UVa. basketball news and notes
CHIPPING AWAY: Dave Leitao admits it sounds silly now.
Down 19 in the first half of his team's opener against 10th-ranked Arizona, a team that many feel is capable of making a run at the Final Four this year, the Virginia coach convinced himself and his team that all hope was not yet lost.
"The under-four timeout, I remember I told the team, If we can try to win these last four minutes, cut it to somewhere around 10, it would be manageable," Leitao said after Virginia's improbable 93-90 win over the Wildcats Sunday night.
" What happens is obviously in a team like Arizona, and they're a high-possession team - they don't work the shot clock - and so if you don't lose your patience, and you can kind of lock down, I thought we were going to have enough possessions to make a run," Leitao said.
"But this 13, and I don't know, I think it got up to 20 points, it's crazy, and I can't use the word manageable and make sense out of it, but it was striking distance," Leitao said. "And we thought, just stay within striking distance, and allow our defense to make some stops, then eventually we'd be OK."
REYNOLDS SOLDIERS ON: Virginia senior guard J.R. Reynolds is expected to shoulder a good part of the scoring load for the 2006-2007 Cavs - after scoring 17 points per game and being named third-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference as a junior.
So when word got out that Reynolds had suffered an eye injury that might keep him out of the opener with Arizona, well, let's just say that wasn't a hopeful message for Virginia fans who wanted to see the 'Hoos open the new John Paul Jones Arena with a win.
"I got in the heat of the moment, and I wasn't supposed to play today, but in the heat of the moment, I wanted to play," Reynolds told reporters after the game, in which he scored 10 points, all in the second half.
"I didn't want to let my teammates down in this big of a game. I've been waiting for this game for so long," Reynolds said.
YOUNG PLAYERS CATCH RYAN'S EYE: There were long stretches in the second half of Virginia's 92-72 win over in-state rival Old Dominion in the women's opener at the John Paul Jones Arena where UVa. coach Debbie Ryan had three first-year players on the floor at the same time.
Her message after the game - get used to it, because these kids are good.
"As you can see, the class was a very good class - probably better than touted. Because you had two players in the class that people didn't know a lot about - Jayna Hartig and Paulisha Kellum," Ryan said.
"When Paulisha Kellum caught the ball on the baseline that time and took the ball to the hole and finished, I think a lot of people were like, Whoa! Because she doesn't look like she's going to do things like that - but Paulisha Kellum is a very skilled player."
Kellum went under the recruiting radar last year after suffering an ACL injury - "and a lot of people didn't remember her much, because she didn't play much in the last year," Ryan said.
"Once she was recruited here and people started to see her again, a lot of people wanted to get in on her, but it was too late, because she had already committed," Ryan said."Jayna Hartig has been a surprise to me," said Ryan of Hartig, a versatile forward who can play in the post and on the wings.
"I knew Jayna was a very good - kind of like the glue on a team. She passes the ball extremely well. She can fill it up. She hustles. She rebounds. She does a lot of different things. And she may not be the fastest player on the court, but she is very intelligent," Ryan said.
Everybody knows about 5-11 guard Monica Wright, the preseason Atlantic Coast Conference rookie of the year who did not fail to impress in her home debut, scoring 11 points, snaring six rebounds and dishing out four assists against ODU.
"Monica Wright, when she steps up, she's just on another level. She's on complete other level," Ryan said.
"This class has been very different than a lot of other classes coming through the last couple of years. They've been very intelligent, they pick up things quickly, they want to get better, and they work extremely hard," Ryan said.
"They were here all summer with the team - so when we started the year this year, they were really ahead, because the team stayed during the time that they were here. Sometimes the team doesn't stay at that time, but they stayed late this year, and everybody just rolled right into the season. So they learned a lot just being around the players - and there's really great chemistry. And they're just intelligent kids. They really are," Ryan said.
NOT OVER THE HUMP YET: As great as it was to get the W in the opener with Arizona, Virginia coach Dave Leitao knows that he and his team have a lot of work to do between now and March.
Arizona, for starters, shot 47 percent from the field for the game - and for a stretch of the first half seemed to be outhustling Virginia on the boards and getting down the floor in transition.
"We're far from where we need to be - and I'm not going to stop, ever. I'm not going to stop until we get into a more comfortable place with this program. We're just going to continue to work as a group. Because we won today doesn't mean that we're going to be good tomorrow. We have to keep working at it," Leitao said.
OFFENSIVE JUGGERNAUT: One thing that Virginia coach Dave Leitao told his team at the start of their second-half run in their 93-90 victory over Arizona Sunday night might be a key for them all season.
"One thing I kept driving home with them is, challenge them. Force them to guard you," Leitao said. "With an offensive team like that - they scored 125 and 111 points in their two exhibition games - if you do that, you feel pretty good about yourself on offense. Which maybe means you didn't think that much about defense.
"So we thought if they were going to guard us, fine, but let's challenge them on it. And obviously, in the second half, I saw the looks on their faces change a little bit when we started going to the basket."
Virginia shot 57 percent from the field in the second half en route to scoring 57 points in the half.
The Cavs shot 35 percent in the first half while scoring 36 points.
- "His main talk was that he believed in us more than we actually believed in ourselves. For a lot of people in the locker room, that hit kind of deep. So everybody just came out with a fresh start - hopefully take it two points at a time and try to get a victory." - Jason Cain, talking about Dave Leitao's comments to the team at halftime.
- "Is that what we're talking about this time of year? Talk to me in March - when they say good win. But that's obviously the farthest thing from my mind right now." - Virginia coach Dave Leitao, responding to a reporter's question about the significance of the win on Virginia's NCAA tournament resume.
- "I'm proud of how we competed. I'm proud of how we were able to play against a very, very good team. I have a ton of respect - not just for this team, but for what Arizona basketball means. Coach Olsen, obviously, is a Hall of Fame coach - and anytime you get a chance to compete against somebody of that stature, and then be successful, it says a lot about your program, it says a lot about your team." - Leitao, on matching up against legendary Arizona coach Lute Olsen.
- "My mom couldn't be here today. I had no idea why she was so upset. She was hurt in a car accident about four or five weeks ago, and broke her neck, so she couldn't make the trip. When I came out of the locker room, they told me that I was supposed to give something to the alumni. And when I walked out, they said, That's not really what's going to happen. When Craig (Littlepage, the UVa. athletics director) finishes speaking, you need to walk out. And when I heard what they were saying, I was floored. I had no idea. But now I know why she was so upset. It was very touching. I feel very humbled by it. I really do." - Virginia women's coach Debbie Ryan, on having the women's team locker room named in her honor.
- "(Zoll is) one of the finest point guards that I think Virginia has had probably since the Dawn Staley ages. She just really puts things together for this Virginia team and puts the ball in the right place for these people to be successful and with their strengths. Zoll, I think, is really the key. She is just what makes them tick." - Old Dominion women's coach Wendy Larry, on Virginia point guard Sharnee Zoll.
- Chris Graham