White: Another Step Forward for Bennett's Bunch
Courtesy: VirginiaSports.com Release: 11/21/2009
By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE -- For the UVa men's basketball team, the U.S. portion of the Cancun Challenge is over. It could not have gone much better for the Cavaliers.
In its first game in that event, Virginia ripped Rider 79-46 on Thursday night at John Paul Jones Arena. About 43 hours later, the Wahoos romped in another Cancun Challenge game at JPJ.
Their victim Saturday was Oral Roberts, which was coming off a last-minute win at Stanford.
There was no such drama in this one.
Virginia, which led by six points at the break, blew past ORU early in the second half and rarely faltered the rest of the way. The final was 76-55, and the small but appreciative crowd of 8,829 went home happy.
The fans had a lot to cheer, from Mike Scott's double-double to Sammy Zeglinski's marksmanship to Mustapha Farrakhan's defense to Assane Sene's surprising production in his 2009-10 debut.
The Cavaliers' new coaching staff liked much of what they saw, too.
"That was a good win for us," head man Tony Bennett said.
Bennett is the son of a legendary former coach, Dick Bennett, who was in the stands Saturday afternoon. On the opposite bench was Scott Sutton, whose father, Eddie, was a renowned coach as well.
The Cavaliers impressed the younger Sutton.
"Sometimes when a new staff takes over, a new head coach, it takes time to implement his system, his philosophy," Scott Sutton said. "Seems like they've really picked it up well. I think Tony's one of the best coaches we have in this country."
Four players scored in double figures for UVa, led by Scott (15 points, 10 rebounds), and Sene added a career-high eight points, seven boards and one blocked shot in 13 crowd-pleasing minutes.
"The big fella came in and, I thought, played pretty well for his first time out," Sutton said.
The Wahoos (3-1) leave early Sunday for Mexico, where they'll compete in the Cancun portion of the Cancun Challenge. Virginia will meet Stanford on Tuesday, Kentucky or Cleveland State about 24 hours later.
If the 'Hoos play defense in Cancun as energetically as they did against Rider and Oral Roberts, the trip may well be a successful one for Bennett's bunch. The Broncs shot 33.3 percent from the floor against UVa; the Golden Eagles, 32.1 percent.
"They make it awfully difficult for you to get easy points," Sutton said.
That wasn't the case early for ORU (2-2). Sophomore swingman Kyron Stokes, 1 for 9 on 3-pointers in his first three games, hit three in a span of 70 seconds to push the Golden Eagles' lead to 16-10.
Stokes wasn't through. He came in shooting 25.9 percent from beyond the arc for his career, but he made another first-half trey to put the Golden Eagles up 19-14.
"We weren't planning on him hitting them like that, but then you just have to honor him and get to him on shots, get to him on closeouts," Bennett said. "Those things happen."
If the Cavaliers' defense hadn't improved -- and it did -- there would have been one very unhappy head coach in the building.
"I felt like we did not have a sense of urgency, though we talked about it, defensively coming out," Bennett said. "We weren't active. We had a lot of breakdowns early, and they hit some shots.
"You can't just trade baskets. That won't get it done."
ORU's leading scorer coming in was sophomore forward Dominique Morrison. He totaled a career-high 31 points against Stanford, but managed only seven Saturday on 3-for-15 shooting. Credit the suffocating defense of Farrakhan, a 6-4 junior guard.
"Mu took that challenge and just tried to make him earn as much as possible," Bennett said.
Farrakhan said: "I was just trying to slow him down and make him take tough shots."
At the other end, Farrakhan contributed 13 points, four assists and a steal.
"I thought he was complete," Bennett said.
Virginia had an opportunity to blow the game open in the first half after sophomore swingman Sylven Landesberg got a pass from Farrakhan and scored on the break to make it 38-28 with 5:48 to play.
That turned out to be UVa's final field goal of the half, however, and the score was 41-35 when the teams headed to their locker rooms.
Oral Roberts scored the first three points of the second half, and suddenly it was a three-point game. But the Wahoos moved the ball well on their next possession, and it ended up in the hands of Zeglinski, who buried a 3-pointer from the right wing.
So started an 18-4 run that staggered the Golden Eagles.
"I'm shooting with confidence," said Zeglinski, who was 3 for 6 from beyond the arc. "I felt like we needed a big shot. I just took advantage of the bad closeout on their part."
There were many times in 2008-09 when Landesberg, the ACC rookie of the year, seemed to be UVa's only viable option on offense. Through four games this season, four Cavaliers are averaging in double figures.
"Everybody's able to chip in more," Landesberg said. "Everybody's got a little more playing time. Everybody's confidence is up as well. I think everybody's playing much better than they did last year. As long as we keep stacking up wins, everybody's happy."
For Landesberg, it's been "hard trying to get the ball at times," he said. "Teams are denying me, switching up, doing different kind of things at the defensive end. But as people as starting to see early on, I'm not the only one on my team who can produce."
Scott said: "When we're all hitting, we're all moving the ball, we're all playing defense, we're all rebounding, we're going to win."
Sene sat out the first three games after being suspended for what Bennett called conduct detrimental to the team. With 6:46 left in the first half Saturday, starting center Jerome Meyinsse was called for his second foul, and Sene made his first appearance of the season, to warm applause from the fans.
Five fouls later -- the last of which was questionable -- Sene took a seat with 35.1 seconds left in the game, to still more applause.
"I was too excited today. I was too hyped. I was too excited to come back and play with my teammates," Sene said.
"It was really tough to watch them play when I was on the bench. I said, 'All right, I'm going to come back and do my thing to help my team win.'"
Sene noticed and appreciated the fans' support.
"The crowd is our sixth man," he said. "They always motivate us. I have to go out on the basketball court and pay them back, because they help me, make me excited, make me get hyped."
Virginia Notes After Oral Roberts
Courtesy: VirginiaSports.com Release: 11/21/2009
Virginia 76, Oral Roberts 55
• Virginia is now 3-0 at home this season.
• The Cavaliers have held their last two opponents to under 34 percent field goal shooting – Rider (33.3 percent, 17-51) and Oral Roberts (32.1 percent, 18-56).
• Mike Scott had team-high totals of 15 points and 10 rebounds for his second double-double of the season and the 12th of his career.
Player Career Highs
• Assane Sene scored a career-high eight points.
• Sylven Landesberg had a career-high two blocked shots.
• Mustapha Farrakhan played a career-high 32 minutes and tied a career high with four assists.
Courtesy: VirginiaSports.com Release: 11/21/2009
Virginia Head Coach Tony Bennett Quotes
On Mustapha Farrakhan's defensive effort
"I thought he was complete offensively too. Morrison had a career high with 31 points against Stanford and Mustapha took that challenge and made him earn as much as possible. He was constantly in front of him - making him make shots over the top. Certainly he made a few shots but most of them were contested and I thought the other players did a good job with helping Mustapha to plug the gaps."
On Zeglinski's three at the beginning of the second half
"When we got the ball rotated from the side to the top to the side it seemed like we were getting the kinds of looks we wanted whether they were rhythm threes, post touches, or creation off the dribble. When the ball got rotated I think we certainly got better looks. We missed some block outs early but I think we got a bit better defensively as it wore on. I always have to look at the tapes and see if they were just missing or if we were the cause for that and my hope is that we were a little better than the start."
On cracking down on three pointers later in the game
"Hopefully it was that we got a hand in their face and were more alert. It was almost like we were daring them to shoot. We got stuck on some screens early and we had to be more alert helping so I think we fought through those screens a little better and got to shooters more quickly. We were peskier on the ball and that's important in our defense."
On Stokes hitting shots:
"We weren't planning on him hitting them like that but then you just have to honor him and get to him on shots. Those things happen but again, they had 12 offensive rebounds - too many. I think that's where Assane helped us because we didn't have to trap the post. We could play a little more one-on-one in the post, stay at home on the shooters and rebound a little better in the process."
On Assane Sene's play in his first game of the season
"He was forced into duty because we had some foul trouble and we thought we needed him but I'm glad he could last that long. He had 13 minutes, eight points and seven rebounds so he was productive. I think defensively we did better because we didn't have to double and instead we could spread out and make the opposing players make shots over the top.
"We have to get him to play with his feet instead of his hands and play in proper position. That certainly was the case. Our defense is such a position-oriented system that if you're in the right spot you shouldn't be reaching. That is why I got mad at Will a couple of times - he had some fouls he didn't need to make. There is such a temptation to slap down on the ball so we work a lot in practice on making guys make plays over the top. We will be working on that with Assane but this is his first time and this is the fourth game of the season. He also didn't get to scrimmage against St. John's so I think being excited is a normal thing.
"He is very vocal. He is an energy player. Assane with his activity - whether it's a blocked shot or a rebound - is a very good help defender. Obviously he adds some size and depth on the front line. I think his teammates thought he had a pretty clean block and shouldn't have fouled on that but that is neither here nor there. He is a likable guy and he has a good voice on the team."
On the Cancun Challenge and the possibility of facing Kentucky with a win over Stanford
"All we are worried about right now is Stanford. I'm pretty familiar with Landry Fields. He is terrific. I watched the Stanford game and they were a bit off in that game that I watched but they're capable. They'll be solid. They're used to playing against good teams and hopefully we'll play a solid brand of basketball. It is our fourth, fifth game in as much time so I almost feel like we're an NBA team with our schedule so we won't have had a lot rest. We still need to be energized when we come out though and I hope we continue to establish the right kinds of things - some soundness on both sides of the floor. At one point we were moving a little quick so that is when I took those time outs just to tell the guys ‘hey, let's calm down.' We also took a couple of quick threes that hurt us so when we play against bigger teams, we are going to have to bring it from the start. We can't afford to be soft on the glass. We can't be sluggish at the start. We're going to need to play closer to forty minutes than maybe we have."
