By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Two nights after he made two crucial baskets in UVa’s upset of Virginia Tech at Cassell Coliseum, Assane Sene took a step back offensively.
The 7-0, 239-pound center missed all four of his field-goal attempts and both of his free throws Tuesday night against Radford at John Paul Jones Arena. But Sene contributed in other ways, grabbing 7 rebounds and blocking a game-high 3 shots in UVa’s 54-44 win.
“Assane really did a good job of contesting a lot of shots down low,” Virginia guard Mustapha Farrakhan said. “That’s the type of aggressiveness we need from Assane.”
This is Sene’s junior season, and it seems unlikely that the affable Senegal native will develop into an offensive force for the Wahoos (6-3). At the other end of the court, though, he’s become increasingly valuable.
“He’s active defensively,” second-year coach Tony Bennett said Tuesday night, “and he’s helped us in our last three games, certainly, on the defensive end every time, showing on ball screens, and if there’s a breakdown, cleaning it up, and then just being a good help defender.
“He was good tonight. I didn’t think the rest of us were very good in our help defense. But, yeah, he had a hard time offensively, and we just gotta keep working at it. Hopefully he’ll keep working on the catching and the finishing, but defensively I was pleased with his performance.”
After starting the first three games this season, Sene lost his job to Will Sherrill, and after six games Sene was averaging only 10.8 minutes. In the seventh game, though, Sherrill fractured his right fibula, and Sene’s role changed.
In the past three games — wins over then-No. 15 Minnesota, Virginia Tech and Radford — Sene has averaged 22.3 minutes. Against the Hokies, Bennett kept Sene in the game late, even after UVa’s offense began to sputter. In the end, Bennett decided the ‘Hoos needed Sene’s defense more than they needed the offense another player might provide.
“You’re looking at, ‘Do we need to score or get a stop?’ ” Bennett said after the game.
Sene blocked two shots against Virginia Tech.
“They helped my team,” he said after the game. “And it also makes my opponent be a little bit scared to penetrate. So that was a big factor defensive-wise.”
Bennett said: “We’re best when our defense is set, and then [the opponent has] to work to break us down … We didn’t want to give [Tech] anything easy, and then when you can block a shot or two to save your defense, like Assane did once or twice and other guys did, that’s a bonus for our defense, which is predicated on making people score over the top.”
For the season, Sene is averaging 2.4 points and 2.6 rebounds and has a team-high 8 rejections. He’s shooting considerably better from the line (70.6 percent) than from the floor (31.3 percent). He knows he’s not a great offensive player, so he’ll continue staying late for post-practice workouts with Bennett and team managers, who put Sene through drills designed to improve his hands.
“It’s just working hard,” Sene said. “There’s no secret about it. You work hard, you’re going to get your chance. And every time I get my chance, I just step in and do my best.”