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Singletary Shines Despite Team Woes

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
By: Accsports Staff




February 26, 2008

CHARLOTTESVILLE – After playing one game in 12 days, the Virginia basketball team faced the prospect of having four games in a nine-day span, during which it will venture to some of the league's most distant outposts and meet some of the most daunting opposition.

You see that kind of scheduling sometimes early in the season, but seldom in late February or early March.

Of course, it's rare that you see a game postponed as the result of a leaky roof, but that's what happened Feb. 21 at Georgia Tech. Afterward, the teams were left scrambling to find a two-day window when both could add a game.

While there was talk of reconvening in Atlanta after the regular season and in the days leading up to the ACC Tournament, the game eventually was rescheduled for Monday, March 3, two days after a UVa trip to Miami.

It wasn't a bad solution, given that Virginia can just swing by Atlanta on its way back north. Besides, it's not as if the Cavaliers will face any long-term effects from the altered schedule. It has been obvious for a while that Virginia's 2007-08 season does not have a long term.

The Cavaliers have been hovering around the .500 mark and possibly could slide into an NIT berth, but the rest of the season is mainly about one thing – allowing senior point guard Sean Singletary to finish his career with dignity.

Singletary already has cemented his place in UVa history and probably will have his jersey retired prior to his final regular-season home game, March 9 against Maryland. If Virginia could accord that honor to football player Chris Long before he ever had been named first-team All-ACC, the Cavaliers couldn't help but recognize Singletary, already a two-time, first-team All-ACC choice.

Singletary likely will join Ralph Sampson and Bryant Stith as the only three-time, first-team All-ACC selections in Virginia history, although there could be some backlash against a player off a last-place team.

There have been times when Singletary could have played better this season and possibly gotten Virginia another two or three wins on his own, but often he has been magnificent in losing efforts. Witness a 34-point night against Virginia Tech and a 27-point game against North Carolina.

Singletary has been among the top three scorers in the ACC for most of the season, and he was the conference assist leader for a long stretch, no small feat on a team that has not had a dependable second scorer.

At the time of the postponement in Atlanta, some in the media debated the merits of simply canceling a game between also-rans, but that only would have increased the challenge for Singletary as he neared the 2,000-point, 500-assist career combination.

Singletary went over the 500-assist mark in a Jan. 27 home game with Georgia Tech, but with as few as six games remaining, he had 1,878 points. To get to 2,000, he needed to average just more than 20 per game. His season average through 24 games was 18.8, although he was averaging 20 in ACC play.

This is a team capable of winning a game in the ACC Tournament, especially if it can duplicate its effort from back-to-back games with UNC at home and Boston College on the road. After seeing its losing streak rise to seven with a 75-74 loss to the Tar Heels, UVa swept its season series with the Eagles with a 79-74 win in Chestnut Hill.

Singletary was on top of his game at BC, but the Cavaliers won because junior forward Mamadi Diane hit for 20 points, including a big three-pointer with the Cavaliers clinging to a one-point lead with under a minute remaining.

Diane had not scored in double figures in any of Virginia's previous four games, going 5-for-36 from the field and heading to the bench after 53 consecutive starts. He had struggled late in the season in each of his first three seasons at UVa, and neither he nor Adrian Joseph has been the consistent second option the Cavaliers need.

Last year, in a 21-11 season that included an NCAA Tournament trip, Virginia was left to wonder how far it could have gone with a third option to go with Singletary and J.R. Reynolds. The impact of Reynolds' loss has been much deeper than originally expected, especially at the end of games.

While the Cavs have lost games by 38 points at Xavier and 31 at home to Clemson, UVa has suffered three overtime losses and dropped three other games by one or two points. Opponents know they can gang up on Singletary down the stretch, with little fear that UVa's supporting cast is going to beat them.

While Diane's performance at BC was noteworthy, the biggest change for the Cavaliers was the return of 6-8, 246-pound junior Lauris Mikalauskas. He had been sidelined since Dec. 9 as the result of a bad shoulder, and the media was openly debating the advisability of appealing for a redshirt.

Word leaked out that Mikalauskas would play against UNC, and his legion of fans went wild when Mikalauskas entered the game and almost immediately drew a charge against Tyler Hansbrough. Three days later, Mikalauskas went 6-for-7 from the field and scored 13 points in 18 minutes at BC.

What the Cavaliers have with Mikalauskas on the floor is a crafty player who can use either hand and converts the simple layup opportunities of the sort that Ryan Pettinella and others missed against UNC. Plus, it allows freshman Mike Scott (6-8, 233) to play his natural position, power forward, and Scott responded with his first ACC double-double (11 points, 12 rebounds) at BC.

Coach Dave Leitao, who had used 12 players in the first half of one game, said he consciously narrowed his rotation before using nine players against both UNC and BC. Gone from the rotation were freshman guard Mustapha Farrakhan, sophomore swingman Solomon Tat and sophomore post man Jerome Meyinsse.

Leitao said he hopes top 2007 recruit Jeff Jones will benefit from not constantly looking over his shoulder.

PRUETT TAKES DEFENSIVE REINS

As rumors escalated that Virginia football coach Al Groh would take over the team's defensive coordinator duties, Groh raised eyebrows by turning to retired ex-Marshall head coach Bob Pruett, who will be 65 in June.

Nobody expects Pruett to give Virginia the recruiting help it needs after losing Mike London, who resigned as defensive coordinator to become the head coach at Richmond, but there wasn't much excitement about the prospect of Groh taking over as the coordinator, either.

Even Groh admitted that, when the head coach is a coordinator, it creates the impression that "the other side of the ball" isn't as important. And, when the offense does not rank among the nation's top 100, which it has not done in Virginia's two seasons under Groh's son, Mike, what is does not need is less scrutiny by the head coach.

Pruett worked under Groh at Wake Forest, and Virginia frequently was his recruiting territory during stints as an assistant at Marshall, Wake, Tulane, Mississippi and Florida. Besides, Pruett worked at five Virginia high schools, two as the head coach, so he knows his way around the Commonwealth.

Pruett's pure coaching ability often gets overlooked, which makes some observers wonder if he and Groh will bump heads, although they've been friends forever. Groh said Pruett will have a recruiting area, not customary for an assistant with his portfolio, but what the Cavaliers need more than anything right now is players.

If the Cavs can't ease Virginia Tech's domination of in-state recruiting, it's not going to matter who's calling the offensive or defensive signals.