On the progress of the team over the last two games
"I hope we've progressed. It's baby steps. I thought we reeled them back in that second step because at first we were just exchanging baskets. We weren't really making any stops and we had too many breakdowns. My challenge to them though is just don't go back down to ground zero. There might be some setbacks but let's make sure we just keep knocking and maybe eventually we'll be able to push that door open. As I said after last game, there are steps and it will take time but this was a good win for us."
On spreading out the ball among multiple players on offense
"The more guys you can get touching the ball and scoring, the harder you are to defend. I've coached teams that have maybe one or two dominant scorers but I think we can spread it out with this team. I think it is much better to have a balanced attack so I hope it will stay consistent. We are also using a more traditional lineup, going with two big guys, so we got a few more second chance points."
On having such a busy schedule so early in the season
"It's just the way it is. It is a lot of games in a short amount of time so our prep time isn't as great. We really just need to work on establishing things because once we start playing we have to make changes on the fly. We just have to make the most of it. I thought the guys took a step in the right direction tonight. I think in each game we have made little steps and I think we will be tested now as we travel. I think the break will be nice but it's also a good opportunity for us to go out and play against some solid competition."
Virginia Player Quotes
Sophomore Center Assane Sene
On his return to action
"I am very excited and happy I could help my team win. I was so excited to come back and play with my teammates. It was really tough to watch them play while I sat on the bench, so I just wanted to come back and help my team win."
On the fans' response to his return
"We feel like the fan is our ‘sixth man.' They always motivate us to do well, and I felt like I had to get out there on the court and pay them back. They motivate me and get me excited, so I want to pay them back by getting offensive rebounds and scoring."
Sophomore Guard Sammy Zeglinski
On the team's second half play
"We made some good adjustments, came out in the second half, and limited their points. We definitely turned it around at half time and we feel good about that."
On the team's overall play four games into the season
"I think we are playing well. Defensively we are making strides every game, and having Assane [Sene] back will only help that more. He helps cover up some of the mistakes by being in the lane and making some nice defensive plays like he did today. I think we're going in the right direction. I think our shot selection was better today. We still need to get the ball moving and rotated inside-out, but I think we will just keep getting better."
Junior Forward Mike Scott
On upcoming match-ups with other ACC big-men
"I am more hungry than nervous. We all want to compete, and I look forward to it."
On his post play
"If I do get the ball I do not try and force any shots. I look to pass and take my time in the post. We do a lot of work in practice on my post game, and I just try and take my time down low."
Sophomore Guard Sylven Landesberg
On controlling the offensive and defensive sides of the ball consistently
"At times it is tough and we might tend to get a little sloppy, but that is something we are able to turn around very quickly. A few words from Coach Bennett or in the huddle are all we need to turn that around. Knowing that we need to take better shots or move the ball around more changes our mindset for the better."
On the return of Assane Sene
"It is great. He brings so much energy to both ends of the court, and he is a lot of fun to play with out there. You never want your man to get by you, but if he does, it is a lot better to have a seven-foot center to make it tough for him to make the shot."
Junior Guard Mustapha Farrakhan
On his play versus Oral Roberts
"I was trying to be aggressive and find the open man. I knew that if I saw an opening I was going to pass it, and if I had my shot I was going to take it. Coach [Bennett] emphasizes taking care of the basketball and sharing the ball. It's great to see that coming together in the game."
On defense in the second half
"I feel like we picked up the intensity. We came out with good energy in both halves, but it felt like we were forcing them to take tougher shots in the second half. We executed better and made them run."
ORU Head Coach Scott Sutton
"I was really impressed with [Virginia Head Coach Tony Bennett's] team. When a new staff takes over, a new head coach, it takes time to implement his system and his philosophy. It seems like they really picked it up well. I think that Tony is one of the best coaches we have in this country and they play excellent defense. They put you on defense for 25 or 30 seconds and it eventually wears you down. I think that's kind of what happened tonight. I am disappointed we didn't make it more of a game; I really thought we would. Obviously the first half kind of went back and forth and then when [Roderick] Pearson went out, it really hurt our offense. One time I looked down and we were 2-15 from the field in the second half. We were probably fortunate to score 55 points."
On Roderick Pearson's injury
"I don't want to speculate, but it looks severe. Could be a severe injury [to his] left [knee]. We had two kids go down the same day a few weeks ago torn ACLs in the same practice. This would be our second point guard to go down; two guys who I thought would have a chance to start, but injuries are a part of the game. You have to overcome them and try to move on."
On Virginia's defense in the second half
"I think they probably did a better job of trying to find Kyron Stokes. Going into the game he has really struggled shooting the basketball and he is a very capable shooter. I guess he hit his shot, got his own rebound, and stepped out and hit the three. I guess that got his confidence going and he was kind of in the zone for the next four or five minutes. They make it awfully difficult for you to get easy points and when we had opportunities, I thought we missed some easy shots early in the second half that could have gotten us some momentum and kept us in the game. Then we were bad from the free throw line as well. In a game like this on the road against a good team, you have to capitalize on all of those opportunities and we did not do that tonight."
On the match up between Virginia and Stanford
"I think Virginia has a lot more weapons on offense: [they are] a lot more athletic, [they have] a little bit more size. That's one thing - I thought their size hurt us tonight. [Mike] Scott and the big fellow who came in I thought played pretty well for his first time out."
On the containment of Dominique Morrison
"I thought he got some good looks and I thought the other night against Stanford he made some shots early and we were able to post him up. We tried to do that again tonight and they did a nice job. I think it goes back to the type of athletes that they have; they have a little bit more size than Stanford had."
Sene's return benefits UVa
The center sets a new high after his 3-game suspension as the Cavs down Oral Roberts.
By Mark Berman
CHARLOTTESVILLE -- Assane Sene looked good in his season debut Saturday.
The Virginia center, who had been suspended for his team's first three games, scored a career-high eight points in the Cavaliers' 76-55 win over Oral Roberts at John Paul Jones Arena.
Sene grabbed seven rebounds and blocked one shot in 13 minutes off the bench before fouling out with 35 seconds left.
"I was too excited to play with my teammates, and also see the crowd," Sene said.
The 7-foot native of Senegal had been suspended for undisclosed "conduct detrimental to the team," as the school put it.
"I don't want to talk about that," he said.
But what was the suspension for? Did he miss some classes?
"Oh, no, let's just forget about that," he said.
Did he mouth off to new coach Tony Bennett?
"I love the new coach," he said.
Did the suspension teach him anything?
"If you do one mistake, we have like a ... second chance, and just don't do it again. Just learn from that," he said.
Sene credited his three baskets and two free throws to hard work in the offseason.
"Last year ... I'd get the offensive rebound, then miss the shot. I was rushing a lot last year when I had the ball," he said. "This year Coach came and told me, 'Just take your time when you get the ball in the post ... because every time you go up, somebody's going to touch you or you're going to score.' So every time I got the ball, that's what I got on my brain."
This was the second of UVa's four games in the Cancun Challenge. Now the Cavaliers (3-1) actually get to go to Mexico. Mustapha Farrakhan has already been checking out the weather down there.
"It's supposed to rain a little," said Farrakhan, who had 13 points.
On Tuesday in Cancun, UVa will face a Stanford team that lost to Oral Roberts 83-81 on Wednesday. Stanford has also lost to the University of San Diego.
The following day, UVa will meet Kentucky or Cleveland State.
Are the Cavs ready for a possible test against coach John Calipari and the fourth-ranked Wildcats (4-0)?
"It's good exposure at a national [level], especially if we shock the nation and beat them," said Mike Scott, who had 15 points and 10 rebounds. "We just keep defending like we did tonight, we'll be ready."
Oral Roberts (2-2) led 27-25 with 9:23 left in the first half, thanks in part to six 3-pointers. Four of those 3-pointers were made by backup Kyron Stokes, who had sunk just one 3-pointer in his team's first three games.
UVa went on an 8-0 run to grab a 33-27 lead with 6:54 to go in the half, and led the rest of the way.
Oral Roberts shot just 25.9 percent from the field in the second half. The Golden Eagles were 7-of-11 from 3-point range in the first half but 0-for-6 in the second half.
"We got a hand in their face," Bennett said of the second half. "We fought a little better through screens and got to shooters quicker and tried to be a little more pesky on the ball."
Golden Eagles starting point guard Roderick Pearson left the game with an apparently severe knee injury late in the first half.
Leading 41-38 with 19:09 to go, the Cavs went on a 21-4 run to build a 62-42 cushion with 8:46 left.
"They put you on defense for 25, 30 seconds, and I think it just kind of eventually wears you down," said Golden Eagles coach Scott Sutton, son of former college coach Eddie Sutton.
Farrakhan held Dominique Morrison, who scored 31 points against Stanford, to seven points.
Sylven Landesberg had 14 points for UVa, while Sammy Zeglinski added 13 points.
Virginia cruises past ORU
By Whitey Reid
Published: November 22, 2009
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If you’re a Wahoo fan, you’ve gotta love the fact that Assane Sene is back in the lineup.
The Virginia sophomore scored a career-high eight points, grabbed seven rebounds and blocked a shot in his first game of the season on Saturday afternoon at John Paul Jones Arena — and seemed completely unsatisfied.
“This is nothing,” said Sene, following Virginia’s 76-55 win over Oral Roberts in the Cancun Challenge. “I know I can do better.”
That has to be music to the ears of Wahoo Nation, not to mention first-year Virginia coach Tony Bennett.
Sene, fresh off a three-game suspension, is clearly one of Virginia’s most important players. Against Oral Roberts, Sene showed what a valuable commodity a 7-footer with long arms can be.
Sene scored five of his points and swatted a shot by the Golden Eagles’ Michael Craion to key an 11-4 second-half spurt that essentially put the game out of reach.
“Assane, with his activity — whether it’s a blocked shot or a rebound — is a very good help-defender,” said Bennett, whose team won its second straight. “Obviously he [adds] some size and depth on the front line.”
