January 9, 2007
CHARLOTTESVILLE Nobody is making a secret of Virginia's inability to win on the road, least of all the players themselves.
"It's a mental thing," said senior guard J.R. Reynolds, after a 91-70 home victory over American. "People keep telling you, You haven't won on the road, you haven't won on the road.' Until we black that out and start to focus on playing together as a team, it's going to be tough for us to win on the road. We've got to keep taking care of our home and steal two or three road games."
That process continued during the second week in January, when the Cavaliers ventured to North Carolina before a weekend trip to Boston College. That followed a season-opening stretch in which Virginia played 12 of its first 13 games either at its spacious new home, the 15,219-seat John Paul Jones Arena, or at a neutral site.
Even the neutral site, the Mario Morales Coliseum in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, was too hostile for the Cavaliers' liking. Virginia lost two of three games in the San Juan Shootout, seriously damaging before Christmas its hopes of an NCAA Tournament invitation.
Those chances improved slightly when the Cavaliers buried Gonzaga 108-87 after leading the Zags 60-26 at the half, but that served only to point out the disparity between the way Virginia plays at home and on the road. To watch UVa's football team and reeling women's basketball team, that may be a program-wide malaise.
It was easy to see how Virginia thrashed Gonzaga on a night when the Cavaliers set a school record for three-point field goals. UVa's previous high was 15 in a game before it went 18-for-34, including a career-high seven by junior point guard Sean Singletary.
Virginia didn't make 15 three-pointers total during its three games in Puerto Rico, and the Cavaliers were 2-for-13 from behind the arc in an 80-69 loss to Appalachian State. Singletary was1-for-11 on three-pointers in those three games, then went 12-for-21 in UVa's first two games, both at home, after returning to the mainland.
Clearly, the Cavaliers are becoming increasingly more familiar with the rims and shooting sightlines at JPJ Arena, but what's going to happen when they leave town? If you can believe Singletary, there's reason to believe he'll shoot better than he did in Puerto Rico.
Singletary had hip surgery following his first-team All-ACC season in 2005-06 and had a lengthy rehabilitation. His workouts were limited, and he wasn't able to get in the gym as much as he would have liked.
He felt refreshed when the Cavaliers went back to work Dec. 25, after a short Christmas break, and was able to add to his regimen. Specifically, he had the energy to spend more time on his shooting.
"You get up a thousand shots during the week and the games come easy," said Singletary, who had a career-high 37 points against Gonzaga despite playing only 25 minutes.
Overshadowed by Singletary's heroics was the performance of 6-5 sophomore Mamadi Diane, who was 8-for-13 from the field against the Zags, including 4-for-4 on three-pointers. Diane had opened the season with a career-high 25 points in Virginia's 93-90 win over Arizona, but he later failed to score more than 10 points in a six-game span that included the trip to Puerto Rico.
Confidence and consistency have been an issue for Diane since he arrived at Virginia, but, at his best, he gives the Cavaliers a third perimeter scorer to make teams pay for concentrating too heavily on Singletary and Reynolds. Junior Adrian Joseph falls into the same category, but neither one of them is the inside threat Virginia so sorely lacks.
Leitao has hoped that one of two freshman wings, 6-6 Will Harris and 6-5 Solomon Tat, might provide some of that inside scoring, but Harris has been a defensive liability and Tat has been hurt. After playing 12 minutes against Arizona, when he grabbed the game-ending rebound, Tat spent the next seven weeks nursing a groin problem.
The groin injury predated the Arizona game, but UVa's medical team felt that it would never heal until he stopped playing. Tat made his return to action against Gonzaga, when he played eight minutes. Moments after he entered the game, Tat drove to the basket, drew defensive pressure and made a nice fed to center Tunji Soroye, who scored and was fouled on the play.
For some time, Leitao has been describing Tat as a "high-energy guy" who would help the Cavaliers upon his return. Outside of post man Ryan Pettinella, expected to be sidelined three or four weeks after arthroscopic knee surgery Dec. 29, the Cavaliers were as close to full health as they had been all season.
The UNC game was the start of a six-game span, all against ACC opponents, with four road games sandwiched around home games Jan. 16 with Maryland and Jan. 21 with Wake Forest. The road opponents during that stretch were Carolina, Boston College, N.C. State and Clemson.
N.C. State appears to be the most beatable of those teams on its home floor, but the Cavaliers struggled to beat the Wolfpack in Charlottesville, 67-62.
MCCABE DEPARTURE NOT SURPRISING
The biggest news with Virginia's football team at the start of the new year was the decision by reserve quarterback Kevin McCabe not to return for his fifth year.
Maybe that should have been expected, considering that McCabe did not play in the Cavaliers' last eight games. But outside of Jameel Sewell, who earned the starting job in the fall as a redshirt freshman, McCabe is the only quarterback in the program who has thrown a pass in a college game.
McCabe even started a game, getting his shot in Game Three after throwing the winning touchdown pass one week earlier in an overtime affair against Wyoming. He was intercepted twice in the first half one week later against Western Michigan and didn't even finish out the half.
"You're done,' is what he told me," said McCabe, relating his conversation with offensive coordinator Mike Groh upon returning to the bench. "I didn't set foot on the field for the rest of the season."
While the Cavaliers later enjoyed some success with Sewell, the starter in four ACC victories, the unceremonial demotion of McCabe to the third team less than 48 hours after his only career start practically ensured that he would not buy into a backup role in 2007.
"Obviously, you kind of have a clue," McCabe told the Roanoke Times. "I think it would have been the respectful thing for someone to come up and tell me first-hand, rather than me have to figure it out. It was like I was erased from the team."
Meanwhile, the early indications are that Sewell will make a full recovery from December wrist surgery, but he has had academic issues in the past.
McCabe, who completed 71.9 percent of his passes (23-of-32) in 2006, would have been a nice insurance policy at the most important position on the field.