Monday, January 30, 2006

Killer Schedule

Coaches like to schedule strong opponents, it makes their team "battle tested". They won't be intimidated come tournament time. When Virginia lost to UCLA in the Sweet Sixteen of tennis, that's what head coach Brian Boland had in mind. This schedule however is not just's downright murderous.

The number one team in the land started with a road loss 4-3 against 9th ranked Pepperdine. The Cavaliers rallied to defeat 20th ranked USC 4-3 and then took a "break" to beat 54th Minnesota 5-2, both games were on the road. Then Virginia played its first home match against 33rd ranked VCU, a team that Boland found to be very underrated. The Cavaliers pulled off another 4-3 victory, followed up by another 4-3 nail-biter against 26th ranked Notre Dame.

Noticing a pattern?

Two days later Virginia was back at it again. This time they could not handle the 4th ranked Illinois team on the road. UVa went down 5-2, their first 5-2 loss since 2004 against UNC or 46 straight matches for those keeping track. That's crazy! A mark like that is one that should be truly appreciated, especially when Virginia consistently plays teams like this. Virginia is not just proving that they can take a hit, but that they want this top ranking earned.

No one knows if this loss will cost them their place at the top but if so, Virginia need not worry because the ranked teams keep on coming. Continue to beat these top 25 teams and you will have one impressive resume. Next up is a home match against 7th ranked Baylor (at least it's at home). Not to mention contests with Michigan, Texas A & M and Texas, that's 48th, 13th and 22nd respectively.

The matches have also marked some amazing matches. The Illinois campaign featured two epic three set matches one won by Virginia, the other lost. Somdev Devvarman was named an ACC player of the week taking down the 51st, 8th and 11th ranked players in the nation. That's a pretty good career in and of itself, but Devvarman, a sophomore did it all in the same WEEK.

In a sports culture where most top teams try to avoid being taken down from their perch, it is incredible to see how hard Virginia has stacked the deck to really give itself a challenge. It may hurt them in the short term but Boland is taking a substantial gamble that this death march of matches will make Virginia better prepared when the NCAA tournament comes around. If he's right, Virginia may not have to rely on just lacrosse to win national championships.

If he's wrong, well that's the glory of there always being a next year.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Wanted: Star Needed

While watching CSN this afternoon, and getting to see the Virginia women's basketball team take on Florida State for the second time something became apparent. After all, it's hard to explain how this team has been so inconsistent this year. They can score in the 70s one game and 43 the next. Is it all from inexperience?

Virginia lost to Florida State at home today, 67-58, continuing their ACC woes. The Cavaliers are 13-6 on the year and 2-5 in the ACC. The Seminoles are a good team, but Virginia should have beat them today, in fact they should have won both games. The ACC is one amazingly tough conference, it is number one in the RPI rankings. Virginia is 2-5 and have yet to play UNC or Duke, the top two teams in the nation! In other words, things are beginning to look grim.

Well the offensive futility seems evident enough. The 17 turnovers did not help matters either. Even though Virginia won the rebounding margin, they sure couldn't grab the big ones down the stretch when their feverish comeback fell short. All these problems are fatal to a team fighting for the NCAA, but maybe their biggest problem is this: When the game is the on the line, who is going to step up?

Virginia's men do not have this problem. Sean Singletary is the man, it's just a fact. He will make that big shot when it's needed. The women don't have that player. That lack of leadership really seems to have cost them these ACC games. One good candidate would be Sharnee Zoll. The sophomore PG has established herself as a leader. The flaw is, her preoccupation with running the offense has made her pass first, shoot second. This has cost her some offensive numbers herself. This game she finished with 7 points and 7 assists. Zoll might be a great leader, but it's hard to say she can change gears quickly enough to be the go-to shooter with the game on the line.

Lyndra Littles is an emerging star. Her size and speed give her the ability to play inside and out. Her flaw would be youth. She is only a freshman. During the comeback trail she missed critical free throws that would have helped UVa pull off the comeback. She also has to learn to avoid foul trouble since her 15 points and 8 rebounds were stymied by 4 fouls. In fact she only played the first three minutes of the first half.

Brenna McGuire is a pure shooter and a great teammate. McGuire however has failed to show that "selfishness" needed to be a go-to player. She is more than willing to give others the credit and glory while she sits back and makes big treys. While that garners much appreciation from her teammates and is a welcome change of pace from many other talented players, sometimes a big time player has to know when it's okay to take charge of the game. McGuire's 8 points are just not going to be enough. She scored over 20 against Miami, and Virginia women's basketball need her to play like that for them to get the key wins in the ACC.

Siedah Williams may be the best candidate. She has been by far Virginia's most consistent scorer. She has range for a big player and can hit those boards especially offensively. Williams problem is the same of most centers, they have to be given the ball, creating their own shots isn't a viable option. Zoll must make a concentrated effort to give Williams the ball when the game comes down to the nitty-gritty. She may not be the flashiest player on the team, but she has experience, talent and all the determination that a star needs.

Next up for Virginia is a home date with the Hokies of Virginia Tech as the Commonwealth Challenge continues. UVa currently leads overall 9-3 and the women will look to add to that growing margin. The Hokies fell earlier 78-59 to the Cavaliers at Cassell Coliseum earlier this year. The win is still one of Virginia's biggest. This time the Hokies will be looking for revenge. Offensive execution will be big yet again. If the Cavaliers can get their shots to fall, they should have a good chance of winning. If not, the NCAA tournament becomes farther out of sight.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Cavs Crushed 82-63

Virginia needed its best effort to beat the second-best team in America.

They didn't. Even worse, Duke played excellent. The result was an ugly loss. The momentum of three straight ACC wins was not enough to stop J.J. Redick. The senior SG could not miss, even when covered well, but especially on some of the open jumpers his speed gave him. That paired with a strong shooting night by C Shelden Williams and Virginia simply did not have enough bodies to take down the talented Blue Devils.

The game started terribly for the Cavaliers offensively, UVA was down 20-2 and played scare. They were turning the ball over, 12 in the first half alone and 19 for the game. Every player was rushing their shot when they had an open shot. The frustration was evident but the game was not over yet. A strong finish to end the half cut the deficit at one point to 9. Shelden Williams made at a jumper at the end for Duke to take a 35-24 lead at the break. Williams would end the game with 17 points, 10 rebound and 8 "blocks".

