CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Mike Scott and fellow fifth-year senior Sammy Zeglinski were seated with coach Tony Bennett between them when the team gathered to watch the NCAA selection show.
When the Cavaliers heard their named called, Scott was the first to his feet.
“Once the Florida name was called, I knew our name was going to be called next,” the Cavaliers’ scoring and rebounding leader said. “A picture was taken, and I was the first person to jump up.”
Scott, an All-ACC forward who averaged 18.1 points and 8.4 rebounds, has waited a long time for his first chance at the NCAA tournament. He says he will be full of emotion when the Cavaliers are preparing to play Florida in Omaha, Neb., in the second round Friday afternoon.
“The only tournament I’ve ever been to was the CBI tournament,” he said.
Zeglinski, too, is fired up.
“It definitely has been a long time coming being here five years and never getting a chance to play in the tournament,” he said, noting that the rest of his evening turned reflective for him.
“You do think about some of the struggles that you’ve been through with your teammates.”
Zeglinski has had more than his share of those struggles, missing 25 games in the 2007-08 season because of an ankle injury and missing seven games last season while rehabbing from knee surgery. This year, he’s been healthy but his 3-point shooting largely has been missing in action. He was among the leaders in ACC play last year at 43.6 percent but is at 29.5 percent in league play this year.
But with his shot falling or not, Zeglinski is critical to the Cavaliers, who allowed just 53.7 points per game, among the lowest figures in the country. He was second on the team with 45 steals, five behind point guard Jontel Evans, and the tandem’s play is critical to Virginia’s perimeter defense.
“He’s a big reason why, on the perimeter, obviously — we talk about Jontel and his ability to guard the ball and to get after it — but Sammy did a really good job on the defensive side of things with his off-ball defense and guarding guys and taking care of the ball and doing things,” Bennett said.
Of course, with Scott by far the Cavaliers most dangerous offensive player, a return of Zeglinski’s 3-point marksmanship would be huge against a high-scoring team like the Gators.
Scott, though, said he doesn’t give Zeglinski’s shooting more than a passing thought.
“When he stopped shooting, I guess that’s when I would say something,” he said.
It’s not like Virginia has the luxury of waves of other options. Evans is severely limited when shooting from the outside, with teams often only covering him within 15 or so feet, and swingman Joe Harris made 49 3s to Zeglinski’s 57, but he’s playing with a heavy padding on his broken left hand.
Virginia also is without freshman Malcolm Brogdon, done for the season after foot surgery last week. UVa. will have only seven scholarship players in uniform for the start of Friday’s contest. Two other healthy players, KT Harrell and James Johnson, decided to transfer in December, and center Assane Sene broke his foot in mid-January and his playing career is finished after surgery.
Scott, though, doesn’t see that as a problem. It is, after all, the NCAA tournament
“We’ve battled through injuries and transfers and everything else, and we’ve been in games,” he said, “So I don’t see anything wrong with it. I think we’ll be fine.”
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