Terps look to pull upset
Battered squad attempts to end two-game skid against reeling Maryland
The No. 22 Virginia men's basketball team looks to end a two-game skid tomorrow as the squad returns to John Paul Jones Arena to face Maryland in the first of two games the teams will play against each other during the final three weeks of the regular season.
The Cavaliers (19-6, 6-5 ACC) are reeling after decisive losses in two straight conference games, first against No. 8 North Carolina last Saturday and then against a middle-of-the-pack Clemson squad three days later. Virginia had at least 12 turnovers in each of those losses.
"When you're in a game that's lower scoring, possessions really matter," coach Tony Bennett said after the Clemson game. "Whether it's a turnover on our end or we make a defensive mistake, those possessions hurt and sting. The telltale numbers are the 18 turnovers [against Clemson] ... That's 18 times we don't get a chance to get a shot."
After getting off to a 14-2 start to the season - the school's best since opening 27-1 during the Ralph Sampson era - Virginia is a mere 4-4 since losing senior center Assane Sene Jan. 19 during a 70-38 victory against Georgia Tech. While sophomore forward Akil Mitchell and freshman forward Darion Atkins have stepped up in Sene's absence, neither has the size or experience to compensate for the seven-foot center's missing presence.
Sophomore guard Joe Harris' recent injury also handicaps the squad. Harris, the Cavaliers' second-leading scorer with 12 points per game, broke a bone in his non-shooting hand during the game against North Carolina and came off the bench against Clemson to tally two points and two rebounds. Harris is arguably the team's best three-point shooter, averaging 39.6 percent from beyond the arc, and the Cavaliers struggled without him at full strength.
"We shot 50 percent [against Clemson], but our three-point shooting was poor," Bennett said. "Without Joe we're not as much of a threat from three. Those missed shots and turnovers are really crucial."
Injuries have also taxed the Terrapins (14-10, 4-6 ACC) this season. The beleaguered squad played its first nine games without starting sophomore guard Pe'Shon Howard, who broke his foot before the season began. Following his return to the lineup, Howard led the Terrapins with 3.7 assists per game until last week when he was shelved for the season with a knee injury incurred during practice.
Howard's absence forces sophomore guard Terrell Stoglin, the seventh-ranked scorer in the nation at 21.6 points per game, to take over the point as the Terrapins' roster lacks a natural point guard. The offense which began to jell under Howard's leadership now looks muddled at times. Maryland assistant coach Scott Spinelli, however, said after nine games the team is used to playing without Howard.
The silver lining for the Terrapins in the wake of Howard's injury has been the improved play of sophomore guard Mychal Parker. He received increased playing time against No. 5 Duke and had a breakout performance, scoring a career-best 12 points.
"[Parker's] got a lot of skill ... He was highly touted coming out of high school," Spinelli said. "Much with our team, confidence has a lot to do with the success of these guys. In Mych's case, hopefully he can build on that performance Saturday."
Much like Virginia, Maryland has struggled with its lack of a true big man. The Terrapins start three guards and two forwards, neither of whom top six-foot-nine. Seven-foot-one freshman center Alex Len was having a stellar rookie campaign, but his production has dropped off recently, in part because of a nagging ankle injury suffered in late January during a loss at Temple.
Saturday's game may hinge on the play of Virginia's X-factor, senior guard Sammy Zeglinski. The senior's exceptional early-season performance has fallen off during conference play. In a backcourt hampered by injury, the Cavaliers depend on Zeglinski's leadership. Virginia is 12-0 when Zeglinski scores at least eight points.
The Cavaliers will need Zeglinski to step up this weekend against the Terrapins, as both teams desperately cling to their March Madness dreams.
Tip off is scheduled for 1 p.m tomorrow.