The Virginia men's basketball team kicks off a four-game road trip Super Bowl Sunday, as they travel to Winston-Salem, N.C., to face Wake Forest at 1 p.m.
The surging Cavaliers (14-5, 4-2 ACC), winners of their last four games, are meeting a Demon Deacon squad (11-7, 2-4) that has been struggling recently. Wake Forest had a three-game losing streak going into last night's contest at Georgia Tech. The result of that game was unavailable at press time.
The Deacons are trying to discover some semblance of team chemistry, forcing Coach Dave Odom to change the starting lineup in each of Wake's past three games. Only junior center Rafael Vidaurreta has started every game for Wake Forest, with an eight-player shuffle filling out the remaining four starting slots.
While the Demon Deacons are hoping to resurrect their season, the Cavs expect to continue their recent success in this critical string of road games.
"We're like every other team in the ACC, we know every night's going to be a big game whether we're on the road or not," said Majestic Mapp, Cav first year and point guard. "We just have to know when we go onto the court to play Virginia basketball [we need to] give it all we got. We're going to look to play it one by one every game and try and steal every game."
The coming road trip also includes trips to play Maryland, Duke and Georgia Tech. Playing four straight games on the road seems a tall order to fill for most teams, but the Cavaliers said they believe they are up for the challenge.
"Every game is going to be a killer whether home or away," Cav Coach Pete Gillen said. "We have to win every game we can at home and try to steal a couple on the road. Every game will be tough, we just got to go day by day and take it one day at a time."
Much of the Cavaliers' success will rest on the broad shoulders of emerging third-year Stephane Dondon. A junior college transfer, Dondon broke out against Florida State Wednesday night, scoring a season-high 14 points and pulling down seven rebounds. Dondon's explosion may be surprising to fans, but was expected by the team.
"We had a lot of confidence in [Dondon] because in preseason he was kicking everybody's tail in practice," Mapp said. "We try to tell him that he has to carry that over into the game. In practice he's a lot more aggressive than he is in the games. Right about now he's been showing that aggressiveness, he's not afraid to shoot anymore, he's not afraid to take the ball to the basket, he's playing well defensively and he's rebounding the ball."
Gillen said he hopes Dondon will continue playing well now that he finally seems acclimated to the pressures of the league.
"He gets nervous, it's a different culture," he said. "He played in junior college, in a small gym with 30 people coming to the game. Now he's playing on national TV, it's a whole new world here.
"He was a little tight. I told him it's going to take him 15 games before he relaxes," he added. "He's one of our hardest workers, so I was happy that he played well."
First-year forward Travis Watson, the team's only consistent presence under the boards, should benefit from Dondon's help in sharing the rebounding responsibilities.
Although these next four games are critical to their hopes for a NCAA tournament bid, the Cavs said they are looking forward to completing this string of road games and finally returning to their home floor.
"September is our next home game," Gillen joked.