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Cavaliers face Hurricanes on road

Squad looks to establish third scoring threat, reverse freefall before conference tournament

After two weeks of winless basketball, the Virginia men's squad hits the road to take on Miami tonight and will attempt to salvage a season that began with promise before falling flat this month.\nVirginia (14-11, 5-7 ACC) thumped the Hurricanes 75-57 at John Paul Jones Arena in mid-January but has gone 3-7 since, having dropped its last five contests in a skid that has included everything from overtime heartbreakers against Virginia Tech and Wake Forest to blow-out defeats at Maryland and Clemson.

"We are looking to turn things around against Miami," senior forward Jerome Meyinsse said. "It's always difficult to do that on the road."

The home victory against Miami earlier in the season came on the tail end of an impressive eight-game win streak that propelled Virginia up the ACC ladder and into serious contention for an NCAA Tournament berth. During that midseason stretch, the orange and blue dominated both sides of the ball, outscored opponents by an average of 15 points - with a mean score of 73.5 to 58.5 - and shot 46.7percent from the floor.

For those eight games, the Cavaliers fired on all cylinders. Sophomore guard Sylven Landesberg and junior forward Mike Scott carried the offense by averaging a combined 27.9 points per game, and even Tony Bennett became a household name as coach-of-the-year debates began in earnest.

A loss at Wake Forest seemed innocent enough at first, but it snowballed into a disheartening 2-7 record since the winning streak that hit rock bottom with last Saturday's 49-72 loss at Clemson.\n"We're coming off our last three games where we have not been competitive," Bennett said. "That's a challenge for us ... to become competitive."

During the current losing streak, the Cavaliers have completely reversed their fortunes and have been outscored by an average of 14 points - averaging 56.2 to their opponents' 70.2 - and shooting a measly 35.3 percent from the floor. The slide also has dropped Virginia's scoring offense to dead last in the ACC at 67.2 points per game.

"At this point in the season, you gotta be real good. Certain teams are improving, and we've hit a little bit of a skid," Bennett said. "You look back to what you did early, things there."

Despite consistent inside scoring from Scott, the team has been plagued by inconsistency in all facets of play, especially from its offensive playmakers on the perimeter. After putting on a 28-point clinic during the loss against Wake Forest, Landesberg struggled through a season-worst, four-point performance against Florida State Feb. 17 - not once seeing the free throw line - and again failed to reach the charity stripe against Clemson last Saturday.

"The defenses are really sitting in there on [Landesberg], so it's getting hard on him," Bennett said. "There's not nearly as many alleys when you get in the half-court offense."

The season-long search for a third scorer has similarly drawn a blank. Sophomore guard Sammy Zeglinski has excited Cavalier fans with late-game heroics but still averages only 9.2 points per game. Likewise, junior guard Mustapha Farrakhan might have thrown down a highlight-reel dunk against N.C. State Feb. 3, but he and freshman guard Jontel Evans need to greatly improve the ball movement on a squad that lacks a single player averaging more than three assists per game.

The team also has struggled to contain opponents' go-to scorers during its losing streak. Wake Forest's Ishmael Smith owned Virginia during the final minutes of regulation and the overtime period, and Maryland's Greivis Vasquez torched the Cavaliers for 30 points - 25 of which came during the first half. Against Miami, Virginia will aim to shut down the Hurricanes' senior forward Dwayne Collins, who averages 12.0 points and 8.1 rebounds per game and is coming off an impressive 21-point performance against Duke.

As bad as the Cavaliers have played as of late, winning their final four contests would propel them to 18-11 overall, 9-7 in the ACC and place the squad in contention for an at-large NCAA Tournament bid. But after Miami, Virginia has to get through Duke and Maryland, two ACC stalwarts currently ranked first and second in the conference,

"We've tried to mix lineups a couple times, certainly when you're struggling you try to come up with a different approach," Bennett said. "This is part of rebuilding. We had a real solid start [and] this is the hard part you have to go through. It's a reality check"