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Feb. 14, 2010
4:48 p.m.

CHARLOTTESVILLE — When his teammates headed to the locker room after practice Friday afternoon, sophomore center Assane Sene stayed on the court at John Paul Jones Arena for a tutorial with Tony Bennett.

For about 10 minutes, Bennett, a former NBA point guard, worked with the 7-foot left-hander from Senegal, making Sene catch rapid-fire passes — some high, some low, some left, some right — from close range.

He remains an active defender and averages 3.8 rebounds and a team-high 1 blocked shots in about 13 minutes per game, but Sene has regressed as an offensive player this season.

His inability to consistently to catch the ball cleanly — and then make a decisive move to the basket — has been the biggest problem.

Sene played with a painful injury to his left thumb for most of his freshman season, but still showed the ability to catch and dunk.

Missed dunks and fumbled passes have marred his sophomore season. Sene is averaging only 1.8 points, and he’s shooting 31.3 percent from the floor.

His extra work Friday afternoon didn’t pay immediate dividends. Against Virginia Tech the next night in Blacksburg, Sene had two turnovers in his 8 minutes, both times losing control of the ball.

On the ACC coaches’ teleconference last Monday, I asked Bennett about Sene’s hands.

“I think you always continue to work on that,” Bennett said. “He’s been very active defensively, and he’s an unselfish player, and he’s had a few where he’s dropped some.

“Like he had a nice [opportunity] right underneath the hoop [against Wake Forest on Feb. 6], and I think he pump-faked and used the dribble and lost it, and he gets frustrated. But he’s working on that. He’s working on his hands.

“He works hard in practice. He’s a sophomore, so my hopes are he just keeps improving and keeps staying hungry, getting stronger. Some of that stuff has to do with strength. Hopefully the longer you’re out there, the more comfortable you get. And there’s been times where he has seen limited action. But I’ve seen it improve, and it’s something you’ve got to work at, certainly, in the offseason, but during the season too — just a lot of catching and passing [drills], and hand-strengthening [drills] hopefully will make a difference.”

UVa (5-4, 14-8) meets ACC rival Maryland (6-3, 16-7) at 8 p.m. Monday in College Park.

Jeff White

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