By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Much has changed in both programs since UVa last hosted Maryland in men’s basketball at John Paul Jones Arena.
The Terrapins have moved on without Greivis Vasquez, Landon Milbourne and Eric Hayes, all seniors in 2009-10. The Cavaliers’ roster no longer includes Sylven Landesberg, Jeff Jones, Jerome Meyinsse and Calvin Baker, and Mike Scott is out with a season-ending ankle injury.
This remains the same: On the list of ACC opponents Virginia would most like to defeat, the Terps are near the top.
“They’re probably right under Virginia Tech, I would say,” guard Sammy Zeglinski, a redshirt junior, said after the Wahoos’ practice Wednesday at JPJ.
“Obviously Virginia Tech’s our rival, but with Maryland, it’s always good games, because they always bring a lot of fans in here. Especially when we go to Maryland, they have some hostile fans as well.”
A season ago, the first of the teams’ two meetings was in College Park. This season it’s in Charlottesville, where UVa (2-3, 11-8) hosts Maryland (2-3, 12-7) at 7 p.m. Thursday.
About three weeks after Maryland humbled Virginia 85-66 at Comcast Center last February, they met again at JPJ in the regular-season finale. The ‘Hoos were short-handed — Landesberg, their leading scorer, was serving an academic suspension — but they battled to the end. Maryland ultimately prevailed 74-68, thanks in part to a controversial technical called on Virginia coach Tony Bennett by official Jamie Luckie with 38 seconds left.
“I think we would have won it if we wouldn’t have got the tech,” UVa point guard Jontel Evans said Wednesday, “but I don’t feel like Coach Bennett deserved that tech anyway, so I feel like we should have won that game.”
Bennett’s thoughts on the rivalry with the Terps?
“It’s close. It’s intense,” he said. “Every game in the ACC is hotly contested, but with Maryland and Virginia Tech, there’s an intensity. Last year [the Terps] really took it to us at their place, and then we had an interesting end here at our place.”
Ever the diplomat, Virginia’s second-year coach laughed after making that remark Wednesday. He found nothing amusing about Luckie’s call last season.
Whether Thursday’s game has a happier ending for the ‘Hoos may hinge on their ability to limit Jordan Williams’ production. The 6-10, 260-pound sophomore averages 17.6 points and an ACC-best 12.1 rebounds. He’s had 13 straight double-doubles, a record at Maryland.
If Williams scores 18 points Thursday but has to take 18 shots to do so, UVa probably won’t be dissatisfied with its defense on him. If he scores 18 points on, say, 12 shots, that will be a different matter.
“I say it all the time: If he has to earn his baskets, it’s one thing,” Bennett said. “But you’ve got to take away as many of his offensive rebounds as possible, and when he runs the floor and get those, and when he gets position [on the block] and drop-steps, those easy ones.
“Those are the ones that hurt you, because he’s probably going to make a few tough ones, and you’re going to have to live with those. It’s the easy ones that you’ve got to take away.”
The Cavaliers haven’t played since Saturday, when they beat Georgia Tech 72-64 at JPJ. They’ll entertain Maryland on Thursday night, then bus to Winston-Salem, N.C., on Friday afternoon.
Virginia plays at Wake Forest (0-5, 7-13) on Saturday.
“Actually, this is kind of like when I was in the Pac-10,” said Bennett, who spent six seasons at Washinton State, the final three as head coach, before coming to UVa.
“You’d play Thursday-Saturday, and then you’d play Thursday-Saturday [the next week]. So you take Sunday off, and then you have three quality days to prepare, and you get ready to go. And then on the other end of it, you only have one day to prepare for Wake. So there’s always a give and a take.”
Bennett hasn’t been in the ACC for long, but he’s learned that things rarely come easily against teams coached by Gary Williams.
“With as many games as he’s won and what he’s done, you have to be ready for a team that’s going to be prepared and tough,” Bennett said. “They’re tough-minded. That’s what I’ve always noticed watching them and then playing against them.”
Gary Williams’ take on Bennett’s Cavaliers?
“They play every night, and by that I mean they don’t make excuses,” Williams said. “They just go play.”
After his players headed to the locker room Wednesday evening, Bennett stayed on the court for a shooting competition with one of his assistant coaches. Ron Sanchez shot well. The left-handed Bennett shot better, hitting 10 straight foul-line jumpers.
Bennett, who starred at Wisconsin-Green Bay, still ranks among the greatest shooters in NCAA history. He doesn’t expect such marksmanship from his starting point guard, but UVa won’t reach its goals if Evans can’t force defenses to play him honestly.
In his past three halves, the 5-11 sophomore from Hampton is 0 for 10 from the floor.
“I feel like this is a big game for me and my teammates,” Evans said. “For my teammates, I know [the Terrapins are] going to come out and be physical, so we’re going to have to come out and be physical with them. And for me, I know they’re going to sag off into the paint and dare me to shoot it. So I just gotta be ready, pick my shots, pick my spots on the floor, and if it’s there, take the open shot and shoot it with confidence.”
His next basket will be a relief, Evans acknowledged, but that’s true “for every shooter,” he said. “They like to see the shots drop. If I see it drop, then I’ll be good. If I don’t, then I just gotta keep shooting it with confidence.”
Evans’ backup at the point is Zeglinski, who also sees time at shooting guard. Zeglinski missed the first seven games of the season while recovering from surgery on his left knee. He has struggled with his shot since his return — Zeglinski is 20 for 67 (29.9 percent) from the floor this season — but he’s made two 3-pointers in each of the past two games and shows signs of breaking out.
It helps that his knee feels better. Zeglinski ditched his protective brace Monday. Senior forward Will Sherrill, who returned to action about a month after the Nov. 29 game in which he fractured his right fibula, is getting healthier, too.
Without the 6-8 Scott (15.9 ppg, 10.2 rpg), Virginia needs all the weapons it can muster. No one has to remind the ‘Hoos of the importance of Thursday night’s game.
“You have to win at home,” Zeglinski said. “Going on the road in the ACC, it’s always going to be tough to win. We got one at Virginia Tech, so we’re happy to get that. But especially when teams come in here, we gotta make it as hard as possible for them to beat us.”