CHARLOTTESVILLE — When the final horn sounded on Virginia’s 68-42 win over Green Bay on Friday night, fifth-year senior guard Sammy Zeglinski immediately left the bench. He had aggravated a right ankle injury midway through the second half and had not returned.
And though he was the first player on either team to head through the tunnel that leads to the locker rooms at John Paul Jones Arena, he was still hobbling down the hallway minutes later, the last one to make it back. Zeglinski’s postgame status was both encouraging — X-rays were negative — and, in his words, “disheartening” for a Cavaliers squad that could use his steadying hand on both ends of the floor.
Zeglinski said he “definitely” would play Tuesday night when Virginia (5-1) hosts No. 15 Michigan in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. But he acknowledged he has grown tired of having to make such pronouncements.
After dealing with an assortment of injuries (ankle, knee and hip) throughout his collegiate career, Zeglinski had said on the team’s preseason media day last month that it was the healthiest he had ever been. On Friday, it was suggested to Zeglinski that he had jinxed himself.
“I guess,” he responded. “I just don’t understand.”
His most recent injury originated Nov. 5 during a preseason scrimmage at John Paul Jones Arena against Baylor. Zeglinski said he came down on someone’s foot and suffered a sprained ankle. He sat out the first two games of the season.
In the closing minutes of his season debut Nov. 18 against Texas Christian at the Paradise Jam in the U.S. Virgin Islands, an opposing player landed on the injured ankle, causing the pain to flare up once more. Zeglinski continued to play during the tournament, though, as Coach Tony Bennett noted, “he was laboring.”
It wasn’t until Thursday’s practice that Bennett noticed “a little snap” in Zeglinski’s step, and so the coach elected to start Zeglinski for the first time Friday night.
While Zeglinski’s shot was off (1 for 4 from the field), he helped the Cavaliers jump out to a 20-point lead. Virginia, which entered the night in an offensive slump, shot 51.1 percent from the field against the Phoenix.
“For me, I’m just looking to drive and kick to my shooters, so there’s really no difference when [Zeglinski] is in the game or when somebody else is in the game,” junior point guard Jontel Evans said. “I take that back. The only difference is his experience out there. He knows what to do in certain situations.”
Green Bay (2-4) cut Virginia’s lead to 10 by halftime, and Zeglinski was on the floor to start the second half. Just more than 31 / 2 minutes after the break, the Cavaliers led by 20 once more.
Virginia received a scoring boost off the bench from sophomore guard KT Harrell, who recorded 14 points. It was Harrell who Zeglinski had replaced in the starting lineup.
With just more than 12 minutes to play, sophomore forward Akil Mitchell pulled down a defensive rebound and landed on the outside of Zeglinski’s right foot, which stretched his interior ankle tendons. Zeglinski immediately asked to be removed from the game and limped off the floor. He did not return.
Afterward, fifth-year senior forward Mike Scott — who finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds, both game highs — said he was not worried about Zeglinski’s health. He has seen Zeglinski deal with injuries before.
“He’ll be at practice tomorrow,” Scott said.
Bennett, Green Bay’s all-time leading scorer who coached against his alma mater for the first time, was less definitive.
“KT gave us a nice lift,” Bennett said. “We’ve got five guys — I hope we’ve got five guys — that can play those three perimeter spots, and they’re all going to have their opportunities. Some nights it’s going to be KT. Some nights it’s going to be someone else. And it’s just going to be the ability to play and be ready when you’re called upon.”