On Tuesday, the Cancun Challenge moves to Mexico. Virginia (3-1) plays Stanford, while Oral Roberts (2-2) takes on Sam Houston State.
“It’s baby steps, as they say,” said Bennett, when asked about his team’s progress. “I thought we reeled it back in and, defensively, didn’t let it get out of hand in the second half.
“There were less breakdowns as it wore on. My big challenge to them is, ‘Just don’t go back to ground zero.’”
Virginia was led by Mike Scott’s 15 points and 10 rebounds. Sylven Landesberg added 14 points and seven rebounds, while Sammy Zeglinski and Mustapha Farrakhan each scored 13.
UVa started the game a little slow. In the first half, the Cavaliers were blitzed by 3-pointers. Golden Eagles guard Kyron Stokes nailed his first four attempts to propel his team to a 19-14 lead.
But Virginia, behind Farrakhan — he scored all 13 of his points in the first half — pulled back into the game and eventually led by as many as 10. The Cavaliers took a 41-35 lead into the break.
In the second half, Virginia’s defense hunkered down. Farrakhan, according to Bennett, did an excellent job of putting the clamps on Golden Eagles forward Dominique Morrison, who had scored 31 points against Stanford on Wednesday. Morrison finished with just seven points on 3 of 15 shooting.
“Mu took that challenge and tried to make him earn as much as possible,” Bennett said. “I thought Mu’s quickness — and he was just constantly there — wore on him…
“I thought Mu did a nice job.”
For the game, Virginia held the Golden Eagles to 32-percent shooting.
“They make it awfully difficult for you to get easy points,” said Oral Roberts coach Scott Sutton. “I thought we missed some easy shots early in the second half that could have gotten us some momentum and kept us in the game.”
With Sene back, Virginia controlled the boards, outrebounding the Golden Eagles by nine. Junior forward Mike Scott looked as comfortable on the blocks as he has all season.
Landesberg was happy to have Sene out on the court again.
“He brings so much energy and is so active on both ends of the court,” Landesberg said. “He’s just a lot of fun to play with out there.
“It’s not good to let your man go past you, but you know if he does, you know you got a big 7-footer down there waiting and it’s going to be tough for him to make a shot.”
Sene should have finished the game with two blocks. Late in the game, he swatted the shot of a driving Ken Holdman, but was inexplicably called for his fifth foul.
“That was really a bad call, I think,” Sene said, [but] I’m just going to keep working. This is just the beginning. I know I, and I know we, can do better than that.
“I’m just going to keep working hard.”
Sene said it was tough having to sit out the team’s first three games for “conduct detrimental to the team.”
“That was just a learning time,” he said. “We all make mistakes — just don’t do it again and learn from it.
“It was hard to sit on the bench and watch my teammates play, but I was also learning from that. A lot of times players can learn from the bench. That’s what I was doing.”
Sene said the biggest thing he tries to bring the team is “energy.”
“I always use the word ‘hyped,’” he said. “I love that word. We’ve got to always be like that. When we do that, we can beat any team.”
White: 'Hoos Down to Their Last Chance
Courtesy: VirginiaSports.com Release: 11/21/2009
By Jeff White
Midway through the third quarter, it was a three-point game, and the chance to spoil the party at Death Valley was still there for UVa.
In the end, though, superior talent prevailed, as it so often does in football. No. 23 Clemson scored 10 second-half points -- to zero for Virginia -- and won 34-21 before 77,000 fans Saturday.
That added an exclamation point to a day in which Boston College's loss to North Carolina wrapped up the ACC's Atlantic Division title for the Tigers.
"That is one of the better looking teams we have seen in quite some time," UVa coach Al Groh told reporters. "They come at you from all directions. The pressure is on every play.
"We stood up to it well throughout, but there is just a lot of talent out there, and some of those playmakers made plays that made the difference in the game."
And now the Wahoos have only one more chance to end a losing streak that began Oct. 24 and has reached five games. UVa (2-5, 3-8) hosts No. 16 Virginia Tech (5-2, 8-3) next Saturday in Charlottesville. ESPN will televise the 3:30 p.m. game.
The Hokies have won five straight in the series since losing in 2003 at Scott Stadium. As UVa's coach, Groh is 1-7 against Virginia Tech.
"This is Saturday," Groh told Chris Slade, the sideline reporter for UVa's radio broadcasts, when asked about the Tech game.
"That's next Saturday, so we've got a lot of days to get through till we get to that."
For seniors such as linebacker Denzel Burrell, next weekend's game will be their last as Cavaliers. Burrell, who had two tackles for loss against Clemson, including a sack, didn't mind looking ahead to the finale.
"It's a key thing for the team, and I definitely think we're going to be able to bounce back and get together as a team and work hard to get this last game," Burrell said by phone Saturday night.
"This is the biggest rivalry we have as a team, and no one on this current team has beaten Virginia Tech, so that just adds a little extra incentive to it. We're going to go out and give everything we can for our home fans, and hopefully they're out there for our last game. It'll be a nice way to end the season, so we'll see what happens."
The 'Hoos never led against Clemson (6-2, 8-3), but twice they pulled even: at 7-7 in the first quarter and 14-14 in the second. The Tigers answered with 10 straight points and seemed in control as halftime approached, only to see UVa deliver a stunning blow.
On the final play of the half, senior tailback Mikell Simpson ran a wheel route and caught a perfectly thrown pass from senior quarterback Jameel Sewell for a 23-yard touchdown.
That capped a half in which Simpson, operating often out of the Wildcat formation, rushed 14 times for 84 yards. He also had two catches for 43 yards.
Unfortunately for the Cavaliers, a season marked by bad fortune stayed true to form. Simpson was injured on the TD reception and didn't play in the second half.
"That removed the facet of our operation that had been successful for us," Groh said.
Senior wideout Vic Hall, who has started two games at quarterback for UVa, was 2 for 2 passing Saturday. Both completions came on trick plays.
On the first, Hall caught a lateral pass from Sewell, then threw back across the field to the quarterback for a 30-yard gain to the Clemson 5. A play later, Hall took a pitch from Sewell on a reverse and then pulled up and passed to junior tight end Joe Torchia, uncovered in the end zone.
That was Virginia's second TD. The first came on Sewell's 6-yard bootleg run with 2:16 left in the opening quarter.
Sewell finished 11 for 17 passing for 160 yards, with no interceptions, but he won't remember the second half fondly. The Tigers sacked him seven times and held UVa to 40 yards in the final two quarters.
"We didn't play smart in the first half," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney told reporters. "We weren't disciplined with our eyes. And they had a lot of trick plays in the first half.
"Our staff made great adjustments at halftime, and we challenged [the players] in the second half."
Virginia's defense held Heisman Trophy candidate C.J. Spiller to 58 yards rushing (on 19 carries) and 39 receiving (on five catches). Overall, the Tigers averaged a modest 3.5 yards per carry.
"On defense against the run, you just gotta beat blocks," Groh said. "I give a lot of credit to our defensive players. We can run some schemes, but they gotta beat blocks, and they did a very, very good job against a very good running game."
The Tigers hurt UVa through the air. Jacoby Ford, a former Virginia recruiting target, had six receptions for 106 yards and one TD. Kyle Parker, only a redshirt freshman, completed 19 of 26 passes for 234 yards and two touchdowns, and he wasn't intercepted.
Groh said he thought before the game that Parker "might be the guy who would make the difference, and he was. He's a very good young player and perhaps the best young quarterback in the league."
The second half was scoreless until the 7:17 mark of the third quarter, when Andre Ellington ran 5 yards for a touchdown. Richard Jackson added a 24-yard field goal with eight seconds left in the quarter.
The 21 points were the most Virginia had scored since a 47-7 rout of Indiana on Oct. 10. A fourth-quarter touchdown by the Cavaliers would have made it a one-score game, but against an inspired Clemson defense, they never got close to the end zone.
Still, Burrell said, "I don't think anyone gave up, and I think that's what the coaches noticed, and that's what [Groh] told us after the game. We fought till the end. We had our chances to really bring the score back to even and even possibly take the lead. But unfortunately we just couldn't.
"It's obviously about the wins and losses, and unfortunately we didn't come out on top, but I definitely think there's a lot to gain from a team standpoint in fighting to the end on our part."
The coach expects nothing less from his team, no matter its record.
"We're a motivated bunch," Groh told Slade. "We like to win, we like to do well, we like to fight. We've always been that way, and we'll always be that way."
Cavs’ slide continues as Tigers celebrate division title
By Michael Phillips
Published: November 22, 2009
Updated: November 22, 2009
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CLEMSON, S.C. -- With nothing left to lose, Virginia emptied the playbook and enjoyed some of its biggest gains of the season.
But like almost everything else this year, the momentum came crashing down. Mikell Simpson was injured, Jameel Sewell was sacked six times in the fourth quarter, and Virginia's players walked off the field behind police escort as Clemson's fans stormed the field to celebrate a division title.
Tigers 34, Cavaliers 21 -- a five-game losing streak continues.
"Some guys stepped up and made some plays," coach Al Groh said. "But unfortunately, we had some mistakes against a team that clearly can now be called championship-caliber."
This performance wasn't about Groh trying to save his job -- that ship has sailed. Instead, it involved a last-gasp effort from an offense that has limped through the season trying any number of different looks, none with success.
That changed in the first half when Simpson, who didn't get a carry a week ago, came out in the wildcat formation as Sewell shifted to receiver. Simpson had the act down as he glanced at his wristband, called the plays and quarterbacked the offense to an early touchdown drive.
"When I'm back there at quarterback, I'm like a little kid just back there having fun," Simpson said. "We've been practicing it for a couple weeks, and we had nothing to lose, so we brought it out today."
It was a shocking performance from an offense that has seemed incapable of scoring touchdowns against ACC competition.
Groh followed the wildcat with his best Boise State impression, having Sewell toss the ball to Vic Hall, who tossed it back, then following that up with a reverse that ended with Hall throwing a touchdown strike to a wide-open Joe Torchia after some misdirection.
