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Unconvincing win suggests Cavalier program still a work in progress

RICHMOND--All right, everyone off the bandwagon.

Maybe it was the six-day layoff. Maybe it was the chill that hung over the ice hockey/basketball floor of the Richmond Coliseum. Whatever the reason, in last night's shaky 71-66 overtime non-loss against Virginia Tech, the Virginia men's basketball team sure didn't look like the world-beaters who earned the biggest win of the Pete Gillen era last Tuesday against the plummeting North Carolina dynasty.

Fifteen minutes after Virginia guard Donald Hand saved the Cavaliers (13-5, 3-2 ACC) the indignity of losing to a bunch of overachieving Hokies (9-9) who looked as if they actually expected to take their in-state big brothers to overtime, Pete Gillen and the Cavs praised their opponents.

"No question they've got an excellent team," Gillen said. "They're starting to do what [Tech Coach] Ricky [Stokes] asks them to do. They're a much better team than whatever their record is. With more confidence, they can beat a lot of people."

Oh c'mon. Tech does seem like a significantly better team than their .500 record would indicate, but they're still Tech. Last year, when Virginia had more walk-ons than scholarship players, this kind of trouble might have been expected against even the perennially mediocre Hokies. Now that Gillen's cupboard is full and the Cavaliers came out of the ACC chute with top-notch performances against Duke and Carolina, Virginia Tech should have posed little problem for Virginia.

But in retrospect, is it really that much of a surprise that the Cavs came out flat, lost a 12-point second-half lead and needed Hand's heroics to pull out the win in overtime? For all their talent, Virginia remains a team whose overall youth is often painfully apparent.

Almost a week after the UNC victory, the Cavaliers did not look like a team that really listened when their coach tried to convince them the Hokies could actually beat them. Who can blame them? Five of the top six Virginia players are first- or second-years.

Virginia Tech "played good pressure defense," Gillen said. "They were aggressive, they were physical. They played very hard. They took us out of a lot of things. They took it to us early. They rung our bell by being aggressive and getting loose basketballs on the floor, long rebounds. They out-hustled us and out-scrapped us for the first 10 minutes of the game."

First-year guard Roger Mason, whose clutch shots and defense helped the Cavs slow the Hokie second-half momentum, echoed Gillen's sentiments.

"We came out a little flat, but that's going to happen sometimes on the road," Mason said. "The good thing about it is we picked our intensity up and by the end, we definitely matched theirs."

Virginia summoned enough intensity to build a 53-41 lead midway through the second half, but senior guard Brendan Dunlop and the Hokies closed the half with a 19-7 run to force overtime.

"I think some of us got a little complacent and thought we had a solid lead that was going to carry us," Mason said. "But obviously we didn't and we have to learn to put teams away. No lead is stable enough."

The Hokies just did not have the horses to complete the upset, especially after both Dunlop and power forward Rolan Roberts fouled out. Virginia was able to escape with the victory and likely got a bit older and wiser last night.

"I think it would have been a major setback in our team confidence" to lose to Virginia Tech, Hand said. "I'm just glad that everybody's sticking together and sharing the ball. That's what good teams do. I'm not saying we're that good right now, but we're getting better every day"


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