The next half, the bottom fell out. Redick shot incredibly well and Virginia went through another cold spell. Before long the lead was nearing 30 early in the second half. The Roanoke product scored 40 against the Cavaliers, his third 40-point game this year, continuing his campaign for the Naismith Award. However Virginia continued to fight. Better Virginia teams had folded in the past but Coach Leitao and crew held on to keep the game from being a complete embarrassment. Obviously Virginia was not happy with a 19-point loss but it could have been far worse. This resiliency will be necessary as the year goes on. If Virginia can shake this game off as one of those days and truly refocus on rebounding and ball control, they can continue to be a force in this depleted ACC.

The officiating in Duke was suspect at points. Virginia got some questionable calls, but even Dockery was hosed on an obvious offensive foul by Singletary. Nevertheless, the calls didn't cost the Cavaliers this game, sloppy execution did. This game serves as a reality check. Virginia has played well, they've exceeded expectations but this is Duke, not Miami. Virginia still has glaring problems and they can affect them in any game. Virginia was balanced out by a good game from J.R. Reynolds. Reynolds, who left his last game with a concussion scored 19 points on 6-12 shooting, an amazing 3-3 from behind the arc. His three-pointer near the end of the first half was one of the few bright spots for the Cavaliers. Singletary chipped in 13 points and 6 assists, but had an uncharacteristic 6 turnovers. Jason Cain was the only other Cavalier to reach double-digits with 10 points and 7 rebounds, but 6 of those points came from the line.

Next up for the Cavaliers will be the Wolfpack of N.C. State. The Pack are coming off an embarrassing home loss to Seton Hall by 20. The last thing Virginia needs is a frustrated and talented ball club, but that's the situation. Last year, Virginia's only road win was against the Wolfpack 61-59. Singletary's late lay-up was a huge victory on a highly disappointing season. Virginia will be looking for a similar theme but this time the Wolfpack are paying attention. Ilian Evtimov and sophomore Cedric Simmons have emerged as leaders for the 14th ranked team in the nation. Virginia is obviously disappointed with their effort against the Blue Devils, but they should be proud of the season they have had so far. Duke is an amazing team, and from now on the Cavaliers may have a tough schedule but it is manageable. At 10-7, the Cavaliers still have the potential for a few more upsets. They will need to play solid, smart basketball and if the Cavaliers can learn and not wallow from this game, they can do just that.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Hot Off The Presses

The 2006 Football schedule for the Virginia Cavaliers is out.

Since it is never too early to talk about football, let's take an educated look at what the Cavaliers will have to look forward to as they continue their quest for ACC glory.

Sept. 2 at Pittsburgh
Sept. 9 Wyoming
Sept. 16 Western Michigan

The first game is interesting because Pittsburgh had a very topsy turvy season in the Big East. Virginia will probably be favored and should win, but it will be an early indicator of how good this team will be. Wyoming has surprised teams before but this game along with Western Michigan should be simple enough if the Cavaliers come to play. This would take the Cavaliers to a potential 3-0 start before ACC play begins.

Sept. 21 (Thurs.) at Georgia Tech
Sept. 30 at Duke
Oct. 7 at East Carolina

ECU should be another W, the other two games are interesting. Duke should be easy enough, but it's important to keep in mind that they do have talent and Virginia will have 5 games in one month. The big problem might be GT. Virginia has had trouble beating GT on the road and this game will be on 5 days rest. A win here and UVA is in ACC heaven, but I predict that one could be a loss. So we finish this stretch 5-1.

Oct. 14 Maryland
Oct. 19 (Thurs.) North Carolina
Oct. 28 N.C. State

Maryland has always been a tough rival, but they also have fared horribly at UVA under Friedgen. UNC should also go into the win column. The Wolfpack had a breakout end to their season. Will the loss of Mario Williams take down their vaunted defense? I'll stay conservative here, and say we drop this one. However, with the way UVA has played at home, a win is very possible. Going into November we're 7-2...but my oh my, look at the horizon.

Nov. 4 at Florida State
Nov. 18 Miami
Nov. 25 at Virginia Tech

This stretch is hell. If the Wolfpack play like they did to end 2005, NO team has a harder 4 game stretch to end the year...PERIOD. FSU and Miami may not be dominating but they're still very good. I can't pick us to win either road game, and Miami might be asking alot. Therefore, a conservative estimate of 7-5 with a potential bowl win to notch that up.

This is very early and many things will happen to alter this. Hopefully UVA can pick up a few of those games like GT and NCSU. An upset or two after that, and UVA could be in the ACC championship. That is how fickle the preseason is. Nevertheless, UVA contains some winnable games, some strong match ups and entertaining possibilities. Until then, let the debate begin.

Cavs Weather the Hurricane, down Miami 71-51

Virginia is good.

The expectations this season for Virginia were low, beyond low. In fact, there WERE no expectations. Virginia has had one topsy turvy season so far, but now they are kicking on all cylinders and it is scary good. Miami became the latest team to see just that as they lost to the Cavaliers 71-51. Miami started out hot, making their first 6 of 12 shots. They led by as many as 8 and Virginia was a bit slow out of the gate. The defense picked back up though. So much in fact that Miami would miss 19 of their next 21 attempts. Virginia was able to capitalize on Miami's offensive futility to take the lead and never looked back. The Cavaliers took a 32-26 lead to the half.

The second half was the Sean Singletary show. The PG scored 7 points in the first half, but took over in the second to notch up 22. His quickness was unmatched. His confidence was undeniable. His leadership skills were more evident than ever. When he was not stupefying defenders he barked out commands to his players, and to their credit they obliged. With the lead 12 points to go with three minutes left it was Sean who put the game away with basket after basket.

A sour note for Virginia was the hard hit J.R. Reynolds took after an aggressive move to the basket had him land hard on his head. Reynolds was dazed and down for a long time. He went to the bench and later the locker room but returned with 8 minutes to go. Reynolds however did not go back in, fortunately however he was not needed. Before he left he had 12 points in another solid effort. Jason Cain also had a rough day, only 2 points but he did have 8 rebounds. Foul trouble cost him much playing time in the second half but Lars Mikalauskas picked up the slack.