"Whatever it took, we were going to do it," Sewell said.
But the Cavs' old nemeses were lurking -- injuries, turnovers and special teams miscues.
At the end of the first half, Simpson made a diving catch in the end zone to cut Clemson's lead to three, but it was his last play at full strength.
"When I stretched out to catch it, I felt a pop in my right hamstring," he said. "Then I tried to come out for the second half and tried to run up and down and couldn't accelerate."
That forced the Cavs to use freshman Perry Jones, who finished with 7 yards on five carries.
Turnovers also cost Virginia, as three times in the half, Clemson started on the Wahoos' side of the field, two of those because of fumbles. The defense, working with short fields, was scrambling to adjust to the speed of the game.
"We had a couple miscommunications that hurt us in the first half," linebacker Denzel Burrell said. "As the game went on, we got settled in with the plays."
The Tigers were particularly interested in boosting the Heisman candidacy of senior running back C.J. Spiller, who scored a touchdown in addition to 58 yards rushing, 39 receiving and 17 on punt returns.
Still, his numbers were eclipsed by quarterback Kyle Parker, who completed 19 of 26 and threw for two touchdowns to help the Tigers keep pace in the first half.
His top target was Jacoby Ford, who tallied 106 yards, several on plays that made him look like the Heisman contender, though if the trophy were given based on performances against U.Va. this year, they'd have to find a bigger ballroom in New York.
Finally, Virginia's special teams also found themselves vulnerable to mistakes. On three consecutive kickoffs, returner Chase Minnifield did not catch the ball, twice bobbling it and once watching it hit his foot.
Those mistakes weren't the end for Virginia -- the Cavs were down two scores or less for the entire second half. But Clemson started building momentum, Hall struggled in the wildcat, and the possibilities for a comeback kept getting slimmer.
"You're going to make mistakes in the game," safety Corey Mosley said. "Good teams overcome those plays, and find a way to get the win, because in the end, that's all that matters."
U.Va. Notes: O-line fades late
By Staff Reports
Published: November 22, 2009
Updated: November 22, 2009
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O-line fades late
Midway through the fourth quarter, Virginia got the ball and quarterback Jameel Sewell (Hermitage) threw a 38-yard strike to Perry Jones. It was the first offensive spark of the half, and it appeared as if the Cavs might mount a comeback.
Instead, Sewell was sacked by Rennie Moore, Jones ran for a loss of a yard, and Kavell Conner (Manchester) pummeled Sewell on third down. A personal foul penalty extended the drive, but the damage was done.
The talk all season has been about U.Va.'s defense being on the field too long, but yesterday it was the offensive line that struggled late in the 34-21 loss.
"All runners look the same when there's no hole," coach Al Groh said. "They did a better job along the line of scrimmage, controlling the line of scrimmage."
Sewell took the brunt of the punishment in the fourth, getting sacked six times in the quarter.
"The pass rusher beat the pass blocker," Groh said. "Sometimes it's just that simple."
True freshman Oday Aboushi came into the game to provide relief late.
Conner, who said he was told by Virginia he wasn't fast enough to play running back, made a season-high 15 tackles.
Injuries take their toll
Running back and wildcat ringleader Mikell Simpson injured his hamstring and was unable to return. He previously missed time this season with a neck injury.
On the defensive line, Nate Collins had his left shoulder iced down after the game, but said he'd be available to play next week. Also, linebacker Darren Childs was seen limping off the field after the game.
Reloading for Tech
The Cavs find themselves on a five-game losing streak with one opponent remaining -- Virginia Tech. A sellout crowd at Scott Stadium on Saturday is unlikely to be exclusively orange and blue, but the Virginia players say they're not going to go out silently.
"I'm glad everyone is still fighting and playing and not giving up," Collins said. "We're going into this last game full-throttle and trying to get the win. Nobody on our team has beaten Tech, so this is a big deal to us."
Groh has beaten the Hokies only once in his nine-year tenure.
For the second consecutive year, Virginia managed to keep the Clemson ground game and running back C.J. Spiller in check. The Tigers finished with 138 yards rushing on 29 carries.
"It wasn't really about containing Spiller," linebacker Denzel Burrell said. "It was just about making sure there weren't any creases to run in. We kept a lot of the same game plan from last year."
Spiller did find his way into the end zone in the second quarter, and is the only player in the FBS who has scored in every game this season.
He also set the ACC single-season record for all-purpose yardage. His 2,066 yards this year have eclipsed the 2,054 that Virginia's Thomas Jones picked up in 1994.
Sewell jumped two spots, to third, on the all-time passing list at U.Va. His 5,246 passing yards are more than Aaron Brooks' 5,118 and Scott Gardner's 5,218. . . . Mikell Simpson dropped the ball near the end of the second half, marking his third fumble in 380 collegiate carries. . . . Still suffering from a concussion, quarterback Marc Verica did not travel to Clemson. True freshman Ross Metheny made the trip instead, but did not play. If Metheny does not play against Virginia Tech, which is all but assured, he will redshirt the season and enter next year as a freshman. . . . Clemson coach Dabo Sweeney turned 40 yesterday and was serenaded by the crowd in the fourth quarter. -- Michael Phillips
Clemson holds off wildcatting Cavs
Virginia goes with an offensive switch that works well until it loses Mikell Simpson to injury.
By Doug Doughty
CLEMSON, S.C. -- There was a wildcat on the loose Saturday, and for a while, it threatened to put a damper on Clemson's division-clinching celebration.
Actually, the Tigers had clinched a spot in the ACC championship game before taking the field at Memorial Stadium, but an anticipated walkover did not materialize.
Virginia, a 2012-point underdog, hung tough for a half before 18th-ranked Clemson turned up the heat in a 34-21 victory.
It was the sixth straight victory for the Tigers, who sacked Virginia quarterback Jameel Sewell seven times, including six times in the fourth quarter.
The Cavaliers (3-8, 2-5 ACC) suffered their fifth straight loss despite an uncharacteristically potent offensive performance.
When Sewell connected with Mikell Simpson for a 23-yard touchdown pass at the halftime gun, Virginia trailed 24-21.
At that point, the Cavaliers had outgained the Tigers 233-224.
Simpson, who had not played one week earlier in a 14-10 loss to Boston College, was responsible for 127 of those yards (84 rushing, 43 receiving).
While waiting for the results of a replay of the half-ending touchdown catch, most people failed to notice Simpson hobbling back to the bench.
Up the field, UVa coach Al Groh had seen Simpson pull his right hamstring as soon as it happened.
Simpson, who had been taking direct snaps out of a wildcat formation, did not play in the second half.
"Clearly, that removed a facet of our operation that had been successful," Groh said. "I'm sure that Clemson would have made their adjustments to it, but we still would have liked to challenge those adjustments."
Actually, Virginia returned to the wildcat on its second series of the second half, with utilityman Vic Hall taking direct snaps.
Hall picked up 3 and 2 yards on consecutive runs; then, Sewell returned to quarterback on third down and was sacked.
The Cavaliers did not have a first down in the third quarter and had a total of 40 yards of offense in the second half, 38 of that coming on a Sewell pass to diminutive freshman Perry Jones.
At least for a half, Virginia's offense was as clever as it was productive.
Sewell's untouched 6-yard run for Virginia's first score came on the only play of the drive on which he was behind center.
The second touchdown came on a play that looked like a flanker reverse before Hall, who had taken a pitch from Sewell, pulled up and tossed a 5-yard pass to tight end Joe Torchia.
On the preceding play, Sewell had thrown a backward pass to Hall, who then threw the ball back across the field to Sewell for a 30-yard catch and run.
"We'd been working on [the trick plays] for a while," Groh said. "Sometimes the opportunity doesn't properly present itself. There were some of those times today when the situation seemed ripe for it."
Clemson (8-3, 6-2) entered the day with a half-game lead over the Boston College in the Atlantic Division. The Eagles, who were playing host to North Carolina, quickly fell behind 21-0 in a game they would lose 31-13.
"We were watching at our hotel," Clemson wide receiver Jacoby Ford said. "We knew what was going on in that game. We still had four quarters to play. We wanted to win it the right way.
"Coach [Dabo] Swinney told us before the game that we were the champions, but we still had to go out and play hard."
Ford, who played at Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy and once had Virginia at the top of his recruiting list, caught a 24-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter and finished with a career-high 195 all-purpose yards, 155 coming in the first half.
Fellow senior C.J. Spiller had a quiet day by his standards but ran 4 yards for a touchdown and broke the ACC record for single-season all-purpose yardage that had been held by former Virginia great Thomas Jones.
The Cavaliers' defense had its one shining first-half moment after UVa running back Rashawn Jackson fumbled on the first play of the game. Clemson recovered at the UVa 24 but was unable to score when quarterback Kyle Parker was stopped for no gain on fourth-and-2 from the Cavaliers' 5.
That was the last time Virginia stopped Clemson in the first half. The Tigers did not punt until the second half, when from all of appearances, they were playing safe and sitting on their lead.
Nevertheless, UVa had the distinction of holding Clemson under 400 yards for the first time in five games. The Cavaliers end the season next week against another Top 25 opponent, Virginia Tech, which easily handled N.C. State 38-10.
"I am glad that everyone is fighting and playing and not giving up," said UVa defensive end and co-captain Nate Collins, whose left arm was in a sling after Saturday's game.
"We are going into this game full throttle and I am trying to let everyone know that we are treating this as a bowl game. This is our bowl game. No one on our team has beat Tech since they have been here, so this is a big deal. It's a big deal to us."
Wildcat set suits Simpson
Doug Doughty | Roanoke Times
CLEMSON -- Mikell Simpson's legacy as a Virginia running back will be his knack for producing memorable moments when least expected.
That was certainly the case Saturday, when Simpson had 127 all-purpose yards in the first half and had UVa within three points of 18th-ranked Clemson in a game the Cavaliers would lose 34-21.
