By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Sammy Zeglinski has checked the schedule. He knows relief is coming for his sore right ankle. After taking on George Mason at John Paul Jones Arena on Dec. 6, the UVa men’s basketball team will break for final exams. The Cavaliers won’t play again until Dec. 18.
“That’s going to be pivotal,” Zeglinski said Monday evening at JPJ.
Until that break arrives, the fifth-year senior from Philadelphia will tape his ankle, grit his teeth and do everything he can to a contribute to a team that’s heading into its first marquee match-up of the season.
Zeglinski, who sprained his ankle in a Nov. 5 scrimmage, reinjured it Friday night in the second half of UVa’s romp over Green Bay. But the 6-0 guard practiced Sunday and Monday and plans to play Tuesday night when UVa (5-1) hosts 14th-ranked Michigan (5-1) in a Big Ten/ACC Challenge game that ESPN2 will televise.
“I’m fighting through it a little bit,” Zeglinski said. “It’s still sore. It’s just one of those things.”
“I don’t know if he’s a quick healer,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said, “but he’s really tough, and he plays with pain.”
Zeglinski has made 144 3-pointers during his college career, and the Cavaliers figure to need all the firepower they can muster against Michigan. Coach John Beilein’s Wolverines are coming off a third-place finish at the Maui Invitational, where they beat Memphis and UCLA and lost to Duke.
“Certainly this will be the most talented team we’ve faced this season,” Bennett said, “with terrific skilled shooters.”
Associate head coach Ritchie McKay prepared UVa’s scouting report on the Wolverines. “They have athleticism, shooting and basketball IQ,” McKay said. “It’s a very well-coached team that believes in their system. And they’re not going to beat themselves.”
Like the Wolverines, the Wahoos hope to advance to the NCAA tournament, and a victory Tuesday night would enhance their résumé come March. But Bennett isn’t stressing the postseason implications of this game to his team.
“Our guys are smart enough to know we’re playing a real good team and there’s a heck of an opportunity in front of us,” Bennett said. “They know we’re going to have to play well, and that’s really where you leave it.
“To say, ‘If you win this you’re set,’ or ‘If you lose this you’re in trouble,’ I don’t think that’s [productive]. That’s the difference between basketball and football. It’s a long season. But you want to play well, and every game’s important to us.”
Zeglinski said: “I think more than anything, we’re just excited about the opportunity. We know it’s going to be a big game and the crowd’s going to be into it. We’re just going to stick to our principles and see what we can do.”
Beilein had successful stints at several schools, including Richmond and West Virginia, before landing in Ann Arbor, where his assistants include Jeff Meyer, who like McKay is a former Liberty University head coach.
The Wolverines have made 42 treys this season — to 25 for UVa — but the “misnomer is that they’re a team that lives and dies by the 3,” McKay said. The Wolverines have hit 60 percent of their attempts from inside the arc, so “you’ve gotta have a plan to not only defend the 3, but also not give them easy looks,” McKay said.
Like Beilein’s teams did at Richmond and WVU, the Wolverines “execute offensively at a high level,” McKay said. “Typically they run a bunch of zone [defense], but they’re not doing as much now. They’re solid man-to-man. Then they have Tim Hardaway Jr., who can cure a lot of ills and really makes it tough for opponents every night out.”
Hardaway Jr., a 6-6 sophomore guard, leads Michigan in scoring at 17.2 ppg. Next is freshman Trey Burke, a 5-11 point guard who averages 11 points and a team-high 4.2 assists.
“One of [Michigan’s] great strengths is that Hardaway and Burke get to the paint off the dribble,” Bennett said. “It’s one of those things, you can’t take away everything, but you’ve got to try and make them take contested 3s.”
When Bennett played for the Charlotte Hornets, the NBA’s top guards included Golden State’s Tim Hardaway Sr., who had starred at Texas-El Paso.
“I think I was a rookie when we played an exhibition game in El Paso, and it was the first time he’d come back to play,” Bennett recalled Monday night. “A lot of times NBA teams would go to the hero’s hometown and play, so we played in El Paso at UTEP.
“That’s when [Hardaway’s signature move], the killer crossover, the ‘UTEP Two-Step,’ was famous. That dude, he gets a head of steam, and he put me in the basket standard, because I tried to jump in the way and he lowered his shoulder.”
Bennett laughed. “I thought I got a charge, but no way, not in El Paso, was I going to get that call, and he was so strong and so fast … You almost couldn’t stop him when he got a head of steam going on.”
These schools haven’t met in men’s basketball since the 1989 NCAA tournament, when Michigan won 102-65 in the quarterfinals. The Wolverines are the highest-ranked non-conference opponent to visit Charlottesville since No. 10 Arizona on Nov. 12, 2006, in the first game played at JPJ.
“I know me, personally, I’m excited, and I feel like everybody else on the team is excited,” sophomore forward Akil Mitchell said Friday night after Virginia’s 68-42 win over Green Bay at JPJ. “I think we as a team kind of rise to the challenges as opponents get better. I’m looking forward to facing them.”
LEGEND RETURNS: Former Virginia great Ralph Sampson will be honored at halftime Tuesday night. On Nov. 20, Sampson became the first player from UVa to be inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in Kansas City, Mo.
In his four seasons at UVa (1979-80 through 1982-83), Sampson, a 7-4 center, was named national player of the year and ACC player of the year three times.