March 2, 2011

By Jeff White (

CHARLOTTESVILLE — UVa fans no longer do double-takes when Assane Sene catches the basketball in the low post and goes straight up for a dunk or layup.

That’s not to say Sene has become a dominant big man. He remains very much a work in progress, especially on offense. But the 7-0, 239-pound junior from Senegal has developed into a player for whom opponents must account at both ends of the floor.

“He’s come a long way,” Cavaliers assistant coach Jason Williford said Wednesday.

Starting with Virginia’s Jan. 29 game at Wake Forest, where he had 15 points and 13 rebounds, Sene has made 22 of 42 shots from the floor. In UVa’s 69-58 win over NC State on Tuesday night, he contributed 7 points, 5 rebounds and 4 blocked shots in 30 minutes.

“It’s a credit to him,” Williford said. “Playing time helps. He didn’t get a whole lot last year. And then it’s just about him putting in the extra work.”

To his improve his hands, Sene works regularly with assistant coach Ron Sanchez after practice. Head coach Tony Bennett, too, devotes considerable attention to Sene, who has always been an eager student.

“He wants to get better,” Williford said, “and it’s paid off.”

Sene averaged only 12.6 minutes as a sophomore in 2009-10, Bennett’s first season at UVa. Injuries to two of the team’s top three frontcourt players — 6-8 Mike Scott and 6-9 Will Sherrill — have forced Sene into a more prominent role this season, and he’s responded with increased production.

He’s averaging 4.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.3 blocked shots in 22 minutes per game. He’s shooting 51 percent from the floor and has scored at least 7 points in each of the past four games.

“I’m not going to say that I made progress,” Sene said Tuesday night at John Paul Jones Arena. “I’m just going to say that I keep progressing. Because I’m not done yet. I’m going to keep working hard, trying to get better and get ready for the rest of the season, and then get ready for next year. It’s not just something that I was doing only for one year. I’m going to do it for all my basketball career. So that means I’m going to keep working hard to get ready for next season and then for the next step.”

In one sequence midway through the second half Tuesday night, Sene swatted away back-to-back layup attempts by Richard Howell, a 6-8, 261-pound forward.

“He’s always been able to [block shots],” Williford said. “I just think his timing has improved as he’s gotten more playing time.”

Sene lacked strength and bulk when he arrived at UVa in 2008. He played at about 225 pounds as a sophomore, but sessions with strength-and-conditioning coach Mike Curtis have helped him become more assertive around the basket and more physically confident.

“[Curtis] knows exactly what I need to make my game better,” Sene said. “So I [have been] working on my strength, at the same time my catching and finishing. I think all that stuff is showing up, so I’m going to keep shooting it.”

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