwalking in the first half and dug themselves too big of a hole to climb out of.  It makes sense—I am sure that is what most basketball experts will say.

Overlooking a last-place team is easy, but Clemson went on a 14-0 run in the second half to claim the lead and Virginia did not blink.

The Cavaliers battled them shot for shot and neither side gave in.

Clemson did not lose this game, Virginia won it. 

They won it because of the great play of Sylven Landesberg but he never would have been in a situation to win without the help of Zeglinski and Scott.

In fact, five different Cavaliers scored in double figures. 

The last time that happened?  Virginia won it's ACC opener against Georgia Tech.

Virginia's final chapter has yet to be written even if many have tried to write them off.

Sure Virginia has problems, glaring ones, but they also have played the hardest schedule in the country according to ESPN's ratings.

Virginia has a tough stretch remaining, but there is no game left on their schedule that is unwinnable.  Particularly if Scott can be an offensive force and Zeglinski avoid turnovers.

One-game mirage or change we can believe in?

The answer lies with you, Virginia.


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