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Reynolds Gets Out of His Funk at the Right Time

By Michael Arkush
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, March 11, 2005; Page D09

The shots kept falling, one after another, shots that sophomore guard J.R. Reynolds had not been making consistently in a long time. Reynolds scored a career-high 32 points last night to keep the Virginia Cavaliers' season -- and perhaps his coach's tenure -- alive, at least for another 24 hours.

"I just kept my confidence," said Reynolds, who converted 10 of 14 attempts, including five of seven three-point shots. "My coaches and teammates believed in me. Once the first couple of shots started going in, I started getting my rhythm."

Virginia sophomore R.J. Reynolds swoops in for two of his career-high 32 points, helping Coach Pete Gillen keep the reins for at least one more game. (Joel Richardson -- The Washington Post)

Like a golfer who loses his putting stroke, Reynolds had been receiving his share of advice. In his previous eight games combined, he had scored 48 points. Against conference opponents this year, he shot only 31 percent. He had been struggling so much that Coach Pete Gillen started Gary Forbes ahead of him in last Sunday's regular season finale at Florida State. The Cavaliers lost, 68-63 -- their fifth straight setback.

Ultimately, though, Reynolds paid attention to the person he trusted most, himself. His 32 points were the most scored in an ACC tournament game by a Cavalier since Junior Burrough notched 36 in a first-round contest against Georgia Tech in 1995.

"I know myself better than anyone," said Reynolds, who averaged 9.9 points for the season. "I know my shot, and there's nothing wrong with it."

There certainly wasn't anything wrong with it against the Hurricanes. Reynolds missed his first attempt, but then knocked down his next three. Sean Singletary, his back-court mate, noticed the change.

"I could see it in his eyes," Singletary said. "Every time they would go on a run, he would want the ball. He had a lot of fire, a lot of fight. Great players shoot their way out of slumps. We knew we had to continue to go to him."

While Reynolds was hitting jumpers and driving down the lane, his teammates were struggling from the field. The rest of the Cavaliers combined to hit just 12 of 36 shots. They were made 14 of 23 free throws and were outrebounded 47-33.

"J.R. was superb," said Gillen, whose job security remains tenuous. "Without him, we lose by double figures."

Earlier this week, in assessing his team's fortunes, Gillen pointed out the problems caused by Reynolds's recent slump. Reynolds needs to shoot well, Gillen said, to take pressure off the inside players.

Mission accomplished, according to Virginia center Elton Brown.

"I don't know what he did tonight," Brown said, "but whatever he did, he can do it tomorrow, too. He's a great player. I was even screening for him tonight."

Miami Coach Frank Haith did not need to be convinced.

"You watch him earlier this year and you know that he is a very capable shooter," Haith said. "He got going tonight and got some confidence."

Reynolds said he hasn't experienced any doubts during his difficult stretch, but decided the ACC tournament was just the opportunity he needed.

"It was real frustrating," he said. "I had a roller-coaster season. This is a fresh start for me."

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