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Virginia falls to Wake Forest, suffers first ACC basketball loss

By Zach Berman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 24, 2010; D07

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- Tony Bennett adheres to a policy popular among many coaches: When a player commits his second personal foul in the first half, the Virginia coach sends that player to the bench until halftime.

But that seldom happens to a team's top two scorers, and particularly not when more than seven minutes remain in the half. So when Mike Scott committed his second foul to join Sylven Landesberg on the bench in a 69-57 loss to Wake Forest on Saturday, Bennett was faced with a difficult decision.

"I thought if we could just hang in there," Bennett said. "But the game got out of hand."

Landesberg committed his second foul with 12 minutes 28 seconds remaining in the half and Virginia (12-5, 3-1) trailing by nine points. The whistle blew for Scott's second foul with 7:53 remaining in the half and the Cavaliers trailing by four points. And with both players on the bench, the Cavaliers' eight-game winning streak and undefeated ACC record appeared in peril.

Wake Forest (14-4, 4-2) finished with a 16-1 run after Scott's foul to enter halftime with a 19-point lead that proved insurmountable. Virginia experienced a late-second-half spurt, but could never cut the deficit into single digits.

"Usually, I hold a guy out if he gets two fouls, and I just stuck to that," Bennett said. "We talked about that on the bench in one of our timeouts. And then all of the sudden, there's about 2 1/2 , three minutes left, and we thought, 'Boy, to put Sylven back in now would be foolish if he picked one up.'

"But I might have to reconsider thinking about that. It's something you just have to have a feel for. Being down what we were at the half, 19, is hard to overcome against a team like this."

Landesberg burned inside while he watched from the sideline. As the team's leading scorer came to the bench after his second foul, he told Bennett that he could play in that situation. Scott was confident he could play with two fouls, too.

"It was very frustrating," said Landesberg, who scored 14 of his 18 points in the second half. "We cut the lead to four, and I was getting really anxious on the bench, happy. And then when they started spreading the lead out, it was nerve-racking. I just wanted to go back in and help, but I couldn't."

As much preparation as Bennett does, planning to play without his top two scorers is not in the blueprint. Bennett said the team ran the same sets, although they came without the inside scoring and outside threats. The team relied on Sammy Zeglinski, Jeff Jones, Mustapha Farrakhan and Jerome Meyinsse -- all capable scorers, but better when playing off Landesberg and Scott.

"It's a tough spot when your two leading scorers get two fouls in the first half," Meyinsse said. "We had a lot of shots that didn't fall for us, we missed some free throws in the first half. Things got stagnant on offense, I think."

Meyinsse alluded to the team's overall struggles that plagued them regardless of who was on the court. The Cavaliers entered the game No. 1 in the ACC in three-point percentage and No. 2 in free throw percentage. Against the Demon Deacons, they made just 23.8 percent of their three-pointers and 50 percent of their free throws. Bennett often heard the ball clank, and as a former shooter, he knew what that symbolized.

"They weren't close," Bennett said, "and a lot of that had to do with Wake's ability to close on shooters with their length and not give us clean looks."

Bennett praised the way Wake Forest played the pack-line defense that was developed by Bennett's father, Dick Bennett. It's the same defense that Virginia's players thought could keep them in the game, but it instead caused their unraveling by the way the Demon Deacons executed it.

"I think my dad would probably disown me and claim [Wake Forest Coach Dino Gaudio] as his son after this game," Bennett joked.

With its first ACC loss, Virginia has four days before a visit from in-state rival Virginia Tech on Thursday. How the Cavaliers respond could be the truest measure of whether Virginia can maintain the promise revealed in the eight straight wins that preceded Saturday's loss.

"We all know that this was a game we could have won -- like I said, foul trouble was a big factor in the game," Landesberg said. "We're still confident that we're one of the better teams out there."

Cavaliers note: Senior guard Calvin Baker did not travel with the team. Bennett said it was a "coach's decision," but did not elaborate.

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