he fitness report on Virginia must note that Ralph Sampson is well on the way to a full recovery. The full Virginia report must note that forward Craig Robinson has regained his confidence, helping the Cavaliers overcome the loss of several players from last year's final four team.
Those two things were obvious tonight as the Cavaliers defeated Richmond, 74-43, before a capacity crowd of 10,716 in the opening round of the sixth annual Times-Dispatch tournament.
Virginia, ranked third by the Associated Press and second by United Press International, faces James Madison (8-0) in Wednesday's 9 p.m. final. Madison, which trailed by as many as 12 points in the first half, rallied in the final eight minutes and outscored Virginia Commonwealth, 18-8, for a 54-46 victory.
But the Dukes, who dropped a 53-52 game to the Cavaliers last season, will have a hard time keeping the Cavaliers from winning their third Times-Dispatch title and their 20th straight against state competition. Robinson will be one of the reasons.
The 6-foot-8 junior forward said that the end of last year was a struggle for him. He said his confidence may have been at an all-time low.
"I keep trying to put all of that behind me and I definitely feel like I have," he said after getting 12 points and eight rebounds against Richmond. "I'm a little older and I guess I'm just relaxing a little bit more.
"Each night I just try and go out and play. I try to do the things I can do best. But, I think I do have more confidence and feel like when everybody is teaming up on Ralph inside I can get off a good shot."
Robinson and Sampson easily dominated the inside in the first five minutes against Richmond. The obviously intimidated Spiders made just seven of their 31 first-half shots.
As Robinson said, "With Ralph inside, our intentions are always to go inside first." And inside Sampson showed little effect of the broken finger or the hip injury that had slowed him through the first seven games this season.
Sampson slammed his first attempt off a lob from Jeff Jones and then added four more points, matching Robinson's six points as the Cavaliers opened a 12-2 lead with 16:44 remaining in the first half. That started the rout.
Tim Mullen made a jump shot from the foul line and Othell Wilson (11 points, five assists) scored on a muffed Richmond rebound to push the lead to 16-2.
"Craig has been playing with more confidence all year," said Wilson, the sophomore point guard. "Like tonight, he allows us to balance our offense, go rightor left. And he can run. Out on the break, most of the times he's the one running with me."
Robinson's 10 first-half points ad four rebounds, together with Sampson's 10 rebounds and 10 points, were more than Richmond had as a team in either category.