Dec. 30, 2010

By Jeff White

CHARLOTTESVILLE — In the full-court scrimmage that ended practice Wednesday afternoon at John Paul Jones Arena, Will Sherrill made his final four shots, including three from behind the 3-point arc.

It was a welcome sight for the UVa men’s basketball team. He’s not 100 percent, but Sherrill has been cleared to play Thursday night against Iowa State (11-2) at JPJ — four weeks and three days after suffering the injury that forced him to the bench for five games.

If you think Virginia’s second-year coach, Tony Bennett, is happy to have the 6-9 senior back, you’re correct. No longer does the Cavaliers’ frontcourt, which also lost all-ACC candidate Mike Scott for two games this month, look so perilously thin.

Sherrill, a team captain, fractured his right fibula Nov. 29, midway through the second half of UVa’s upset of then-No. 15 Minnesota. The Wahoos went 4-1 without him, but the quality of their play declined dramatically late in that stretch.

Virginia (8-4) had to rally to beat Norfolk State on Dec. 20 and lost to Seattle two nights later. Both games were at JPJ.

“It was definitely tough [watching from the bench], just because I’d love to be out there,” Sherrill said after practice Wednesday. “But the last couple games, it was especially hard, just because I felt like we didn’t play with a lot of emotion and a lot of passion, and no matter how I’m playing, I feel like that’s one thing that I really bring to the floor: a lot of energy and intensity.

“We definitely should not have lost, I think, against Seattle, but you learn from your losses, and hopefully we come out better tomorrow.”

A former walk-on, Sherrill came off the bench in UVa’s first three games, then replaced 7-0 junior Assane Sene in the starting lineup. Sherrill was playing the best ball of his college career when he went down in Minneapolis.

Sherrill has made 12 of 22 shots from 3-point range this season, a torrid 54.5 percent. He’s tied for third on the team in rebounds per game (3.4) and is probably the Cavaliers’ best off-the-ball defender.

An X-ray taken Monday revealed that the bone has not completely healed, Sherrill said. There’s still a slight crack, but his doctors and athletic trainer Ethan Saliba told him that “this was about where we thought I’d be in terms of being able to manage the pain and play with some discomfort,” Sherrill said.

He returned to practice Dec. 21 but had to stop, Sherrill said, “because I just wasn’t quite ready.”

He’s ready now. “It’s healed at enough of a level where it’s pretty safe to play,” Sherrill said. “The lucky thing is that the bone is not a big weight-bearing bone, so only a direct hit would really hurt it, and I’ve got a fiberglass pad that I’m wearing for that.”

Sherrill was on crutches for about 10 days after fracturing his fibula and then stayed in a boot for another week or so. There’s still pain, especially when Sherrill moves laterally on the court or pushes off on his right leg, but “it’s nothing you can’t play with, definitely,” he said.

The medical staff has not put a limit on how much he can play Thursday night, Sherrill said. He’s not worried about being able to keep up. Games stop more often than practices, Sherrill noted, and “also your adrenaline is going a lot more in a game than it is in practice, so that’ll help out a lot, too.”

The Iowa State game is expected to be the first this season in which Bennett will have all of his players available. Junior guard Sammy Zeglinski missed the first seven games while recovering from knee surgery.

Sherrill is thankful his injury was not more severe, “but I would much rather not have to miss any games,” he said. “But the key now is just to keep getting better as a team and take advantage of these [non-conference] games and get some wins before heading into the ACC schedule.”

Iowa State is in its first season under alumnus Fred Hoiberg, who like Bennett played in the NBA. The Cyclones’ guards concern Bennett, and understandably so.

Jake Anderson, though only 6-2, leads Iowa State in rebounding (8.5 per game). Scott Christopherson (15.2 ppg), who began his college career at Marquette, is a brilliant shooter whose career percentage from beyond the arc is a scorching 47.1.

And then there’s Diante Garrett, a 6-4 senior from Wisconsin — the state of Bennett’s birth — who leads the Cyclones in scoring (17.2 ppg) and assists (6 per game).

“We offered him real early when I was at Washington State, and he’s really having a heck of a year,” Bennett said.

The Wahoos are averaging 64.1 points per game. The Cyclones prefer a faster pace. They’re averaging 79.5 points.

“They’re not afraid to shoot the 3-ball and get out and go,” Bennett said. “They’re just a good offensive team. They usually have five guys on the floor that are threats [to score]. Their big kid” — 6-11, 240-pound Jamie Vanderbeken — “will step out and shoot 3s.

“And so I think you have to certainly guard them. If you don’t make them earn [their points], you’re going to be in trouble. Because once they get their momentum and their flow on the offensive end, they’re very challenging that way.”

This will be the schools’ third meeting in men’s hoops. UVa beat Iowa State 85-74 at University Hall on Dec. 31, 2003. The Cyclones avenged that loss the next season, winning 81-79 in Ames despite 40 points from Virginia swingman Devin Smith.

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