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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    New arena signifies new start for Virginia hoops

    UA point guard Mustafa Shakur pushes the ball up the court during Arizonas 111-56 win over Victoria in an exhibition game Wednesday in McKale Center. Shakur will match up against Virginia point guard Sean Singletary, who he has known since the two were 9, when Arizona opens its season against the Cavaliers in Charlottesville, Va., on Sunday.
    UA point guard Mustafa Shakur pushes the ball up the court during Arizona’s 111-56 win over Victoria in an exhibition game Wednesday in McKale Center. Shakur will match up against Virginia point guard Sean Singletary, who he has known since the two were 9, when Arizona opens its season against the Cavaliers in Charlottesville, Va., on Sunday.

    It took $130 million and five years to build, but John Paul Jones Arena is finally ready for the Virginia Cavaliers. Though the players have practiced inside only about half of the time, according to senior guard J.R. Reynolds, the biggest indoor arena in the state of Virginia is packed with a players’ lounge, an academic area, a cafeteria and “”nice”” and “”soft rims”” according to Reynolds’ backcourt mate Sean Singletary.

    Most importantly for Virginia, the already sold-out arena for Sunday’s matchup will be packed with more than 15,000 people. When the Cavaliers beat Arizona 78-60 two years ago at University Hall, the attendance was under 7,800.

    “”I miss UHall a lot, but this arena is new and it holds a lot more people than UHall did,”” Singletary said. “”It signifies a new beginning, and it’s just exciting.””

    After a 15-15 season last year, when the Cavaliers finished tied for seventh in the Atlantic Coast Conference, and the return of their starting backcourt, the opening of the new arena also signifies added excitement in Charlottesville, Va.

    “”There’s going to be a lot of extra emotion for the home team that I think will put added pressure on them,”” said UA head coach Lute Olson.

    Reynolds, who was held to just seven points on 3-of-14 shooting from the field last year in a 81-51 Virginia loss in McKale Center, said the team’s nerves will calm down after a short while.

    “”I’m pretty sure everybody is going to be a little overexcited,”” he said. “”But after the first couple of minutes, that’s when everybody gets settled down and gets into the rhythm of the game.””

    Along with the arena, Singletary has added motivation playing against Arizona. A Philadelphia native, the junior has played with and against senior guard Mustafa Shakur since the two were 9 years old.

    In the second game of his career, Singletary broke out with 16 points, eight assists, six rebounds and six steals against the Wildcats in 2004.

    Philly natives head 2 head
    Mustafa Shakur Sean Singletary
    2004 2005 2004 2005
    Pts. 5 14 15 24
    Reb 5 6 6 0
    Ast. 6 7 8 5

    “”His people are going to be there, and my people from my area (will be there), so it’s going to be a lot of back and forth,”” Shakur said.

    In last season’s game, Singletary scored 24 points but turned the ball over nine times.

    “”I think it’s going to be a good test for me to start out the year,”” Shakur said. “”Last year we were able to take him out of the game and make him take a lot of tough shots and make some bad decisions.””

    Olson said the point guard matchup will have an extra bit of fervor.

    “”I think any time you play against someone that you know and played against a lot, it’s more than just another game,”” he said.

    The dynamic duo of Singletary and Reynolds, first team all-ACC and third team all-ACC, respectively, is capable of putting the rest of the undersized Cavaliers on its shoulders. The two combined for 51 percent of Virginia’s points last year and both are dangerous shooting from the perimeter or driving to the basket.

    “”We try to feed off each other, and by us being experienced and playing together for a few years, we know what to expect and we know what it’s going to take in order to win games,”” Reynolds said.

    Singletary is a 6-foot, 185-pound guard who led the team in scoring last season at 17.7 points per game, but also had team highs in assists, free-throw percentage and minutes played.

    “”Singletary has to be one of the top point guards in the country,”” Olson said. “”He penetrates, and you can’t give him the outside shot.””

    Reynolds is 3 inches taller and 3 pounds heavier and made more 3-pointers than anyone on the Cavaliers last year.

    “”As a pair, they can challenge any of the top guards in the country,”” Olson said. “”(They’re) certainly one of the best combinations of any one-two that you can think of. (Virginia’s) game begins with the guards. That’s the first thing you have to be concerned about.””

    In addition to the guards, forward Jason Cain, also a Philadelphia native, will start up front. Against Augusta State in Virginia’s exhibition game on Saturday, forward Mamadi Diane and center Ryan Pettinella started, but forward Adrian Joseph, last year’s third-leading scorer, came off the bench to lead the Cavaliers in points.

    Singletary said he feels Virginia’s best freshman is 6-foot-6 forward Will Harris, who did not play against Augusta State and may not play against Arizona because of an injury, but freshmen Solomon Tat, Jamil Tucker and Jerome Meyinsee may also contribute this year.

    Defensively, the Dave Leitao-coached Cavaliers will likely play the same two-three zone they played last season, but the Wildcats have added shooters who can play the role of zone-busters.

    “”If you go to the zone, we’re just going to knock down shots,”” said one of those shooters, freshman forward Chase Budinger. “”We have great shooters this year. I just don’t think it’s going to be smart for a team to show zone this year.””

    Offensively, Virginia’s style of play is similar to that of Arizona’s, especially when the Wildcats go with their small lineup.

    “”In our offense we like to run, but we like to pack it in on defense, and we really like to play good help defense to prevent the ball from getting in the paint,”” Singletary said. “”If we(‘re going to) slow them down, we have to do a really good job.””

    With a tough opponent to start the season for both teams, Olson said each team will be looking to see what it’s made of. While the last two games have both been blowouts, an 18-point win for Virginia in 2004 and a 30-point win for Arizona last season, in which the Wildcats pulled away in the second half, the hype surrounding the new arena and the anticipation for a new season has the Cavaliers thinking upset.

    “”It’s motivation especially with what happened to us down there,”” Reynolds said. “”They kind of handed it to us down there, and we’re looking to come back for a better game.””

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