If Jason Cain's emergence was amazing, the rising confidence of Lars Mikalauskas is simply miraculous. After having the game of his career against UNC he did it...again. This time Mikalauskas registered 12 points and 8 rebounds on 5-6 shooting (No, that's not a typo). His enthusiasm for the game is contagious and the fans truly have embraced this freshman. His play has made Virginia a very VERY dangerous team now. Maybe I'll let the Coach explain:

"One part of building a program is that you can play the type of basketball that your players like and your fans appreciate." Coach Dave Leitao said. "I like to think, and I've heard it, that since we've started, our guys are playing hard. That's the first and most important part of being appreciated--that you play the game the right way. I think they really appreciate these guys because they are putting their hearts out every night."

Miami suffered from a terrible night shooting. They ended the game on 19-60 shooting, 6-27 from behind the arc. Guillermo Diaz played hard with 10 points and Anthony Harris led the way with 13. This loss takes the 'Canes to 11-8 on the season, 3-3 in the season.

For Virginia, the hits just keep on coming. The Cavaliers have won three ACC games in a row, 4-2 on the year and 10-6 overall. This is a team that won 4 ACC games ALL YEAR last year and now they've matched it when a year ago at this stage they had none. Virginia must leave U-Hall now after two huge home wins to take on 2nd-ranked Duke at Cameron Indoor. If ever there was a test, this is it. Virginia could play great and still lose because the Devils have established themselves as the best team in the land. It may be hard, but these type of games will make Virginia even stronger as the year goes on. The ACC season is long, and there will be bumps along the way. If the Cavaliers can handle adversity, this season might just be one for the ages.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Bounce Back

Less than 48 hours after a demoralizing loss to Maryland in OT, the Virginia women's basketball team was on the road to take on a very good Miami team. Virginia knew what was at stake, a loss would drop them to 1-4 in the ACC. With the season on the line, the Cavaliers responded and got a big victory 77-65 over the Hurricanes.

"I'm proud of our team for handling adversity," head coach Debbie Ryan said after the game.

Last year Virginia faltered against the 'Canes because they could not stop star Tamara James. James had only two point in the first half this go around, and gave Virginia the confidence they needed to win their second consecutive ACC road game after taking down Virginia Tech earlier in the week. James finished with 15 points, but the real star for Miami was G Renee Taylor. She finished with 21 points and 6 assists. The problem for Miami was everyone else. No other player could step up when the chips were down, no one else scored in double figures.

For UVA, the Hoos were led by three-point machine Brenna McGuire. The guard was featured on Cavalier Sports Weekly today, and she earned the merit going for a career high 22 pints and 4-9 shooting from behind the arc. Siedah Williams continued her strong season with 20 points and 9 rebounds. Tiffany Sardin registered a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds. It was this strong outing in all aspects of the game that kept Virginia in front, and led them pull away after a 30-29 halftime lead.

The rebounding, the turnovers and the big plays all went Virginia's way when it was much needed. Now Virginia is 13-4 on the season 2-3 in the ACC. While still a losing mark, Virginia has much less of a hole to dig out of if they wish to contend for a high seed in the ACC tournament. Next up for Virginia is Boston College. The Lady Eagles are ranked 22nd/21st in the nation, but may drop out after a loss to Wake Forest earlier this week. The game will be at the Conte Forum, the second road game in a row. Virginia has looked all the bit like road warriors as of late. They will need another strong performance if they are to defeat their second ranked team this season, but with the way things have been going, you can't put it past them.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Down for the count

No one said the ACC was going to be easy.

This has proven true for the UVA women's basketball team. After a great win Monday against interstate rival Virginia Tech, UVA had to take on their rival up the road, the Maryland Terrapins. The Terps are 6th in the nation and they played like it. Virginia still had the talent to compete, but their effort fell short in overtime, losing 84-74.

The game was big for both teams, and the fans knew it, a season-high audience watched as Virginia started the game out with a 15-6 run. Maryland responded and had 38-33 advantage at the break. UVA would rally back to take the lead back at 45-44. The game was close from then on and out until the overtime. UVA shot only 12% from the field when it counted most. Maryland had a big test, but unfortunately for the Cavaliers...they were the ones that passed in crunch time.

"(It was) just a heck of a game," Maryland head coach Brenda Frese said. "I'm proud of the fact that we hung in there. We showed a lot of poise in the last five minutes (of regulation). It was a wild finish. We know how difficult it is to win here."

UVA did lose to one of the best teams in the nation and took them to overtime, but that does not provide much comfort to the reeling Cavaliers. Sharnee Zoll had a career game with 17 points and 8 assists. Lyndra Littles had another strong game off the bench with 13 points. Nevertheless, after starting the year 11-1 they are now 12-4 (1-3 ACC). That ACC mark HAS to improve if UVA is to return to the NCAA tournament. Without a doubt the women have shown moments that they can be a top 25 team. Inexperience seems to be keeping them down at this point as UVA is still a very young team.

Nevertheless, the road does not get any easier. Next up for the women is Miami. Miami is 14-3, 3-1 ACC and looking to be in great form. What makes matters worse for Virginia is that the game is on the road. The last time UVA traveled they couldn't make anything and lost to Florida State in their ACC opener. The Virginia women certainly have a strong overall record and good wins, but they need a win to maintain any sort of momentum. Basketball is a very streaky sport and it's time for the lady Cavaliers to show that they still have the talent not only to make the promised land of the NCAA tourney, but to be a factor.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Cavs Beat UNC in 72-68 Thriller

This is ACC basketball.

Before the game, the UVA pep band played Thriller by Michael Jackson. Now sure the song is dated...and about Halloween...and has no real sports tie ins. Nevertheless, the song perfectly described what turned out to be one amazing matchup. The Tar Heels ranked 25th in the nation were coming off a shocking loss at home to Miami and looked to rebound. The problem was the Virginia intensity and early crowd fervor. UVA showed offense early that it had not had all year. With 8 minutes to go Virginia had a 24-14 lead. The problem for Virginia was much like the past, complacency. UNC stormed back and took the lead into halftime 29-27.

