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When shots stopped falling, Virginia’s Sammy Zeglinski contributed elsewhere

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CHARLOTTESVILLE — To a certain extent, Virginia guard Sammy Zeglinski’s career will be defined by his three-point shooting ability. Such is the consequence of making more three-pointers than all but four players in Cavaliers history.

But what happens when the shots suddenly stop falling? This was Zeglinski’s situation two months ago, when the most grueling shooting slump of his career began. Hesitant to acknowledge it at first, Zeglinski grew to accept his circumstance and adjust his focus. And by doing so, he built on the other defining pillar of his time at Virginia: resilience.

When No. 24 Virginia (21-7, 8-6 ACC) hosts No. 22 Florida State (19-9, 10-4) on Thursday, Zeglinski will take the court at John Paul Jones Arena one final time. The fifth-year senior still would prefer all his shots fall, but he no longer ties his value to the team directly to his shooting percentage.

“Whenever you go through a slump, it’s frustrating not being able to knock down shots and contribute offensively,” Zeglinski said. “It was hard for me, being my senior year, to get through that. But just having such great teammates and such a great coaching staff to lean on really showed they believe in me. . . . It makes it easier to keep playing and not think about your shot as much and go into games thinking about other areas.”

Zeglinski is shooting 27.5 percent from three-point range this season in ACC play. He’d experienced the highs and lows of shooting streaks before, but never had a rut extended as long as it did this winter.

When he confided in Coach Tony Bennett, as well as various other team officials and teammates past and present, they all told him the same thing: keep shooting.

“I really don’t worry about his shooting; Sammy’s a shooter,” fifth-year senior forward Mike Scott said. “I’m only worried when he doesn’t shoot, when he gets down on himself because he’s not shooting and he’s scared to shoot the ball because he thinks he’s going to miss.”

During a 60-48 loss Feb.14 at Clemson, Zeglinski made 1 of 5 three-pointers in the first half and then did not attempt a shot from behind the arc in the second. He finished with three points, and fans noticed. To that point, he had averaged 5.5 points per game in conference play. Zeglinski said some fans made their feelings known via postgame Twitter messages, not all of which were supportive.

But what the Cavaliers noticed were the other contributions Zeglinski made that night. He tallied six assists, four rebounds and two steals. In fact, Zeglinski has averaged 4.5 rebounds and 1.3 steals and has posted a 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio over the past six games. On an injury-depleted team with only three fully healthy guards, that production has been significant.

“There’s a lot of people that will have something to say to you or try to beat you down,” Zeglinski said. “Just having that mental toughness to persevere and know that you can impact the game in so many other ways, and your shot is something that will come around. I’ve made shots in the past, so I’m not really — it’s not that I can’t shoot. It’s just something you have to get through.”

Perseverance is a quality in which Zeglinski is well versed. He has suffered ankle, knee and hip injuries during his college career. He missed two games in November because of ankle problems. And yet no Virginia player has averaged more minutes per game this season than Zeglinski.

Of late, his shot has come around as well. Zeglinski has made 8 of 22 three-pointers (36.4 percent) over the past three games, during which he has averaged 11.7 points per contest.

Zeglinski “knows that his teammates and coaches, nobody ever doubted him,” sophomore guard Joe Harris said. “We’re always trying to instill confidence in him and let him know how great of a shooter we think he is.”

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