Ralph Sampson played his first game without the strong supporting cast of past years and found out exactly what this season holds for him.
"When teams put two or three guys on me, it just gives my teammates opportunities for open shots," the 7-foot-4 center said yesterday after being held to 14 points in Virginia's 63-61 victory over Brigham Young in the nationally televised Hall of Fame Tip-Off Classic.
"I'm prepared for it," he said about the constant crowd around him as he tried to shake free for passes. "Our whole team is prepared for it. If a lot of people sag back on me, it opens up a lot of other things."
Sampson was able to get off only 12 shots, making seven, as the Cougars played a two-three zone and often had four players surrounding him. He also contributed seven rebounds and five blocked shots in the opening game of his junior year.
Brigham Young, which lost to Virginia, 74-60, in the NCAA Eastern Regional finals last March in Atlanta, did an excellent job of containing the Cavalier running game and could have sent the game into overtime if junior Gary Furniss had made both of his one-and-one free throw opportunities in the final second. He missed the first shot and the game ended.
The Cougars trailed by 14 early in the second half and were still behind, 58-50, with 7:17 to play when they started their final surge.
Sampson had picked up his fourth foul 20 seconds earlier and Coach Terry Holland was undecided on whether to replace his star or risk losing him.
After trying to shuffle him in and out to take advantage of his defensive skills (seven rebounds and five blocked shots), Holland was forced to stay with Sampson. BYU then scored six straight points, the last four by senior Greg Ballif, to reduce Virginia's lead to 58-56 with 4:48 remaining.
The only way Virginia's guards could get the ball into Sampson was with lob passes. Craig Robinson tossed one to Sampson, who slammed it in for a 60-56 Virginia lead.
Fred Roberts, a 6-10 senior who led the losers with 16 points, sank a jumper and when Furniss made a three-point play on one of the few fast-break opportunities the Cougars had, BYU nudged in front, 61-60, with 46 seconds left.
On the next lob to Sampson, it appeared that he was hit on the wrist by Roberts, who came up with the loose ball and called time out. All the Cougars had to do was run out the clock, but Virginia applied tight pressure in the back court. Ricky Stokes stole the ball from Roberts and fed Jeff Jones for a layup.
Jones was fouled and made the free throw to put Virginia back on top, 63-61, with 15 seconds to play. Steve Trumbo, a 43 percent shooter in his three seasons, missed a jumper from the right and there was a foul called on Virginia's Jeff Jones with the ball loose on the floor and no time showing on the clock. After a timeout, however, Furniss couldn't take advantage of the opportunity.
"I didn't think it was a foul," Jones said. "He initiated the contact going for the loose ball, then lost his balance and it made it look like I fouled him."
Othell Wilson, a sophomore from Woodbridge, Va., who directs the Cavalier offense, said the team was a little hestitant to attack in the second half and that's how the lead was lost.
"In the last 15 minutes, I don't think we had a fast break," added Jones. "We were all a little uncertain whether to keep attacking or hold it out and try to make them come out of their zone."
The big question of how well the Cavaliers can perform without Sampson was answered in the first half. When he picked up his second foul ("I might have been too anxious at the beginning"), Sampson went to the bench after scoring eight points to give his team a 16-12 lead. By halftime Virginia owned a comfortable 38-26 advantage.
"I was glad to see them do so well," Sampson said with a smile. "I have a lot of confidence in the young guys and now they should have more confidence in themselves."