The run did not end there. UNC was able to extend it to 22-3 run, and Virginia appeared on the ropes down 36-27. Once again it was PG Sean Singletary to the rescue. A big three-point by Singletary capped a UVA run to get back in it. A 13-2 run gave Virginia the lead back with 14:30 to play. The Cavaliers weren't done yet, the run continued to 26-10. Virginia led by 9 with 8:29 to go. Just like the first half Virginia could not be complacent. They had to learn from their mistake or lose a heartbreaker.

UNC charged back as everyone expected. Some bad fouls and turnovers by Virginia allowed Reyshawn Terry of the Heels to hit two free throws and make it a 64-61 deficit. Nevertheless, in the crunch Virginia's hero was not Sean or J.R. Reynolds. It was of all the people in the world Lars Mikalauskas. Four of his ten points came late with huge tip ins that kept Virginia in front, and UNC at bay. Say what you want about Virginia, but without Lars they lose this game. Virginia definitely had their stars in line of course. Singletary scored a team high 18 points, a number matched by UNC's freshman sensation Tyler Hansbrough. Hansbrough refused to give up, fighting through double coverage most of the night to grab key rebounds (10 of them to be exact) and make big shots. Nevertheless, Jason Cain who had two dunks, 5 rebounds in what was still considered an off night made 5 huge blocks down the stretch which meant a Cavalier victory.

In the end it came down to free throws. Virginia's T.J. Bannister was thrust into the spotlight, could he handle it? Bannister missed a free throw with less than two minutes to go but would make his next three. He would finish with 7 points and 3 rebounds. J.R. Reynolds made the last free throw for the ball club, finishing his night with 16 points, 6 rebounds.

For Virginia the win was incredible. Sure UNC had lost a huge amount of their roster, but they were still ranked, they were still a rival, and they were still the defending national champions. UNC embarrassed UVA at home last year, the game that may have been the clincher for Gillen's departure. His successor took care of business and so did his club.

Virginia is now 9-6 on the year (3-2 ACC). UNC falls to 10-4 and has lost two ACC games in a row to drop back to 3-2 as well. UNC basketball coach Roy Williams is an excellent coach, but his young guys will have to shake this off and focus on getting back in their earlier season stride.

Next up for Virginia is Miami. The Hurricanes also beat UNC on the road by 11 and can be a tough match up. After a huge win like this, it would be easy to not bring their full energy to this game. Miami beat UVA last year at U-Hall and could easily do it again with their trio of guards. Miami is 3-1 in the ACC and proving to be a real contender for the NCAA tournament. Virginia must bring it's best EVERY game if they are to be successful. Those close calls against Gonzaga and Georgia Tech proved UVA can hang with the big boys. Now let's keep it up.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006


The top tennis team in the land went down in defeat yesterday as the number one Virginia Cavaliers lost to the 9th ranked Pepperdine squad 4-3. The match opened up what will be a challenging schedule for the two-time ACC champions. The game came down to the opening doubles match up. Virginia would lose it, ultimately determining a winner after a 3-3 split in the singles matches. Doubles started off on the wrong foot as the 19th ranked UVA duo of Rylan Rizza and Darrin Cohen fell to Scott Doerner and Andre Begemann. The 31st ranked Pepperdine double of Pedro Rico and Ivor Lovrak coasted past Treat Huey and Eric Riley, clenching the doubles point for Pepperdine.

Pepperdine would win matches 1-3, UVA secured matches 4-6 but that would not be enough for victory. However, some of Virginia's highly ranked players showed why they are the real deal. 4th ranked Huey took down Andre Begemann 6-2, 6-3. Marko Miklo and Darrin Cohen also picked up big wins. The trip was not so nice for 10th ranked Somedev Devvarman who lost his singles match to 100th ranked Pedro Rico, 3-6, 4-6.

Despite the tough loss, head coach Brian Boland remains confident.

"Pepperdine is a good team; they played a great match today and deserved to win," said Boland. "This was a good learning experience for our team and we will rebound from this."

Turns out the coach was right, as the next day Virginia took on 20th ranked USC and registered a 5-2 victory. Unfortunately the game was the second time in a row UVA dropped the doubles point. This time however, the singles players came to play. Doug Stewart was the only Cavalier to lose in singles, after a three set epic to Kaes Van't Hof of the Trojans.

The victory may not keep Virginia at number one, but it should give them confidence that they can once again return to the top of the heap.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Back in the Groove

Not to be outdone by their male counterparts, the Virginia women's basketball team traveled to take on the 18th/23rd Virginia Tech Hokies and came away with the impressive 78-59 victory.

The win was big for the team as the women notched their first ACC win of the year. After a disappointing 0-2 start, the season could have come crashing to a halt with yet another loss. Undeterred by a poor offensive performance against FSU, coupled with a defensive breakdown against North Carolina State, the Virginia women finally got it right, just in the nick of time.

"It's a huge boost for us," head coach Debbie Ryan said. "You can't put too much emphasis on one game in the ACC. You have to stay focused and on an even keel, win or lose."

This huge boost came from a reinvigorated emphasis on defense.

Our defense is usually pretty good,"Ryan said. "I'm pleased where we are now. This team has bought into the fact that if we want to win, we have to play defense."

The Hokies were held to 34.6% shooting in the first half, allowing Virginia to pull out to a 15-point lead at half. Virginia also won the rebounding war 34-32. Perhaps the biggest surprise was the offensive firepower in the first half. Virginia hit 60.7% of their shots, led by freshman Lyndra Littles. Littles finished with 19 points and 12 rebounds, her fourth double-double on the season. PG Sharnee Zoll also had a big game with 13 points and 5 assists along with Takisha Granberry who chipped in a career-high 16 points off the bench. These players efforts helped contribute to a welcome but unexpected offensive first half surge.

"The first half was our best performance of the year," Ryan said.

Virginia cannot celebrate long. One rival may be down but next up is Maryland, ranked 6th in the nation. The Terrapins are coming to U-Hall this Friday and fans should be ready for quite the match up. Virginia will need to play great to pull off the upset, but they already took one ranked team down this week.