Simpson hadn't even played one week earlier in a 14-10 home loss to Boston College, when, to borrow a hockey term, he was a "healthy scratch."
In other words, Simpson, a starter earlier in the season, was not injured. His absence was performance-related.
"It was disappointing during the [Boston College] game, but I talked to the coaches and it was all up to me," said Simpson, a fifth-year senior. "Basically, my playing time depended on how hard I practiced."
Simpson did not start Saturday but entered the game for the second series, when he took direct snaps from the center in what is commonly known as the wildcat formation.
"It was the first time this year," said Simpson, who took some direct snaps as a sophomore in 2007. "We've had it in for a couple of weeks. Today, we had nothing to lose.
"I got excited. When I'm back there at quarterback, running the wildcat, it's like I'm a little kid, just back there having fun."
Simpson had 147 all-purpose yards in 2 12 quarters against Indiana earlier this season, but he suffered a neck injury that required him to be taken from the field on a board.
He didn't play the next week and head coach Al Groh has wondered how much that scare has impacted his game.
On Saturday, Simpson pulled up lame after catching a 23-yard touchdown pass from Jameel Sewell to end the first half.
"When I stretched out to catch it, I felt a little pop in my right hamstring," Simpson said. "I came out in the second half [for warmups] and tried to run up and down and sprint, but I couldn't accelerate. I'd have been hurting myself and the team."
With Simpson on the sidelines, UVa (3-8 overall, 2-5 ACC) did not have a first down in the third quarter. Simpson had three first-down runs on one first-half drive alone.
"I was feeling hot today," he said, "and any time I get injured and I'm not contributing to a large degree like that, I feel like I'm letting the team down."
Sewell completed 11 of 17 passes for 160 yards and moved into third place on UVa's career passing list. Sewell, who missed a season while on academic suspension, moved ahead of Scott Gardner (5,218) and Aaron Brooks (5,118).
Sewell, with 5,246 yards and one game remaining, has gone as far as he can go. Ahead of him are Matt Schaub (7,502) and Shawn Moore (6,629).
"I was surprised last week when they told me that I had moved up to fifth and now, to be third, it means a lot to me," Sewell said. "I try hard. I put forth a lot of effort so this gives me something to show for it."
Vic Hall's 5-yard touchdown pass to Joe Torchia on a flanker reverse represented the first TD pass of his career. Although he has been a defensive player for most of his career, Hall has rushed for a touchdown, caught a touchdown pass, thrown a touchdown pass and returned an interception for a touchdown. He also had a 62-yard punt return for an apparent touchdown against Boston College that was nullified by penalty.
Virginia next week
The Cavaliers will attempt to end a five-game losing streak, their longest since 2001, when they entertain Virginia Tech at 3:30 p.m Saturday. The Hokies (8-3, 5-2) defeated visiting North Carolina State 38-10 on Saturday and have won seven of eight games with Virginia during Groh's tenure.
Virginia is only half bad
By Eric Boynton Correspondent
November 22, 2009
CLEMSON, S.C. - — Virginia played like a team with nothing to lose Saturday at Clemson and for a while that reckless abandon paid solid dividends.
Determined not to play the role of simply invited guests at a party to celebrate the Tigers first ACC Atlantic Division championship, the Cavaliers not only were very much in the game at halftime, they owned momentum.
But the satisfaction of a job well done over the opening 30 minutes dissipated in the second half of a 34-21 loss that was Virginia's fifth consecutive defeat.
No. 18 Clemson (8-3, 6-2 ACC) had clinched the Atlantic Division title before the start of the game when Boston College lost to North Carolina. Virginia (3-8, 2-5) was hoping to avoid its worst record since going 3-8 in 1986.
The gap between the teams virtually was unnoticeable in the opening half as the Cavaliers unveiled the wildcat offense and used other trickery in going for broke against the favorites.
"There was a lot to feel good and positive about," Virginia head coach Al Groh said of his team's mindset at halftime.
Senior tailback Mikell Simpson caught a perfect 23-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Jameel Sewell on the final play of the first half as the Cavaliers went for it all with timeouts remaining rather than looking for a field goal.
The play cut the deficit to 24-21 and made amends for Simpson's fumble on his own 24 during the previous series that set up a 24-yard touchdown catch by Clemson's Jacoby Ford. Simpson, who was having his best game of the season, pulled a hamstring on the touchdown and missed the second half.
The play culminated a surprising early performance by a Virginia offense ranked 118 of 120 FBS teams in total offense and 106th in scoring. The Cavaliers had failed to score 21 points in any of their previous five games and had only reached that total in eight of 10 outings overall.
"We came out with a good mindset of not giving up, not giving in, and just competing," Sewell said. "That's one thing we've been saying a lot is we needed to help out our defense, keep them off the field and put some points up so everything's not on them."
Despite a continued lack of good field position, Virginia scored on Sewell's 6-yard run in the first quarter that came on the heels of five straight direct snaps to Simpson for 43 yards. The Cavaliers tied it at 14 in the second quarter, using consecutive passes by receiver Vic Hall, the second good for a 5-yard touchdown to Joe Torchia.
But when Simpson suffered his injury, the Cavaliers never regained their momentum.
"That removed a facet of our operation (the wildcat) that had been successful for us," Groh said.
Virginia's attack went stale in the second half, allowing Clemson's overall advantage in athleticism to take over.
"We didn't play smart in the first half," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. "We weren't disciplined with our eyes and they had a lot of trick plays. Our staff made great adjustments at halftime and we challenged them in the second half."
Clemson quarterback Kyle Parker completed 19 of 26 passing for 234 yards and two touchdowns and Ford caught six passes for 106 yards and a touchdown while accumulating a career-high 195 all-purpose yards.
Tigers tailback C.J. Spiller, who entered ranked third nationally at 195 all-purpose yards per game, was held to 114 and no play longer than 26 yards. He scored on a 4-yard second-quarter touchdown run and is the lone player in the FBS to score a touchdown in every game this year.
Virginia mustered only three first downs and 40 total yards in the second half while converting only one of seven third-down tries. Sewell was sacked seven times in the second half, including six in the fourth quarter, after none in the first half.
Clemson took a 31-21 lead on its second series of the third quarter on tailback Andre Ellington's five-yard touchdown run and closed out the scoring on its next possession with Richard Jackson's 24-yard field goal.
"That is one of the better looking teams we have seen in quite some time," Groh said.
"They come at you from all directions and the pressure is on every play. We stood up to it well throughout, but there is just a lot of talent out there and some of those playmakers made plays that were the difference."
Crowning moment: Tigers earn shot at title
After years of near-misses, Clemson in ACC championship game
By PAUL STRELOW - email@example.com
CLEMSON | Reflecting on the unlikely success of a team led by one of the youngest head coaches and one of the youngest offensive coordinators in the BCS conferences, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney puffed out his shoulders and mockingly flexed.
When athletics director Terry Don Phillips promoted Swinney from receivers coach to head coach last year, he believed Swinney fit the mold of another up-and-comer he pushed to hire at Oklahoma State years ago, Mike Gundy.
So it was fitting when Swinney, who turned 40 on Friday, mimicked Gundy's infamous rant when a reporter asked about the statement made by him and 30-year-old coordinator Billy Napier.
"I am 40," Swinney said softly but demonstrably. "I'm a man.
"This is an awesome moment. Our fans deserve this. This thing has eluded us for a while, so to punch through and get this thing done ... to put together a run like we have, it's very gratifying."
Clemson's anticlimactic 34-21 victory against Virginia on Saturday amounted to a coming-of-age party, minus the surprise.
About 20 minutes before kickoff, the 18th-ranked Tigers (8-3, 6-2 ACC) secured the Atlantic Division title when Boston College fell 31-13 to North Carolina.
That stamped Clemson's ticket to the Dec. 5 ACC championship in Tampa, Fla., where it will face No. 7 Georgia Tech in a rematch of its 30-27 loss in Atlanta on Sept. 10.
Awareness of their fate might have taken some of the edge off the Tigers, but they sent out their senior class in style, winning the division title outright behind its fifth straight 30-point, offensive showing and a second-half rebound from the defense.
Despite telling the staff to keep the Boston College loss a secret, Swinney broke the news shortly before the team took the field. All accounts said the Tigers responded to the news indifferently, figuring the team would not be granted any respect if it went out and snapped Virginia's four-game losing streak.
"You really didn't feel it," senior tight end Michael Palmer said. "I think we had to get the win to feel it. We had to go out and take care of business."
The Cavaliers (3-8, 2-5) didn't make that task any easier, staying close throughout the first half with a mixed bag of trick plays and daring decisions reflective of a team with nothing left to lose.
But after allowing a 23-yard touchdown pass as time expired in the first half to trim its lead to 24-21 - more points than Virginia had in its previous five games - Clemson's defense bandaged the bleeding and held the Cavaliers to a mere 40 yards the rest of the way.
Senior running back C.J. Spiller's Heisman Trophy candidacy likely suffered a blow as Spiller was held to 58 rushing yards and a touchdown in his next-to-last regular season game.
Yet even the Spiller storyline took a backseat to the big picture - the program's first ACC title since 1991 is now within reach. And it took the Tigers overcoming a 2-3 start to get over the proverbial hump for its first division title since the ACC adopted the split-division format five years ago.
"It feels good to finally prove people wrong," said senior receiver Jacoby Ford, who had a career-high 195 all-purpose yards and a receiving touchdown.
Perhaps as proof that some folks have been converted into believers, ACC commissioner John Swofford was on hand to present the division trophy in the locker room afterward.
It took Palmer and senior tight end Rendrick Taylor two minutes to finally get an adrenaline-charged Swinney to stay still on the sideline long enough to douse him with the standard water-cooler bath with a minute remaining.
Swinney thanked anyone and everyone in his postgame media address, name-dropping down to the well-known local who runs the popular hamburger dive.
Yet Swinney presented the game ball in the locker room afterward to Phillips, who drew criticism after the Tigers' early season slip-ups.
