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March 13, 2004

by Mac McDonald

One of the University of Virginia basketball beat writers and I had a great conversation while standing in the media buffet line. Three-and-a-half hours after the Cavaliers pushed the #4 team in the country to the limit, the buzz was still about the team…the coach…the point guard…the freshman…the warrior, and the defense…not necessarily in that order.

“You know what,” the writer said. “I think Pete and the team did more for themselves today than last night.”

With only a fourteen-hour turn around, the young guns showed a lot of guts by going toe-to-toe with Duke, the #1 seed in this year’s tournament. The Cavs hustled, played defense…rebounded…took charges…but had no legs and no offense down the stretch to maintain any kind of consistency and ended up losing by ten…84-74…in a game that was much closer than the score.

“I thought they played hard, really hard,” the writer said. “Now, if they get a good draw in the NIT they could make some noise. Win a couple games, who knows…advance to New York…all of a sudden a lot will be forgotten.”

A lot of people have defended the program as of late…and publicly. Before the Friday afternoon session began, ESPN’s Dick Vitale stopped by the Virginia locker room to say hi to the kids and give Pete his support. Mike Patrick of ESPN has also been very positive about Coach Gillen and the job he has done this year. A week ago, he told a national TV audience that Virginia might be one of the most improved teams in the country. ACC coaches have also come to the defense of the big red head.

During the Duke post-game show, head coach Mike Krzyzewski was quizzed about the Virginia situation.

“He is playing an awful lot of freshman,” Coach K remarked. “He (Gillen) has everyone back except Billet and Mapp. He had two freshmen play over 50 minutes. He has Elton back. Sometimes with a young team, especially in this league, it takes a while to find your chemistry. In the month of February, and now March, Virginia has played everybody well or won. This guy has won over 400 games…he is one of the top coaches and best guys in the business. To replace him would be idiotic.”

And how fast did J.R. Reynolds grow up? After he got his injuries behind him…the thumb tendon and virus, he has become one of the top first year players in the league. J.R. has confidence, poise, and is not afraid of anything. His ACC Tournament performance…. 18 points against Clemson, and then 20 against Duke should vault him into the basketball public eye. His improvement along with the emergence of T.J. Bannister…Jason Clark’s dedication to rebounding and defense, Elton’s improved attitude and commitment…plus the athletic prowess of Gary Forbes and Derrick Byars…Virginia has a lot to look forward to. Get Devin Smith’s #4 and #5 discs taken care of in his back, and you have a pretty good basketball team that should sell tickets.

Friday follow up:

With Georgia Tech’s dramatic finish against North Carolina, the Tar Heels have now lost four of the last five ACC Tournament games. Paul Hewitt, Yellow Jacket head coach received the benefit of a clock operator error. After Sean May hit the game leading free throw with 9.8 seconds to go Tech in bounded the ball and point guard Jarrett Jack let it roll in the back court for a moment. The Greensboro Coliseum clock operator started the clock thinking Jack was going to pick the ball up. Official Jaime Luckie blew the whistle, noticing the mistake, and Duke Edsall, who was the senior official, went to the scorer’s table to check the clock on television replay. It meant Georgia Tech got to inbound the ball at half court, and only lost five tenths of a second. Jack delivered the game winner with 1.5 seconds to go before Marvin Lewis stole the next inbounds pass to seal the win.

Following Maryland’s Sunday night win over Virginia a week ago, Gary Williams picked up the public address microphone and told the Terrapin nation that his team would be ready for anything at the ACC Tournament. Well…the Terps showed a whole shell full of resilience handling Wake Forest in the last game of the quarter final round and advanced to Saturday to meet the team that they beat on the road ten days ago…NC State.

Enjoy “Semi-Final Saturday”.

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