The win is not only big for the women's season, but for Virginia sports as awhole. Going into this weekend, the Commonwealth Challenge was fired up again. This competition awards points to the winner of every VT/UVA contest. The team with the most points win. Virginia came in with a comfortable 6-3 this past weekend, but let's be honest. Virginia was not favored in either one of these contests, and with the unpredictable nature of rivalry games, a 6-5 cushion is not safe at all. Instead both teams responded and the University owes them big thanks. UVA now leads 8-3. There are 22 events, so the magic number will be getting over 11.5 (some events are only 1/2 a point). Keep an eye out as we update the Challenge throughout the year.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Cavs Survive Hokies, Fans and win 54-49

In big games, big players step up.

Sean Singletary lives for moments like that and he did not disappoint. With the Hokies making a huge 10-0 run Singletary responded with 6 straight points (at one point he scored 11 straight points for Virginia), keeping the Cavaliers from falling apart like they were prone to do in the past. Sean redeemed himself for two earlier turnovers when the Hokies were on the ropes, down 39-33. A technical foul by VT head coach Seth Greenburg and his imploring the fans turned the entire game and momentum around in the Cassell Coliseum. The Hokies, who had struggled offensively all game long, kicked it into an extra gear that the Cavaliers had no answer for least those who were not Sean. Singletary kept them in it, the defense kept the Hokies from pulling away and Adrian Joseph made the difference, hitting a huge three-pointer with 44 seconds left to make it a 52-49 advantage for the Cavaliers and cap an 11 point performance by the sophomore. The Hokies would miss a three-pointer but then got a held ball with the inbounds pass. On the second chance, Virginia Tech would miss again and freshman forward Mamadi Diane pulled down the biggest rebound of the game, fouled with 7.4 seconds left. Despite the great play, Diane's work was not done. Having to make the free throws, the true freshman Diane drilled both making a 5-point cushion and insuring a huge road victory in the ACC. Virginia only won one road game last year at N.C. State. The win takes Virginia to 8-6 on the season and 2-2 in the ACC. The loss keeps the Virginia Tech Hokies winless in the ACC at 0-4 and 10-7 for the year.

The stars came out again for the Charlottesville faithful as Singletary and junior G J.R. Reynolds both scored 16 points a piece. Jason Cain had modest numbers (7 points and 6 rebounds) but a tremendous impact by getting his hands on the ball, deflecting passes and most importantly, keeping Hokie star Coleman Collins from going off in the paint. Collins ended the game with 14 points, second only to PG Zabian Dowdell. The defense was tremendous for the Cavaliers all game long, holding Virginia Tech to 33% shooting from the field and .143 from behind the arc. The problem however was a big one, and it was turnovers. Virginia committed way too many turnovers, 21 to be exact, and the Hokies capitalized on them. It is something head coach Dave Leitao must make a note of and emphasize ball control as the ACC season continues. The victory is as big for the Cavaliers as it devastating for the Hokies. Last year everything went right for the boys of Blacksburg, finishing 4th in the conference and getting an NIT bid. This year, at 0-4 the Hokies have been cut down by a miracle shot from Duke's Sean Dockery and close calls against FSU and a tough loss to UNC where they caused 25 turnovers.

Next up for Virginia are the North Carolina Tar Heels. The Heels are currently ranked 20th in the nation but will probably fall out after a loss to Miami at home this weekend. UNC was completely decimated by offseason defection to the NBA, but a strong freshman class and veterans stepping up have caused the Tar Heels to be right in the mix for ACC position. Nevertheless, this is not the same team that humiliated Virginia last year at home in the game that may have been the nail in former coach Pete Gillen's coffin. Virginia would have to play extremely well, but Virginia has shown against teams like Gonzaga that they can hang with the big boys. At home Virginia has a chance, and to take the program to the next level. A win over a team like UNC could do just that.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

In The Hole

Virginia women's basketball drops second straight ACC game, fall to 11-3 on the season (0-2 ACC).

Debbie Ryan and crew needed a win. The 25th-ranked NC State Wolfpack were not willing to oblige as they gutted out a hard-earned 73-63 win. For the Wolfpack it was all about 13. On Friday the 13th, number 13 Billie McDowell stepped up for her squad with 23 points, including 5 three pointers. As a team the Wolfpack shot 10-20 from behind the arc. For Virginia it was not just the three's that hurt them. As the game wore on, the Cavalier defense wore off. After intermission where the score was deadlocked at 27, the Wolfpack opened up a 17-3 run. For the half N.C. State would shoot 57% from the floor, 6-9 from behind the arc. This hot shooting cost Virginia their second straight ACC game and puts them down in the cellar of the conference. For the Wolfpack, it's just what the doctor ordered.

"The ACC is really tough," NC State head coach Kay Yow said. "We feel fortunate to come out of here with a win."

Virginia's defensive struggles related to the boards as well, losing 43-40. The Cavaliers also struggled with 18 turnovers, even though they were able to force 23. Nevertheless, Virginia did get some solid contributions. Junior F Tiffany Sardin led the team with 16 points along with 5 steals. Siedah Williams, the only player to reach double figures against FSU matched the accomplishment with a double-double, 12 points and 10 rebounds. Brenna McGuire was the only other Cavalier to reach double digits with 10 points on some solid shooting.

The road does not get any easier for the Cavaliers. Next up, Virginia must focus on the Hokies of Virginia Tech who are ranked 21/23 in the polls and are currently 14-1, 1-1 in the ACC. The Cassell Coliseum is sure to be rocking as the Commonwealth Challenge continues. Coach Debbie Ryan and her players would love to register a big point in the overall sports challenge, but without a doubt, they don't need any more inspiration, they need a win. With the threat of going 0-3, Virginia can't afford a loss. Otherwise the hole the Cavaliers are digging will quickly turn into a grave.

Friday, January 13, 2006

T.J., Back for Good?

The Florida State game had some positives for the Virginia Cavaliers. The biggest was the return to action of junior PG T.J. Bannister. Bannister had played limited minutes against the Arizona Wildcats and then the Georgia Tech in the ACC opener but had been out ever since. Head coach Dave Leitao explained that his absence had been an issue of conditioning, getting Bannister back in 'game shape'. Does this mean that Bannister is ready to contribute to one beleaguered team?