"I wouldn't be here if it weren't for him," Swinney said. "He had the vision to see something in me to give me the opportunity to lead this program and really go against the grain.
"A lot of people probably didn't want me to get this job. Probably a lot of people still don't want me to have this job. But I got it. And we're division champs."
Gillespie: Parker becomes a difference-maker
CLEMSON | It was a play the great ones make in their sleep, or as close to "sleep" as is possible when 77,000 fans are screaming and defensive linemen are closing in and a game, perhaps, hangs in the balance.
It was instinct and talent and moxie - the latter Clemson coach Dabo Swinney's best word for his redshirt freshman quarterback, Kyle Parker - all rolled into one, split-second play.
In a game to, if not decide the ACC Atlantic Division title, then to put a stamp of authority on that, Clemson held a shaky 17-14 lead on Virginia less than two minutes before halftime Saturday. The Tigers faced third-and-10 from the Cavaliers' 24, and Parker dropped to pass.
Instead of receivers, all he saw was large Cavaliers. Parker, as nimble afoot as anyone this side of C.J. Spiller, ducked and dodged and seemed ready to break for the goal.
And then, without warning, his right arm a blur and his feet just shy of the line of scrimmage, Parker rifled a pass to receiver Jacoby Ford in the back of the end zone, a touchdown destined for the Tigers' highlight video.
"I thought he was gonna run it, but I just didn't take the play off," Ford said. "He made a play, just threw to me."
At the end of Clemson's history-making 34-21 victory, Parker wouldn't say it was his best play of a year full of big plays. "I was talking to coach McCorvey (assistant Woody) on the sideline and I told him, 'I guess it's better to be lucky that good.'
"I was about to run, then I saw (Ford) open, so ..."
So Parker fired a laser shot, side-armed no less, that rivaled anything he has shown in two seasons with the Tigers' baseball team.
He laughed. "Coach (Jack) Leggett taught me that," he said.
No. The Tigers' longtime baseball coach wouldn't try to take credit for that one, any more than Swinney would. It was unadulterated talent and killer instinct, pure and simple.
If you're looking for the difference between a Clemson team that began this season 2-3, but has gone 6-0 since, look no farther than the blond-haired wraith under center.
His stats line vs. Virginia - 19-of-26 passing for 234 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions - was a continuation of Parker's emergence. How good was he? His first 10 passes, for 128 yards, included nary an incompletion.
"He did?" Ford said, shaking his head and grinning. "I didn't know that."
His signature play, though, did not surprise Ford.
"Kyle's an instinct guy," he said. "He does a great job with his eyes; he can look one way, throw another."
Then Ford said what others are thinking: "He's going to be one of the best players to come out of this college."
C.J. Spiller gets most of the publicity, and rightly so; Ford matches Spiller in the burner and "big play" department. But Parker - he's the difference.
Just ask Swinney, whose 40th birthday a day late was nothing short of wonderful.
"That's (Parker's pass to Ford) just great ability," he said. "He understands where everyone is (on each play) and he keeps his eyes up. That's poise under pressure."
Of course, all that is why Parker, despite growing pains on the field through the first half of the season, is starting and longtime quarterback heir apparent Willy Korn is riding the bench.
Parker always has had the talent. But through Clemson's first five games, he learned - sometimes the hard way - that talent alone is not enough.
His completion percentage hovered below .500. His interceptions (five) matched his touchdowns. Parker needed more: more preparation, more focus, more commitment.
And that, said offensive coordinator Billy Napier, is what he has done the past six weeks.
"He's managed the game well, and he's grown up each week, gotten a little bit better each week," Napier, himself a "rookie" running the offense, said. "The past two weeks have been his best performances, and there's still more out there for him."
Some of the biggest plays of Clemson's season have come from Parker's strong right arm. At Miami, the 40-37 overtime victory that defines the Tigers' season, his third-down, 26-yard strike to Ford was the game-winner.
Two weeks later, his 18-of-30, 242-yard, four-touchdown game crushed Florida State, setting the stage for Saturday. Each week, through work and preparation on the field and in the film room, Parker steps toward a bright future.
"He's figuring it out," Swinney said. "He's figured out how to prepare, pay more attention to detail, and Billy's done a great job with him.
"No question, the development of our quarterback has been huge. Kyle 'gets it'; he's as smart a freshman as I've been around. And as he's improved, we've gotten better and better."
How good? Even Parker can't say.
"I think just being more consistent, making the plays that are there," he said. "I see the game a lot clearer. I'm not trying to create plays; that's what you learn when you go out and play a lot of games."
But sometimes, instinct takes precedence. Sometimes, talent flashes, and coaches shake their heads and are thankful to have both in a player.
In Parker, Clemson has both. On nights like this, it makes the difference.
Cavaliers falter in 2nd half
By Jay Jenkins
Published: November 22, 2009
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CLEMSON, S.C. — There was a massive roar inside Memorial Stadium long before Saturday’s contest reached its opening kickoff.
A gift-wrapped berth in the ACC championship game was announced for Clemson as Boston College’s loss to North Carolina clinched the Atlantic Division title for the Tigers.
With the chance to play spoiler gone, the few Virginia fans in attendance were clinging to the hopes that 18th-ranked Clemson might look ahead to more meaningful games.
Yet in a season mired with missed opportunities, reality dealt Virginia yet another cruel reminder: winning requires 60 minutes.
Clemson blanked the Cavaliers in the second half, becoming the third opponent to do so this season, and cruised to a 34-21 victory at Clemson Memorial Stadium.
Already eliminated from bowl contention, Virginia dropped to 3-8 overall and 2-5 in the ACC. The fifth-straight setback also secures a last-place finish in the league’s Coastal Division and the program’s worst finish since 1986.
“We had some guys step up and make some plays today,” Virginia coach Al Groh said, “but unfortunately we had some mistakes against a team that, clearly, can now be called of championship caliber, having won their division.”
Clemson, in the midst of a five-game winning streak, used its high-powered offense and special teams in the first half and relied on a seven-sack performance from its defense after halftime.
The Tigers had held on after Virginia running back Mikell Simpson, who shocked the Tigers by lining up at quarterback in the Wildcat formation, was unable to play the second half with a hamstring injury.
It showed. In fact, the Cavaliers managed just three first downs as they ran 26 second-half plays for just 40 yards. Only nine of those snaps came in Clemson territory.
“We didn’t play smart in the first half,” said Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, who turned 40 on Friday. “We weren’t disciplined with our eyes, and they had a lot of trick plays in the first half.
“This team came out in the second half to win this game.”
Leading 24-21 at halftime, Clemson pulled away midway through the third quarter as quarterback Kyle Parker completed two passes for 41 yards to help set up a 5-yard touchdown by Andre Ellington with 7:17 remaining.
“He keeps getting better and better,” Swinney said of Parker, who finished 19 of 26 passing for 234 yards and two touchdowns. “He is efficient and continues to make plays.”
It was all the scoring that the Tigers needed as Virginia managed just nine second-half plays in Clemson territory on offense as the day’s top weapon, Simpson, watched helplessly from the bench.
“It just seemed like [Clemson] blitzed a lot more,” said Simpson, analyzing the second half. “I don’t think they blitzed not once when I was in there.
“When they blitzed they were catching us off guard.”
That was not the case in the opening half after Virginia went to the Wildcat on its third possession, trailing 7-0.
Simpson, who did not play last week despite being deemed healthy, ran for three first downs and helped to guide the Cavaliers to the end zone. The score, however, came on a 6-yard keeper from starting quarterback Jameel Sewell as he faked a handoff and raced to his left untouched.
After a 7-play, 71-yard drive Clemson answered as running back C.J. Spiller scored for the 11th straight game on a 4-yard run.
As Clemson remained confused on defense, Virginia evened the game at 14-14.
This time, Virginia used trickery as wideout Vic Hall took the ball on a reverse on play-action and threw a wobbly 5-yard touchdown pass to tight end Joe Torchia, who was wide open in the right corner of the end zone.
“I can’t say that I was surprised, but I was excited to see him that open,” said Hall, who did not practice in the week leading up to the game. “We work on that play a lot. It worked out pretty well.”
Added Torchia: “I was wide open enough to think, ‘Don’t drop the ball.’ It just worked exactly the way that we wrote it up.”
As they did with the Cavaliers’ first score, the Tigers struck right back — placekicker Richard Jackson, considered inconsistent, nailed a 21-yard field goal after a 13-play drive stalled at the Virginia 4.
Simpson did his part to help set up the next Clemson score, fumbling at the Cavaliers’ 27-yard line. The Tigers scored three plays later as Parker scrambled, stepped up in the pocket and fired a 24-yard bullet to former Fork Union star Jacoby Ford at the front of the end zone with 1:52 left in the half.
Ford, who finished with six catches and 106 yards receiving, easily eluded coverage from Virginia cornerback Chris Cook and safety Brandon Woods.
“We made mistakes in handling the ball today that created some field position issues that made it very challenging for us,” Groh said. “Ultimately, those are the things that swung the scales.”
While Groh claimed that Virginia was running the two-minute offense, it was four straight rushing attempts that led to 33 yards and allowed Sewell to go to the air.
Facing 1st-and-10 at the Clemson 23, Sewell showed all indications that a field goal was not an option. As the first half expired, he lofted a perfect floater to Simpson, who beat a linebacker to the left corner of the end zone.
Suddenly, Virginia was heading into halftime against a ranked opponent trailing just 24-21.
“Everybody was energetic, positive and upbeat,” said Simpson, who rushed for 84 yards on 14 carries a week after being benched. “We were playing a Clemson team that was trying to go to the championship and we were hanging in there.”
Virginia, which amassed 273 yards of total offense and averaged 4.6 yards per play, will close out the season on Saturday at home at 3:30 p.m. against Virginia Tech (8-3, 5-2).
