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Cavs take ACC

Aminu, high-powered Demon Deacon offense will test hot-shooting Cavaliers riding eight-game win streak

Virginia guard Sylven Landesberg (15) in action against USF.  The Virginia Cavaliers defeated the South Florida Bulls 77-75 at the University of Virginia's John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville, VA on November 19, 2008.
Virginia guard Sylven Landesberg (15) in action against USF. The Virginia Cavaliers defeated the South Florida Bulls 77-75 at the University of Virginia's John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville, VA on November 19, 2008.

Although it currently sits atop the ACC standings and is riding the momentum of an eight-game winning streak, the Virginia men's basketball team may face its toughest test yet as it returns to conference action Saturday against Wake Forest in Winston-Salem.

Virginia (12-4, 3-0 ACC) escaped a near upset against North Carolina, Wilmington earlier this week at home. Though the Cavaliers held as much as a 16-point advantage during the second half, the Seahawks scraped back, forcing turnovers and taking a four-point lead with 2:57 left. Sophomore guard Sylven Landesberg salvaged the team's poor performance with a game-winning 15-foot jump shot with three seconds remaining to secure a 69-67 victory.

"We were sloppy - offensively we turned it over 11 times in the second half, so, just learn from it," sophomore guard Sammy Zeglinski said. "We've got ACC the rest of the way, so we'll be ready."

Part of the reason Virginia may be prepared for its next opponent is because of its prolific three-point shooting thus far. Through his first 16 games at Virginia, coach Tony Bennett has the Cavaliers shooting 41.5 percent from behind the arc. In fact, Virginia is the only team in the ACC shooting above 40 percent, ahead of both Duke (39.2 percent) and Maryland (39.0 percent), the next closest schools. The Demon Deacons rank first in the ACC in three-point percentage defense, however, meaning Virginia will need to attack the glass and get points in the paint to stay afloat. Bennett acknowledged that his team will need to put forth a better all-around effort moving forward.

"You are not just going to out-individualize people at our level," Bennett said of his team's close victory against Wilmington. "We were fortunate. We will learn from it. I am thankful for the win, but we realize that we have stuff we have to clean up and we can't ever stop."

Wake, on the other hand, is coming off an impressive victory over No. 24 North Carolina in Chapel Hill, surpassing the Tarheels on all sides of the ball. The 82-69 thrashing pushed the Demon Deacons to a 2-2 ACC record and a 13-4 overall mark.

The Deacon duo of freshman C.J. Harris and senior Ishmael Smith each scored 20 points Wednesday night to lead Wake Forest. Perhaps of more importance for Virginia, though, will be containing sophomore forward Al-Farouq Aminu, who leads the ACC in rebounding with 11.5 boards per game and ranks sixth in scoring with 17.3 points per game, just behind Landesberg. Aminu poses a dual threat with the ability to take his defender outside off the dribble and operate in the post, as well. A strong effort from junior forward Mike Scott and senior forward Jerome Meyinsee will be needed to limit Aminu's production. Virginia's front court faced a similar disadvantage against Gani Lawal and Derrick Favors of Georgia Tech but held its own in that contest in the team's 82-75 victory.

Still, it remains to be seen whether Meyinsee and Scott can perform at the same level in a raucous road environment, and Wake Forest may pose an offensive threat the Cavaliers have yet to encounter.

During one 90-second span in the second half against the Tar Heels, freshman forward Ari Stewart made three consecutive three-pointers as Wake Forest turned a six-point lead into a 13-point advantage. Collectively, the Demon Deacons made 9-of-16 three-point attempts Wednesday night for a season-best 56 percent shooting.

Such an explosive offense, adjoined with home field advantage, does not bode well for a Cavalier defense that fell apart when defending UNC, Wilmington's three-ball.

Nevertheless, Virginia does have plenty of weapons to counter Wake. Against the Seahawks, Meyinsee contributed a career-high 14 points and Scott also had 12. Landesberg, as always, will pose a matchup problem that few teams can handle.

"It will definitely be a tough game because we'll be on the road" Meyinsee said, "We'll come back strong and get a fight on Saturday at Wake Forest"

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