T.J. Bannister has had a very solid career at Virginia. Against some of the best ACC point guards, Bannister held his own in terms of a great assist/turnover ratio. He showed leadership skills. What he has never been is a prolific scorer. Bannister played in all 31 games of his freshman year and all 29 of his sophomore campaign. His first year he averaged 3.6 ppg and 3.0 apg. With another year came more playing time. His numbers went up but just barely, 4.3 ppg and 3.7 apg (not even a full point either way). In three games Bannister has two points, seven assists and 3 turnovers. It's important to keep in mind for Virginia fans that these numbers SHOULD improve as he gets more action with such a thin bench, but at the same time, don't expect anything vastly above the level he was before the injury.

Obviously Bannister is an improvement but it's important to know in what ways. Bannister will a solid guard who can help count down on turnovers in an offense where ball control is key. He will help give Singletary a need rest. Through 13 games, Singletary averages over 33 minutes a game, the most on the team. Bannister may not be nearly the offensive force Singletary is, but he can hold down the ship to charge the batteries of Virginia's biggest shining star. The problem will be Bannister cannot help the offense where it needs help the most, points. His size, his confidence and his body are not where it needs to be and it showed no better than the end of this Florida State match up. With the clock ticking, it appeared evident that Bannister wanted anyone but him to take the last shot. With Singletary covered, T.J. needed to step up but he didn't. Instead Diane threw up a bad shot and Virginia ended up losing. Bannister needs more than health or playing time, to believe that he can be the player he once was. Not only that, he needs to reach and surpass that level if Virginia is to truly benefit from his return. Bannister's lack of playing time could hurt the defense as well, but hopefully Leitao has worked the young man and he will get into the scheme better than the worst case scenario (after all it's Friday the 13th).

Bannister may be back, but which Bannister and for how long? That would be good to know.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Cavs Lose Heartbreaker 87-82

The Seminoles hadn't won in Charlottesville for 6 years. With about two minutes to go, it appeared to be 7 years. The Cavaliers held a five point lead and J.R. Reynolds had an open jumper. Instead he misses and FSU made a huge three-point play on the other end, leading to a Virginia loss in overtime, setting them back to a 7-6 record on the year, 1-2 in the ACC. For the Seminoles they are now 11-2, 2-1 ACC and for Leonard Hamilton in company, the season just got a little brighter. Excuses may not make the loss go away for the Hoos, but they are certainly plentiful.

Depth-Virginia lost all three big men again. Tunji Soroye was the first casualty, taken out with about 5 minutes to go in the second half. Jason Cain was the second very early on in overtime. Lars Mikalauskas was the final big man fouling out about half way through overtime. With all that attrition the team with the greater depth, FSU was able to win. In fact, it probably was closer than it should have been.

Injury-Sean Singletary was rocked hard throughout the night. Despite an amazing 27 points 7 assists and 5 rebounds, hard shots that were not usually called cost Sean some serious pain. It made him rather tender and when it mattered most Singletary was in no condition to play Superman and pull out the victory.

Finishing-Virginia could not score late, when it mattered most Virginia could not seal the game. At the end of regulation they had a chance and instead Diane threw up a shot that was woefully short of the rim. This comes from inexperience and also from Singletary's injury and Bannister's lack of confidence. In the end, FSU was able to hit the big shots and UVA was not.

Referees-Okay, maybe it's a cliche but Virginia had two legitimate fouls not called that cost them dearly. One was late in the second half that took Singletary to the floor and kept him hindered throughout the game. The second was at the end of the game, J.R. Reynolds shot a three that would have tied the game at 85. His arm was hacked but no foul was called. This is no sore losing, the officials for the officials took strenuous notes at both of these junctures and it appears that this crew may not be returning to U-Hall anytime soon.

The loss costs Virginia dearly. With the caliber of ACC talent, wins will be very hard to come for. Especially for a team with 7 scholarship players and an even thinner frontcourt. UVa has to protect its home court and failed to do so. It may have been close, but close only counts with horseshoes and hand grenades. Next up for Virginia are the boys from Blacksburg. The Virginia Tech Hokies are not exactly happy either, having to deal with an 0-3 start in the ACC by a combined 11 points. Also with the Marcus Vick situation, the Hokies need something to be proud of. No doubt a drubbing of their old rivals are just what the doctor ordered, and Cassell Coliseum will be jumping. Virginia will have to avoid the road woes of the Gillen era and play like a team determined to make up for this narrow defeat. Otherwise, the season will get much much longer.

The Aces

Maybe men's basketball won't make a championship run.

Maybe wrestling isn't your cup of tea.

Well don't worry UVA fans tired of lacrosse championships, a new spring obsession has begun. The ITA rankings are out and who has the number one men's tennis team in the country? Virginia. That's right, last year the Cavaliers won the ACC Championship before losing in the round of 16 to UCLA in the NCAA tournament. They peaked at number two in the nation last year but now are numero uno in the land to start the season.

Even more amazingly, men's tennis now becomes the 10th sport Virginia has been ranked number one in the nation at some point during the season. Yes skeptics, those sports include football and men and women's basketball. So, the question becomes, can Virginia hold on to this ranking and new found respect? It's appears obvious that head coach Tony Bresky has the same goal in mind.

"There is a lot of work to be done this year, and we want to finish the season ranked No. 1, not just start it that way." Bresky said. "We are excited for the ranking, but we are also excited for the opportunities this team has to accomplish a lot in the upcoming season."

Opportunities do seem to almost endless when looking at the caliber of players on this years squad. Virginia is the only team in the nation to have two players in the top ten and they're only sophomores. 6th-ranked Treat Huey and 10th-ranked Somdev Devvarman had outstanding freshman campaigns and look to continue their hot streak against some of the nation's best. Junior Marko Miklo stars the year ranked 46th and senior Rylan Rizza comes in at number 53. With depth like this, it's no wonder that Virginia tennis has such high expectations.

Perhaps Virginia's biggest strength however has been their doubles play. The Cavaliers have four teams ranked in the top 50, led by Darrin Cohen and Rizza at number 19. Doubles have proven to be an asset for the Cavaliers, and big for momentum since it is the first part of the match played. UVa dominated the doubles in ACC play, and lost it in their season-ending loss to UCLA. I guess the facts speak for themselves.

