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Cavs have lock on 11 / March 09, 2009
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – Virginia is locked into the 11th seed at the ACC men’s basketball tournament in Atlanta, so the Cavaliers play Thursday night in first round action at the Georgia Dome against the sixth seed at 9:30 p.m.
The Cavaliers’ first-round opponent was determined yesterday, but Virginia (4-12 ACC, 10-17 overall) hardly looks like an automatic out in the tournament after its 68-63 win over Maryland Saturday.
Maryland, which dropped to 18-12 overall and 7-9 in the ACC, ran into a Cavalier team inspired to give seniors Mamadi Diane and Tunji Soroye a big sendoff. Diane made certain the senior day went Virginia’s way, exploding for a season-high 23 points.
Virginia freshman Sylven Landesberg added 14 points, while Mike Scott had 11 points and 11 rebounds, and the tradition of success on senior day continued. The Cavaliers won on this special day for third consecutive year, improving to 8-2 on senior day since 1999-00.
The Terps, meanwhile, got three starters in double figures, led by Greivis Vasquez with 21, but fell short in a critical game they badly needed to enhance their NCAA tournament resume.
Maryland has wins over Michigan State and North Carolina, but the Terps are also 4-5 in their last nine games. The Terps likely need a major outburst at the ACC tournament in Atlanta to land an NCAA berth.
Diane drained the shot of the game, sinking an electrifying 3-pointer with 38 seconds left to give the Cavaliers the lead. Vasquez then missed a jumper with 14 ticks left, and Scott sealed the win with two free throws with 11 seconds remaining.
Virginia lost at Clemson Tuesday, but the Cavaliers have shown some improvement recently and cannot be dismissed as an automatic out in the first round of the ACC tournament, starting Thursday at the Georgia Dome.
Virginia finished ACC play 3-4 in its last seven games, including an overtime win over then no. 12 Clemson on February 15. The Cavaliers snapped a four-game losing skid here.
Virginia coach Dave Leitao, whose mood brightened Saturday, explained his reaction to Diane’s critical three-pointer.
“I just told the team that when that 3-pointer went up the first thing I said was ‘poetic justice’ and two, that ‘god works in mysterious ways.’
There was no better way to finish off one’s career and season. Obviously we needed Mamadi’s performance – it was timely and I think that not only Mo, but the rest of the team talked about the need to play with a higher energy level and I think we did that for the majority of the game,” said the Virginia coach.
Virginia does not have the depth or the overall talent level to play deep into the ACC tournament, but the Cavaliers appear capable of at least a first-round upset.
“From the first time we played Maryland on Jan. 20 to now, we’ve played differently. It hasn’t always resulted in wins or great performances, but we’ve played differently. I have to look at our play with some level of optimism as we move forward to the ACC tournament,” said Leitao.
“We’ve been through a lot, our team, our staff and most importantly our fans who want us to be better and do better but it didn’t happen like that. It just proves that you have to keep plugging and good things will happen. I think people are happy about it since our opponent is only two hours up the road and I think it gives us some momentum moving forward,” said Leitao.
Virginia has had to endure a tough season with a very young lineup, and the Cavaliers have had a difficult slate. As of March 6, (ESPN Insider RPI, the Cavs’ strength of schedule ranked no. 1 nationally.
Seven of Virginia’s opponents are ranked and one other received votes in last week’s AP poll.
“This whole group hasn’t given up on the process. When some teams are in the position we are in, they will cash their ticket in, but no one on this team has come close to doing that,” said Leitao.
Virginia came into the game 11th in the ACC in scoring defense, but held the Terps to 37.5 percent field goal shooting in the second half and 30.8 from three-point range after intermission. The Terps, who led by 13 with 6:11 left in the first half, battled back from a nine-point deficit to force a tie with 1:46 remaining.
But Diane delivered with his clutch jumper and Virginia decisively closed the deal.

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