March 2, 2010
6:40 a.m.

CHARLOTTESVILLE — In a span of about 10 seconds Sunday night, Assane Sene showed how far he’s come as a basketball player and how far he still has to go.

Late in the second half, Duke forward Kyle Singler, an all-ACC candidate, curled off a pick, caught a pass in the lane and put up a left-handed shot.

It never reached the rim. Sene, a 7-0 sophomore, swatted the ball off the backboard, then corraled the rebound. He handed the ball to Sammy Zeglinski, who started a fast break.

Sene sprinted toward UVa’s basket and, when he reached the lane, got a slick pass from Jontel Evans. Sene went up for a layup, but his shot bounced off the backboard, never coming close to going in.

On offense, Sene remains a work in progress. In about 13 minutes a game, he’s averaging 1.8 points and shooting 32.5 percent from the floor.

The native of Senegal hasn’t been playing hoops nearly as long as his American teammates, and it shows. Sene, a left-hander, struggles at times to cleanly catch the ball, and his footwork often looks awkward. He weighs only about 235 pounds and lacks the strength to get — and hold — his position in the paint against bigger post players.

Against Duke, he was 1 for 4 from the floor and turned the ball over twice.

On defense, he shows more promise. Effort and energy are never issues for Sene, who had 10 rebounds and 2 blocked shots in the Cavaliers’ 67-49 loss to the fifth-ranked Blue Devils.

“Assane, with his rebounding and being so active, I thought that was a positive for us. And I do think he’s improved,” Tony Bennett said on the ACC coaches’ teleconference Monday.

“He needs to continue to work at strength. That will help his game as much as anything, just attacking the weight room in the offseason. And with that, I think, better finishing will come. Continue working on catching and scoring a little in there. But he has improved, little by little, and then getting some extended minutes, his activity was noticeable.

“One thing about Assane is, whether he’s played a little or a lot, he gives everything he has. His effort level is very high, and I thought last night he showed some things that were good for the future.”

Sene said he was motivated Sunday after hearing that 7-footer Greg Zoubek and Duke’s other big men would overpower the Wahoos inside. Zoubek, the Devils’ starting center, had no points, 4 rebounds and 4 fouls in 14 minutes.

“When you play against players like that, you have to play,” Sene said. “You’ve got to give everything you’ve got, and that’s what I was doing, trying to help my team to win.”

Jeff White

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