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Virginia’s Much-Needed Win

February 20, 2008 Columns No Comments

Cavaliers Start Trying to Salvage Season With Win Over Eagles

by Phil Kasiecki

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. – Virginia got a couple of things on Sunday that have been in short supply all too often this season. They had scoring balance and some emotional involvement, and the end result was their second ACC win of the season, a 79-74 decision over Boston College.

Fresh off finishing tied for the top spot last season, the Cavaliers were projected by many to contend for one of the top spots again with the return of Sean Singletary after he declared for the NBA Draft. But this surely hasn’t been the kind of season he hoped to have when he withdrew from the draft last June to return for his senior season. The Cavaliers are now 2-9 in ACC play after Sunday’s win, which snapped a seven-game losing streak. It was a win that was a long time coming.

“They were happy, they were cheerful,” head coach Dave Leitao said of his players after the game. “For me, it’s probably more of relief. It’s been a very long few weeks for everybody.”

One key in the win was getting scoring balance. Sunday was the tenth occasion this season that the Cavaliers have had four or more players score in double figures. In those games, they are 9-1, with, oddly, the only loss coming in a game where they had five players score in double figures. Contrast that with their 12-12 overall record, and it’s clear that balance is a key.

“I think by and large, we try to have everybody understand that that’s how we need everybody to play,” said Leitao. “We need to be more consistent that way and get positive contributions, whether it’s points, rebounds or charges, or whatever it takes. We’ve got to try as best we can to carry it over and get positive contributions from everyone.”

The other key seems to go hand-in-hand with the balance in some respect, which is the team’s emotional state. Leitao said he called an early timeout with the Cavaliers down 19-9 because his team didn’t seem to be in the game. The timeout seemed to work, as they responded with a run of nine straight as part of a 16-2 run to take the lead.

“I think a lot of our guys, when they’re good they’re a little more in tune that way, and when they do struggle, at least from my vantage point, they’re more detached emotionally,” said Leitao.

Singletary doesn’t have an easy job, because he has to strike what Leitao termed a “delicate balance” between involving teammates and being aggressive for his own shot. He didn’t look to score much early on Sunday, but got going in the second half to finish with 16 points and four assists, with just one turnover.

“For us to win, we’ve got to get everybody involved,” said the senior point guard. “Everybody has confidence that we can feed each other with confidence, and that’s what we’ve been missing.”

“When we’re sharing the ball, we’re a way better team because when everybody’s getting touches, that means they do everything else better on the court,” said guard Calvin Baker, who made some clutch free throws in the final minute. “They play defense better, they rebound better, and I think we’re a better team when we share the ball.”

Baker basically echoed his coach’s point about the team being emotionally into the game and the benefits that brings.

“We’re an emotional team, and when we play good we play with a lot of emotion,” said the sophomore guard, who transferred from William & Mary. “I think we do run off of emotion, and when everybody’s getting touches, I think that adds to our emotion and that makes everybody better.”

Singletary added that the return of Laurynas Mikalauskas, who had recently missed games with an injury, was a big key with 13 points on 6-7 shooting in 18 minutes. Not surprisingly, there was one particular area where the fiery post player helped and in a much-needed way.

“I just feel as though he’s what we’ve been missing, his energy and rebounding and ability to finish at the rim,” said Singletary of Mikalauskas.

The Cavaliers got what they needed to win the game. Now the task is to continue it the rest of the way. They know they can salvage the season, and they know what they need to do to win. Singletary is a good player, but he can’t do it alone and he knows that. There are plenty of reasons they want to win, and Sunday could be the start of it. Singletary and classmates want to go out on a good note, and the team rallies around them because they know what they bring to the team.

“We want to win for all our seniors, we always want our seniors to go out good,” said Baker. “That’s why we’re trying to turn our season as best as we can, because we know it’s their last go-round. College is special, and we want their last memories to be good.”


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