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Cavaliers prepare for Auburn contest

After falling to Penn State, team hopes for win against Tigers in Alabama next week

Another week, and another on-the-bubble opponent that managed to make a run in the NIT last season. This time for Virginia, it's the Auburn Tigers, who made it to quarterfinals last season after finishing second in the West Division of the SEC.

Though both teams hold 4-3 records this season and have yet to play a conference game, Monday's matchup is a tale of two squads with backstories on opposite ends of the spectrum. Whereas the Tigers made a late postseason run last year, the Cavaliers never found their winning ways, leaving many fans disappointed.

For Virginia to have success next week, it will have to increase its overall level of play; in their most recent game against Penn State, the Cavaliers played lackluster defense especially late in the game, allowing junior guard Talor Battle to score 28 of his 32 total points in the second half.

"Your defense has to hold you in there," Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. "I thought we got a little more individual-oriented defensively to start that second half, and that hurt us. Our strength has to be us against the ball."

Against Auburn, a team similar to Penn State in terms of talent level and players, Virginia will need to find a way to keep that extra spark ignited for longer. Auburn's strength rests mainly in its veteran backcourt, composed of 6-foot-1 senior point guard DeWayne Reed - who averaged 13.2 points and 3.7 assists per game last season - and 6-foot-2 senior guard Tay Waller, who averaged 12.1 points per game and shot .368 percent from the three-point line last season.

Reed has been a key player in each of the Tiger's last three seasons, and this year looks to be no different as he transitions from scorer to team leader. Waller, meanwhile, a junior college transfer, has a complete green light when it comes to three-pointers - he attempted and made the second-most in the NCAA last year - and is certainly one of the most consistent outside threats the Cavaliers will face this season.

Virginia, though, has its own critical players who will challenge the Tigers. Sophomore guard Sylven Landesberg has emerged as the Cavaliers' most reliable player, scoring 16 points per game but more importantly never scoring below 10 points in any of Virginia's games thus far. Junior Mike Scott has also provided a solid presence in the post, averaging 13.1 points and 9.3 rebounds per game while alternating between center and power forward. And, as junior forward Will Sherill did against Cleveland State and sophomore guard Sammy Zeglinski did in the final minute against Penn State, Virginia always seems to find someone seemingly unforeseen to pick up the game at just the right time - but just not by the right amount.

"I think we're pretty good," Scott said. "I think we just need to play the whole entire game hard."

Though Monday's game is not part of the Cavaliers' conference schedule, it nevertheless is an important test for Virginia. If the squad wishes to have any chance of making the NIT or even the NCAA Tournament, it will need to start winning some of its games against other bubble teams like South Florida, Stanford and Penn State, against which the Cavaliers have suffered this season's three losses, respectively.

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