“We are going into this game full throttle and I am trying to let everyone know that we are treating this as a bowl game,” Virginia defensive end Nate Collins said. “This is our game. No one on our team has beat Tech since they have been here, so this is a big deal.”
UVa offense makes an appearance
By Jerry Ratcliffe
Published: November 22, 2009
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For a half, Virginia’s offense looked like what everyone expected 12 weeks ago.
It was wide-open football with a running back and wide receiver lining up in the “Hoocat” formation, reverse passes, throwbacks to the quarterback and assorted trickeration that left highly-favored Clemson sweating.
Wasn’t that what the combination of new offensive coordinator Gregg Brandon, a spread offense and Vic Hall was supposed to do from the season-opening kickoff?
Whatever the case, Virginia threw caution to the wind on Saturday to give the Tigers a scare — for a half.
Vanished into thin air
Clemson, a three-touchdown favorite, led 24-21 at halftime before Virginia’s offense vanished as quickly and mysteriously as it had appeared. The faster, more talented Tigers stonewalled the Cavaliers in the second half and prevailed 34-21.
The win propelled Clemson (8-3) to its first Atlantic Division title and a spot in the ACC championship game against Coastal Division winner Georgia Tech on Dec. 5 in Tampa, Fla. The game is a chance for the Tigers to win their first conference crown since 1991.
UVa coach Al Groh said his team had a lot to feel good and positive about at halftime.
The Cavaliers had accumulated 119 yards on the ground, their highest rushing total since the Indiana rout in week 5, and 114 yards through the air. That meant UVa’s 233 yards of total offense in the first half was more than its entire yardage for the games against Maryland, Georgia Tech, Duke or Miami.
However, it wasn’t just the fact that Virginia was piling up yards, a rarity for an offense that entered the game ranked No. 118 out of 120 major college football teams. It was how the Cavaliers were acquiring the yardage that at least gave them and those who festoon themselves in orange and blue some encouragement.
The bag of tricks
For instance, on the third possession of the first half, senior tailback Mikell Simpson lined up in UVa’s version of the wildcat offense.
Simpson, who didn’t play in last week’s down-to-the-wire loss against Boston College because of a poor week of practice, picked it up in preparation this week and made a difference. From the Hoocat, he rushed five straight plays and made Clemson play.
He moved the ball 43 yards into Tiger territory before quarterback Jameel Sewell lined up at his natural spot and play-faked to Simpson, and the Tigers bit. While they were in pursuit of Simpson, Sewell trotted six yards untouched into the end zone to tie the game at 7-all.
On UVa’s next possession, Sewell passed the ball to his left to Hall, who passed it back to Sewell for a 30-yard gain down to the Clemson 5.
Next play, Hall got the ball on a reverse and threw to tight end Joe Torchia for a touchdown, knotting it at 14-all.
On the Cavaliers’ final possession of the first half, there really wasn’t any trickery. Simpson noticed that Clemson was putting a linebacker on him in man-to-man coverage every play, so he wisely informed Sewell to throw the ball up and he would go and get it.
“I knew I could outrun a linebacker,” Simpson smiled.
That he did, capping a nine-play, 80-yard drive with a 23-yard scoring reception to cut Clemson’s lead to 24-21 as the first half ended.
The Tigers had to be sweating.
Where in the world had this offense been all along? Would the Cavaliers be reeling with a disappointing 3-8 record with such a wide-open offensive philosophy from the get-go?
“To be able to move the ball, everybody’s clicking, it was great that first half .... Amazing,” said Sewell, whose 160 passing yards moved him into third all-time on UVa’s career list, ahead of Aaron Brooks and Scott Gardner. “We felt that’s what it would take to put some points up against these guys.”
However, when Simpson hauled in that Sewell pass in the end zone to end the half, his day ended. Simpson said he felt his right hamstring pop, and even though he tried to get loose on the sidelines when he emerged from the locker room, he couldn’t accelerate.
His day was done, and seemingly, so was Virginia’s.
The offense never clicked the second half. In fact, Clemson shut down pretty much everything UVa tried, including the Hoocat, with its originator, Hall, at the controls.
Sewell was highly ineffective in the second half, too, getting sacked seven times (that’s 39 times UVa’s QBs have been sacked this season, compared to an ACC-leading 16 a year ago). The Cavaliers didn’t smell the goal line the second half and ended up with a mere 40 yards of total offense during the final two quarters, with 38 of that coming on a pass to freshman Perry Jones.
Sack yardage certainly played a role in that — minus-43 yards, to be exact, which also lowered UVa’s rushing totals to less than 100 yards for the sixth straight game.
During a brief halftime, the Cavaliers’ offense went from bold, exciting, unexpected, and effective to its former self, yeah, the one that hadn’t scored an offensive TD in its previous seven quarters coming into Saturday.
Several UVa’s players said the trick plays had been in the works for a long time, they were just waiting for the right time to run them.
Hello! How about from Week One? How about against William & Mary or in close games against Southern Miss, Duke and Boston College?
Why wait until it’s too late?
Well, at least they didn’t save all the surprises for this weekend’s finale against Virginia Tech.
The question is, will the pull out all the stops to beat the Hokies?
Virginia-Clemson game notes
Courtesy UVa athletic media relations
Published: November 22, 2009
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• Cam Johnson’s team-leading nine tackles broke his career high of seven against TCU this season
• Cory Mosley’s 27-yard kickoff return was a career high
• Mikell Simpson becomes the fourth player to line up as the UVa quarterback this season
• Clemson becomes only the third team to score a TD against UVa in the first quarter this season
• Jameel Sewell’s 14th career rushing TD was UVa’s first rushing touchdown inside the red zone since the Maryland game (Rashawn Jackson)
• UVa has scored 13 TDs inside the redzone this season, 12 have come on the ground
• Sewell’s 160 yards passing pushes him past Aaron Brooks (5,118) and Scott Gardner (5,218) into third place all-time in the UVa annals with 5,246 career passing yards
• Vic Hall’s 5-yard touchdown pass was the first of his career
• Hall has now scored a TD four different ways in his career (passing, rushing, receiving and interception)
• UVa had gone 130 offensive plays without fumbling before Rashawn Jackson lost the handle on the game’s opening offensive play
• Al Groh coached his 177th career game at an ACC school (Wake, Virginia) today, holding down fourth place all-time in the league annals
Virginia Head Coach Al Groh Quotes
Courtesy: VirginiaSports.com Release: 11/21/2009
Virginia Head Coach Al Groh Postgame Quotes -- Clemson vs. Virginia (Nov. 21, 2009)
"Well, congratulations to Clemson for winning their division. That is one
of the better looking teams we have seen in quite some time. They come at
you from all directions. The pressure is on every play. We stood up to
it well throughout, but there is just a lot of talent out there and some
of those playmakers made plays that made the difference in the game. I am
very pleased with the effort the players put in the preparation for it,
and some guys stepped up and made plays today. Unfortunately we had some
mistakes against a team that can now be called championship-caliber,
having won their division. Those mistakes created some field position
issues that ultimately swung the scales."
On success of the wildcat formation in the first half prior to injuries:
"That removed the facet of our operation that had been successful for us.
I am sure Clemson would have made adjustments to challenge it. Those
things happen in games, I am sure Clemson had a guy that was unable to
finish the game, too."
On Clemson's defensive adjustments in the second half:
"I thought that the most significant thing in all of these schemes is all
runners look the same when there is no huddle, but they did a better job
with the screen and controlling the line of scrimmage. Then the absence
of the one scheme that had been successful for us was an issue."
On his defense in the second half:
"I would say it was about the same. We had some difficult field position
situations in the first half. The first two possessions for Clemson
started inside the 50-yard line. Then we had a mishandled punt down there
and the turnover at the end of the half. Had we done a better job with
the ball we probably would have had a better chance at the end."
On the team's feeling at halftime:
"Good. Especially our attitude at that point, there was a lot to feel
good and positive about. Certainly there were some plays that we would
have liked to have done better on, but I am sure the other side felt the
On Clemson's six sacks in the fourth quarter:
"They have good pass rushers. They have four good pass rushers and they
On the final possession of first half:
"We wanted to move the ball down the field and try to get into scoring
territory and try to get into the end zone."
Clemson Head Coach Dabo Swinney Quotes
Courtesy: VirginiaSports.com Release: 11/21/2009
Clemson Head Coach Dabo Swinney Quotes -- Clemson vs. Virginia (Nov. 21, 2009)
"I thank God for allowing me to be here with this great program, this
great staff, these great players, and this great fan base. So many people
deserve this win. These guys played great, and played through adversity to
clinch the ACC Atlantic Division, now let's go to Tampa."
On the play of his seniors:
"It was like a basketball game, when I subbed the guys out at the end of
the game. I had to congratulate them for their efforts not just for today,
but also for the past four years. They gave me a #40 jersey for my
birthday, and they all signed it before the game. They are really a great
group of guys. Jacoby (Ford) had a career-high in all-purpose yards today,
and Kavell (Conner) came out and made 15 tackles. All of the seniors gave
great effort today. I'm so proud of these guys."
On the play of quarterback Kyle Parker:
"He keeps getting better and better. He is efficient and continues to make
plays. He was 19 for 26 with 234 passing yards. He is growing as a player,
and has continued to make smarter plays."
On the team's second half adjustments:
"We didn't play smart in the first half. We weren't disciplined with our
eyes. And they had a lot of trick plays in the first half. Our staff made
great adjustments at halftime, and we challenged then in the second half.
This team never gave up, and they came out in the second half to win this
On Clemson's first championship game appearance:
"The last championship team I've been on was in 1999, so I know how to
prepare this team and get them ready for it. Our first goal was to clinch
the ACC Atlantic Division, and we did that. Our next goal is to win a
state championship against South Carolina next weekend. Our third goal is
to win the ACC Championship game. Our fourth goal is to win a Bowl game.
We're happy today, but we're not done yet. We have a lot of football left
to play, so we're going back to work this week."
