Ask Virginia's Jeff Lamp if he wants the basketball in a crucial situation and he will just smile and say, "I always want the basketball."
The question then: when things get tough for the Cavaliers, will Lamp get the basketball? Tonight, Lamp got the ball when the game grew tense and as a result UVA escaped its grudge match against Virginia Tech with a 65-58 victory.
"When things are close I do try to assert myself offensively," Lamp admitted after scoring six of his game-high 24 points in succession to turn a 52-all deadlock into a 58-52 Virginia lead. "With our two starting forwards hurting, sure I'm going to want the ball a little more."
The Cavaliers, now 13-2 for the season, were again without Lamp's pal Lee Raker and were forced to play with starting forward Mike Owens hobbled by an ankle problem.
Those two injuries, plus the absence of point guard Jeff Jones, after he fouled out with 7:39 left, put the spotlight on Lamp when Tech's Les Henson tied the game at 52 on short jump shot with 4:08 to play.
First, Lamp drove the lane, was fouled and made one free throw to put UVA back in front, 53-52. After Hokie Coach Charles Moir called time, Henson missed an open 15-footer.
"That was the shot we wanted," said Henson, a 12-point scorer tonight. "They didn't swing around quick enough and I was open. We didn't want to go inside on Ralph (Sampson, who blocked eight shots) so that was the shot. I thought it was down."
Terry Gates rebounded the miss and the Wahoos worked the ball around the perimeter trying to spring Lamp. The 6-foot-6 junior finally came open in the corner, gave Henson his patented head-and-shoulder fake and banked in a soft 10-footer as Henson fouled out. The free throw made it 56-52 with 2:57 left.
"That was the key part of the ball game," said Moir, whose team is now 9-3 and has lost five straight times to Virginia. "When you get down by four or six to Virginia at the end, you're in trouble because they hit their foul shots."
Lamp had missed three free tosses earlier, but showed what Moir meant seconds after his three-point play. He got a major assist from Langley graduate Doug Newburg. The 6-2 freshman stole the ball cleanly from Tech's Jeff schneider and when the ball came free at the other end, Lamp picked it up and was fouled going up.
He made both shots, it was 58-52 Virginia with 2:44 left and the Hokies were done for.
Thus, the Cavs escaped on a night when they shot as poorly as they have all season (.407) and had many in the Richmond Colliseum capacity crowd of 10,716 wondering at times why they have been so highly touted.
Sampson, although he had a poor night offensively (14 points on five-of-16 shooting, and six turnovers) was a force defensively and on the boards with 21 rebounds. And, with Raker out and Crews hobbled, Coach Terry Holland wasn't complaining.
"In an emotional game like this you're bound to see mistakes and turnovers," Holland said. "The first half we were worried because it was so physical. The second half we really bowed our necks when we had to."
Certainly freshman Newburg played a crucial role, coming in for Jones to play solid defense, come up with the crucial steal and make six of seven free throws down the stretch when Virginia was protecting the lead.
"They put me in for defense," he said. "I don't worry about any offense. I just tried to play smart when I got in."
Smart basketball, not pretty basketball, won for UVA.
In spite of Tech shooting just 32 percent the first half, the Cavaliers led by only 31-29 at the break. Tech twice led by two in the second half but neither team could gain control until Lamp's six-point binge.
Sampson had a rugged battle all night with Tech's muscular big men, Wayne Robinson (11 points) and Dale Solomon (16 points) but the 7-foot-4 freshman emerged winner, in all ways.
"We pounded him all night," Robinson said. "It didn't bother him much though."
"I knew it was going to be physical with those two guys so I was ready," Sampson said. "When they came in with their shots I just tried to send them right back out."
And so with Sampson's defense and Lamp's offense, UVA sent Tech home frustrated again. "Now they'll be saying it isn't a big game to them," Henson predicted, "Just like they always do."
"This is a big game to the alumni and the sportswriters because it's for bragging rights," Lamp said. "The players don't take it that seriously."