The schedule for the Cavaliers is once again one of the hardest in the nation. USC, Texas, Baylor, Texas A &M and Michigan round out a very impressive regular season which will put that number one ranking at risk. Nevertheless, Virginia seems up to the challenge. The problem will now be dealing with the pressure of being at the top. Teams will not start to circle their games against Virginia on the calendar like never before. Can Virginia overcome some of the best efforts from some of the top teams?

I'm just an analyst, not a psychic. However, the ITA seems to think so.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Power Outage

Virginia's offense fails to show in Tallahassee, and the women's basketball teams falls to 11-2 (0-1 ACC).

In the ACC every game matters. Virginia had its eight-game win streak snapped Sunday, and the reason is obvious. The Lady Cavaliers could only muster 46 points in the game and an abysmal 13 in the first half against the Seminoles before losing 60-46. Despite a relatively good defensive effort, the problems on the offensive side of the ball were astounding. In the first half Virginia had almost as many turnovers (11) as they did points (13). They shot 17% from the floor. I don't care how good your defense is, no one can succeed with numbers like that.

Head coach Debbie Ryan could only state the obvious in the postgame.

We just couldn't get anything going offensively in the first half," said Ryan. "Give Florida State credit for pushing us. Rebounding was key as well as us not being able to finish."

The battle on the boards was not as bad as Ryan would lead to believe. Virginia actually won the rebound war 53-47. Individually however, the Lady Cavaliers could not stop Florida State guard Alicia Gladden. Her 7 rebounds, 22 points and 3 steals were more than enough to put the Seminoles on top. Virginia was led by C Siedah Williams with 14 points and 8 rebounds, she was also the only player to reach double digits for the game.

The unexpected loss puts the Cavaliers in an early hole, one that will be even harder to get out of. Next up, a home contest with the N.C. State Wolfpack. The Pack are 10-4, coming off a last second loss to Wake Forest 65-64. While Virginia will be favored, Coach Ryan and crew know that this game will be far from easy. A stumble here and Virginia could have big trouble when it heads to Blacksburg to take on a soon to be ranked Virginia Tech squad.

Hopefully this game will serve as a reminder for the team to not look to far ahead and stay focused on the task at hand. Otherwise this hot start can cool off very quickly.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Queens of the Hardwood

Perhaps the biggest story in UVA athletics is the women's basketball team. Completely under the radar, Debbie Ryan's squad was supposed to be rebuilding with her plethora of freshman. Instead, they are 11-1 and open ACC play this afternoon against 9-5 (0-1 ACC) Florida State.

So wait a minute, how did this happen? Better yet, how come no one is giving the women the credit they deserve?

Maybe it's the wins. Victories against Harvard and Yale are big when it's an academic bowl, but not basketball. However, the Cavaliers come into the ACC fresh off the heels of a road victory against Marquette 64-56, dropping their record to 10-2. Perhaps the biggest piece of evidence that women's basketball is legitimate might be their one loss, 69-64, on a neutral site, to 12th ranked Minnesota (The same team that bounced Virginia out of the NCAA tournament last year). Say what you want about beating down Yale, but the Virginia women clearly got game.

So that leads us back to HOW? After all, many of Virginia's top scorers and rebounders departed after last year's solid season. Well Siedah Williams has stepped up her game, the junior is the leading scorer with 11.9 ppg. In fact, 5 players average 9.5 ppg or higher. That type of balanced scoring makes it tough for opposing defenses to focus on just one player. The biggest answer though appears to be on the defensive side of the ball. Virginia is outscoring their opponents 834-592, that's an average of 49 1/3 points per game for the opposition.

Virginia has also played clean basketball. PG Sharnee Zoll averages only 2.33 turnovers a game, compared to 6.4 assists per game. That 3-1 ratio has been big in Virginia maintaining control of a game and has helped keep this record at an immaculate 11-1.

When Virginia rolls into Tallahassee they will have to use their defense to shut down the Seminole guards. Senior guard Ganiyat Adeduntan and junior guard Alicia Gladden lead the team in scoring with 12.9 and 11.2 ppg respectively. The Noles also feature a freshman sensation in center Britany Miller. Miller however leads the team with only 5.4 rpg. This means that Virginia will look to attack the boards. If they can be successful, their ACC opener should help fuel their momentum and give them confidence with top ten teams like Duke looming on the horizon.

Win and Virginia will be primed for a big showdown with N.C. State coming up this Friday and a match up with Virginia Tech as the Commonwealth Challenge heats up. Until then, Virginia knows not to look ahead. If they keep doing what they're doing, it's just a matter of time before the nation starts looking at them.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Cavaliers shake the Tigers 64-58

Last year, it took the Virginia Cavaliers until January 22nd to get a win, this time it took only until the 7th but it was the same team, the Clemson Tigers. It was not the prettiest game, or the easiest victory, nevertheless Virginia head coach Dave Leitao is only the 3rd UVA basketball coach to win his home ACC opener. He can thank his stars as yet again co-captains J.R. Reynolds and Sean Singletary continued to show leadership and determination. Singletary put up 17 points, and Reynolds chimed in an extra 10. That determination was needed too, for every time Virginia looked to be in control, Clemson would battle back. The Tigers took a 53-52 lead with a little over two minutes to go in the game after an 11-0 run. Some big free throws by swingman sophomore Adrian Joseph who ended up with a team high 19 points and junior C Jason Cain (with 12 points) supplemented the two captains efforts beautifully, and led to a 64-58 squeaker.

Clemson was led by guards Cliff Hammonds and Vernon Hamilton. Hamilton, seemingly in his 20th year at Clemson put together 13 points, 4 assists and 4 steals. Hammonds led the team with 14 points. Clemson continued to take three point shots, despite the failure for most to drop. At 6-24, or 25%, the Tigers proved just how true the old saying is "live by the three, die by the three".

Virginia head basketball coach Dave Leitao seemed to understand just how big this win was. Never big on praise, Leitao's opening remarks in the postgame conference were as positive as any the entire year.

"The best way to describe our guys today is resilient." Leitao said. "Today there was an energy level that was sustained. It wasn't here and there. We've had good halves like we did today...the guys did a great job maintaining, not only their poise but their resiliency."

Say what you want about this Virginia ball club but resilient is not a word you would have ever used to describe the teams of the past four seasons. Another positive sign came from the opposition, Clemson coach Oliver Purnell.

