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No rest for Virginia’s weary as Cavs enter crucial stretch

- - Friday, February 10, 2012

Virginia guard Malcolm Brogdon has a solution for the fatigue that often strikes freshmen at this point in the college basketball season — denial.

"I think I felt it a couple games ago," he said. "I just try to block it out, and say, 'You're not tired yet.' You have to keep playing anyway, so don't even think about it."

Saturday afternoon, Brogdon and the No. 19 Cavaliers kick off a seven-game sprint to the finish that includes a number of big games.

With the ACC race down to six teams, every win and loss will be magnified as the NCAA selection committee looks on.

"There are great opportunities out there for us," coach Tony Bennett said.

Six is the operative number in today's game, as both U.Va. and No. 5 North Carolina are down to six-man rotations because of injuries and defections. The Tar Heels went to six Friday when it was announced guard P.J. Hairston won't play Saturday.

On the Wahoos' side, guard Joe Harris said after going through the grind of the long college season for the first time, he's been more prepared as a sophomore.

"There was definitely a point in the season last year where you could tell your body is fatigued," he said. "This year with our limited numbers, you'd think the guys playing lots of minutes would also be more fatigued, but I think Coach does a great job managing our time."

The younger players all communicated excitement about traveling to UNC for a game, though the dynamics of that matchup took a sharp turn Wednesday night.

Instead of the Tar Heels looking down from a perch atop the league, a last-second loss to Duke puts them right in the middle of the fray. It's a scary thought given their talent.

Bennett started to discuss what the 'Hoos would have to do, but the list got out of hand quickly.

"The little things will be paramount for us," he said. "Our ability to have the defense set. Our ability to execute blockouts when a shot goes up. Having guards block out and rebound. Being good with the ball — you can't have high turnovers. Getting good shots."

It's a long list because the Tar Heels are long on talent. One particularly intriguing battle will be in the paint, between Tyler Zeller and Mike Scott, both top contenders for the ACC player of the year award.

Scott, a fifth-year senior who spent a year at a prep school, said the grind of the season won't get him down because, as an "old man," he knows how to prepare.

Of course, for the Cavaliers, there's one key difference between this season and the others Scott has participated in — the games are going his way.

"It's a lot of fun when you're winning," he said. "It's not like a job. Some people don't like their job, but I enjoy this."

Read more about the Cavaliers at TimesDispatch.com