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U.Va, Tech: Headed in different directions, but that rarely matters in showdown

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Virginia Tech's two losses to Virginia last year were viewed as a stain on the Hokies' NCAA tournament résumé.

This year, it's a different story.

The Cavaliers have soared to a No.15 ranking, while the Hokies have fallen to 0-4 in ACC play. That might not matter Sunday night, though, in what is always a fierce rivalry game.

"I know we're going to get their best punch," Cavs guard Sammy Zeglinski said. "We'll give our best punch to them, too. It's going to be a great, competitive game."

Zeglinski was speaking to reporters after Thursday night's 70-38 blowout of Georgia Tech, a blueprint of what Virginia (15-2, 2-1) wants to accomplish in games this season.

The Cavaliers are a defense-first team and will work to keep the Hokies from getting rebounds. If the first shot of a possession doesn't fall, U.Va. won't offer many second chances.

Still, the players know the passions of the rivalry and won't be writing off Virginia Tech (11-7, 0-4). The Hokies would love to pick up their first conference win in Charlottesville.

"They're wars, when you play them," U.Va. coach Tony Bennett said of the Hokies. "They're a different team [than last year], but they certainly have some talent.

"In this league, if you're not right, anybody beats you, or you have a chance to beat anybody."

The Hokies need to right their ship fast. The last time they started 0-4 in the ACC was 2006, which also was the last time they didn't qualify for the postseason.

That record disguises a halftime lead against North Carolina on Thursday night, one that was quickly negated by a 26-2 UNC run in the second half.

Hokies coach Seth Greenberg has been exasperated by his team at times this year, including a pointed critique of the team's guard play before the UNC game.

But he also has maintained that the Hokies are on the verge of turning the corner. Paying back the Wahoos for last year's losses would be as good a place as any to start.

For Virginia, it's about sustaining momentum. Now nationally ranked, the Cavaliers got a message from Bennett earlier in the week about "freeing your mind."

The coach said he talked on "not being worried about where we're ranked, or trying to keep this thing going. Just come out and play. Be who we are, and play."

When U.Va. is clicking, it's a tough team to beat.

Then again, so was Virginia Tech last year.

Read more about the Cavaliers at TimesDispatch.com

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