A bittersweet day for UVa’s Simpson
By Jay Jenkins
Published: November 22, 2009
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CLEMSON, S.C. — Watching from the sidelines as an innocent bystander while his teammates fell to Boston College did not sit well with Mikell Simpson.
He was so emotionally crushed, in fact, that the senior running back went to see coach Al Groh last week.
He pleaded for another opportunity.
It would only come with improved production and effort in practice, he was told.
“I talked to coach and it was all up to me, basically,” Simpson recounted. “My playing time depended on how hard I practiced and how much I did in practice.
“[Last] week, I just came out with a mindset that I have to contribute more in practice.”
Was the work delivered on the fields outside of the McCue Center enough?
“I think that’s a self-answering question,” Virginia coach Al Groh said. “If he hadn’t had a good week of practice, we wouldn’t have used him.”
With Virginia’s offense stagnant early on against No. 18 Clemson, the Cavaliers reached deep into their playbook.
Becoming the fourth quarterback of the season for Virginia, Simpson was inserted in the Wildcat formation with 5:43 left in the opening quarter.
“I got excited. I don’t know, when I’m back there at quarterback, running Wildcat, I just felt like a little kid having fun,” Simpson said after Virginia’s 34-21 loss at Clemson Memorial Stadium. “We had nothing to lose so we just brought it out.”
Six plays after Simpson took his first direct snap since last season, the Cavaliers (3-8, 2-5 ACC) reached the end zone, tying the game at 7.
It jolted an offense that entered the game ranked No. 118 nationally and ahead of just Washington State and New Mexico State in the country.
With Simpson lining up at Wildcat and as a traditional tailback, the Cavaliers went on to score 21 first-half points, something the offense had not down since Oct. 10 against hapless Indiana.
After pleading with quarterback Jameel Sewell to throw to the running backs on deep routes out of the backfield, the message was heard.
“Me and the rest of the guys had been calling for the throwback,” Simpson said. “They were in man-to-man coverage with their linebacker on the back every time.
“I just told Jameel, ‘Look, just throw it up and I’m gonna go get it.’ I can outrun the linebacker, so that’s just what I did.”
When the dust settled, Simpson stretched out to haul in a 23-yard touchdown pass at the front pylon in the left corner of the end zone as the half expired.
His teammates were not surprised that “Juice” was able to deliver in a fashion that reminded them of moments scattered in the past.
“He was excited about being able to get back in the game and get some reps and make some things happen for the team, and that’s what he did,” Virginia quarterback Jameel Sewell said. “Whenever he gets the opportunity to get the ball I really expect for him to make something work out, no matter how the look is.”
The touchdown catch proved costly, though, and all but ruined chances of registering a rally.
“When I stretched out to catch it, I felt kind of a pop in my right hamstring,” Simpson sand, “and then I came out in the second half and tried to run up and down and I couldn’t accelerate.”
He was promptly given an ice bag and a spot on the bench.
“I would be hurting myself,” he said, “and the team, had I come out and played.”
For the second straight week, Simpson was dejected on the sidelines.
“It’s very disappointing just because I was feeling hot today,” said Simpson, who rushed for 84 yards and caught two passes for 43 more. “Anytime I get injured and I am contributing to a large degree like that, I feel like I am letting my team down. It was more that I was letting my team down in the situation than anything.”
Simpson remains hopeful that he will be able to play in the season finale on Saturday against Virginia Tech.
“It’s my last game,” he said. “I have to.”
Swimmers Fare Well Against Nittany Lions
Courtesy: VirginiaSports.com Release: 11/20/2009
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Virginia men's and women's swimming and diving teams fared well it is first of two days competing in a dual meet against Penn State in University Park, Pa. The Cavalier women clocked five NCAA 'B' qualifying standards on Friday.
The women got off to a fast start, winning the 200 freestyle relay in 1:32.74, an NCAA 'B' time. The squad included freshman Meredith Perdue, senior Mei Christensen, junior Hannah Davis and junior Kristen Moores.
Perdue went on to win the 100 free (49.97, 'B) and Christensen took first-place honors in the 200 back (1:56.43, 'B').
Junior Liz Shaw was a double-event winner in the 200 IM (2:03.19) and the 200 fly (1:57.99, 'B') and freshman Christine Olson also won the 100 breast (1:04.30).
Senior Jen Narum led a 1-2-3 finish for the Cavaliers in the 500 free, touching in an NCAA 'B' time of 4:50.46. Teammate Jenna Harris (4:52.45) was second and Katya Bachrouche (4:53.38) placed third.
The 400 medley relay capped the night with as Virginia finished 1-2 in the event. The team of Christensen, Katherine McDonnell, Lauren Smart and Kelly Flynn took top honors, clocking a mark of 3:43.19, just .01 away from another 'B' standard. Meanwhile, Jenny Lewis, Olson, Shaw and Perdue placed second in 3:45.78.
For the men, Matt McLean led a trio of Cavaliers in the 500 free, recording an NCAA 'B' time of 4:28.13. Taylor Smith finished second (4:29.86) and Garrett Wren was third (4:31.94).
Senior John Azar also led UVa to a 1-2-3 finish in the 200 IM, winning the event in 1:50.55, in front of Tim Hayes (1:52.69) and newcomer Matt Houser (1:52.88). Azar went on to win the 100 breast in 56.84.
Other event winners for the men included Scot Robison in the 100 free (44.78) and the 400 medley relay team of Eric Olesen, Azar, Robison and McLean (3:20.50).
The meet will conclude Saturday beginning at 11 a.m. from McCoy Natatorium.
Marquee teams set to do battle
By Jay Jenkins
Published: November 22, 2009
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This time, the fire marshal can relax.
Some 23 years after Virginia fans filled University Hall to set a single-game record, something that drew the ire of local officials and created a new capacity in the venue, Hot Dog Night is being used again to set another record.
While the contest itself features two marquee programs with a long-standing history in No. 6 Tennessee (2-0) and No. 12 Virginia (3-0), the Cavaliers are hoping to break the old single-game attendance mark of 11,174 that was set in 1986 with the promotion.
“I am real excited,” Virginia coach Debbie Ryan said. “How do you not get excited about it? It is a great regional rivalry and it is just a good match-up.”
Virginia’s players, who stunned Tennessee last year, 83-82 on the road, are just as excited about the rematch.
“Personally, I know you are not supposed to think ahead to games — you are supposed to focus on this game, next game — but I have had this one marked down, and I know my whole family has for a long time, especially after last year,” said Virginia sophomore Chelsea Shine, who scored 27 points in Wednesday’s 110-63 win over USC Upstate.
“Now, we can finally talk about it. I know everybody is really excited. To be able to play in that kind of environment, I am really looking forward to.”
In last year’s stunning upset over Tennessee, the Cavaliers were forced to play without forward Lyndra Littles, who had not been cleared by the NCAA.
But Virginia had Monica Wright, which seemed to be enough. The preseason All-American torched the Lady Vols for 31 points and the game-winning basket.
How does legendary Tennessee coach Pat Summitt look to stop Wright?
“I don’t know. You tell me,” Summitt answered. “She looks very confident right now taking the ball to the basket. She is a tremendous player.”
Tennessee, however, is obviously better this season — the Lady Vols started one of their youngest lineups in recent history last year. Virginia is in the same predicament this season, Ryan said.
“The difference would be that we have a couple of veteran players in [Paulisha Kellum] and [Wright] that have really stepped up and are leading us now on the court,” she added. “It is making a big difference for us.
“It has shown us the way in terms of mental and physical toughness. That’s really what you need. I don’t know that Tennessee had that last year as much as we have it this year.”
The Lady Vols opened the season with a 74-65 victory over then-ranked No. 7 Baylor and waxed Texas Tech by 38 points.
Tennessee is led guard Shekinna Stricklen, who is averaging 20.5 points and 10.5 rebounds per game.
“They are much more mature,” Ryan said of the Lady Vols. “They look bigger, stronger, faster. They look a lot better than they did when we played them last year.
“We will be ready.”
It remains unclear if rookie point guard China Crosby will be available to play today. Ryan said Crosby “cracked her tailbone” against USC Upstate. “It is a tough injury, but one that you can play with once you don’t have pain. Once the pain goes away you can play.” … Every fan that enters the doors today will receive a coupon for a free hot dog and a 12-ounce drink.
Tennessee will be tough test for Virginia’s women
VIC DORR JR. TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITER
Published: November 22, 2009
Updated: November 22, 2009
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To err is human. To err a second time apparently is unacceptable for members of the women's basketball program at the University of Tennessee.
The Lady Vols' mission this season is clear: prove that last year's 22-11 detour into mediocrity -- a detour that including a shocking loss to Ball State in the first round of the NCAA tournament -- was little more than an aberration.
So far, so good. Tennessee, ranked sixth nationally, will carry a 2-0 record into John Paul Jones Arena for this afternoon's 4 p.m. date with No.12 Virginia. (Originally, the game was to start at 2 p.m., but was pushed back to accommodate U.Va.'s men's home soccer match, which starts at 1.) Tennessee's victims include then-No.7 Baylor at home (74-65) and Texas Tech on the road (91-53).
"We're a year older and a year tougher," said Tennessee coach Pat Summitt. "Losing the way we did last year -- and losing to Ball State -- didn't just hurt us. It embarrassed us."
Summitt, the winningest coach in college basketball history, hasn't often been embarrassed in her 35-year career. She said the sting of the Ball State debacle -- it was the first first-round flameout in the history of the Tennessee program -- drove her players to remarkable heights during the offseason.
Said Summitt: Tennessee's strength and conditioning coach "says that in the seven years she's been here, this team put more into its summer workouts than any team she's been associated with" -- including the 2007 and 2008 national-championship teams. "They needed it, trust me. They needed to put that kind of work in."
Now, Summitt said, uncommon diligence seems to have become a habit.
"I think everyone understands that we're committed -- that we have to be committed," she said. "If someone isn't committed [to giving maximum effort] on any given day, it's time to call them out."