"The major reason we struggled all night, from the opening tap, was the backboards." Purnell said.

...What? Virginia outrebounded a team? The same team that gave up 28 offensive rebounds to Hartford? I must have misheard Purnell. Especially when asked about Virginia's front court he responded:

"They're serviceable. They block shots and they're big and they hurt us tonight. Based on tonight's game, which is the only one I can go on, they're pretty solid."

Apparently, the times they are a changin', but one constant problem between the two regimes so far seems to be turnovers. The seventeen turnovers for the Cavaliers cost them opportunities to put away the Tigers and could be deadly against some of the higher echelon teams in the ACC. Nevertheless, with the win the Virginia Cavaliers move to 7-5 (1-1 ACC) and will now focus on the Florida State Seminoles who comes to U-Hall on the 11th. The Seminoles lost to Clemson earlier this week by 5 and Virginia beat them last year at home on a last second shot by F Devin Smith. No one knows if a dramatic finish is in store this time around, but if Virginia were to win, they would be above .500 in the ACC for the first time in a LONG time.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Hilltoppers pull away and win, 78-68

A good game, but another loss as the Virginia Cavaliers fall to 6-5 on the season and ACC play on the horizon.

It wasn't going to be easy. Much like Northwestern, this game could have gone either way. Virginia was able to take care of the Wildcats earlier this year, but this time the road, the shots, and the team ultimately proved to be too much. Anthony Winchester, who had a huge game the first go around against the Cavaliers was able to repeat with 23 points, 12 in the final 6 minutes of the game when it matters most. G Courtney Lee was unstoppable as well, picking up 21 points and 7 rebounds. When Virginia kept it close it was these two men who were able to pull away, making clutch shots and denying Singletary and company open shots.

Captains Sean Singletary and J.R. Reynolds continued to show their wide array of scoring ability, scoring 20 and 26 respectively. C Jason Cain continued his strong offensive showing with 10 points but was only able to pull down 3 rebounds. Instead it was Lars Mikalauskas pulling down the boards with 9 to go along with 8 points. In the end, all these performances were for not but it was not for lack of effort. The Hilltoppers were able to extend the lead many times in the first and second half, but every time Virginia responded. With 8:57 to go Western Kentucky pushed ahead to a 7-point lead (60-53) and looked to be cruising when Virginia's offense kicked into gear and trailed 62-60 with 6:14 left. From then on it was the Winchester show, hitting shot after shot and closing the door to a victory. For the Hilltoppers they continue their impressive home court dominance and are 8-4 on the season.

The scary statistic for Virginia was that WKU shot 55.2% from the floor. For the Cavaliers, a team that is being built upon defense, that number is unacceptable. With an offense that is sporadic at best, UVa will have to keep teams on the lower ends of the scoring spectrum if they have any chance of staying competitive in ACC play...which just so happens to be up next. Virginia's season continues Saturday when the Cavaliers faceoff against Clemson in their conference home opener. Clemson comes into Charlottesville hot of the heels of a close victory over Florida State. Pete Gillen made a career over beating Clemson, winning the last 4 match ups. His first ACC tournament victory came over Clemson. Nevertheless, head coach Oliver Purnell has his team back in the mix in the ACC. Still with recent memories of a sweep of Maryland and a tough, close contest with national champions UNC, Clemson looks to avoid the cellar and prove they are the real deal. Virginia will not have many winnable ACC games, but this one proves to be one of their best shots. It won't be easy, but it will be necessary for Virginia if they are to progress. Until then, the Cavaliers will continue to work on their defense and rebounding. Hopefully, it will be just enough.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Cavs Survive Hartford

It wasn't going to be an easy year for Virginia basketball, and this past week proved it. Two American East conference teams played Virginia, and both gave the Cavaliers more than they bargained for. Nevertheless, the Cavs were able to end 2005 on a high note and a winning record of 6-4 after defeating the Hartford Hawks 71-62. The reason for this narrow victory is obvious, and one that seems to be an ominous sign as ACC play looms: Rebounding. The same fatal flaw which crippled Pete Gillen ball clubs, stifled Virginia's efforts for a blowout as errant Hawk shots continued to fall into the arms of Hartford players. While Virginia only lost the rebounding war 40-35, the Hawks had 28 offensive rebounds compared to the Cavaliers 9. No matter how big the talent gap, most teams will take advantage of extra opportunities, and Hartford was no exception. C Kenny Adeleke was the main beneficiary of all these extra chances with 21 points along with 15 boards. The second ominous sign was just how fragile the front court is for Virginia, at the end of the game Tunji Soroye, Jason Cain and Lars Mikalauskas all fouled out. If Adeleke could send Virginia's big men to the pine, imagine what the likes of Wake Forest's Eric Williams and Duke's Shelden Williams could do.

Virginia did show signs of promise yet again. This game was led by star PG Sean Singletary. After a so-so 7-point performance against UMBC, Singletary responded with a 22 point outing on 6-14 shooting along with 7 assists. Fellow co-captain J.R. Reynolds registered 13 points and sophomore Adrian Joseph hot three-point shooting continued going 3-5 from beyond the arc and picking up 15 points. As for Jason Cain, with his foul trouble he was only able to pick up 7 points and a disappointing four rebounds in 19 minutes.

Perhaps one interesting new feature for the Cavaliers is walk-on Drew Shiembob. "Shiembob Shaq" was forced into the limelight with all the foul trouble for the front court and was much better than anticipated. A key offensive rebound was kicked out to Singletary for a big three. In the UMBC game he registered a dunk that is one rare sight in UVA basketball. He may not be Sampson, but if today's game is any indication, Shiembob may be called upon more often then we once thought, and he will need to be as solid then as he was in today's game. In other words, he has to be more than a stat line because 4 points an 2 rebounds does not fully describe the impact a walk-on has on a team.

The Cavaliers end the 2005 year with a 6-4 record, but with little time to enjoy the New Year celebration because the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers are on the horizon. Last year the Cavaliers eked out a double overtime victory over the pesky WKU squad. This Monday they will have to try and keep their win streak alive on the road. Not an easy task, but not impossible either. Time will tell if 2006 will end up being better than 2005.