That quote was after last year's game in which Arizona led the Cavaliers from Virginia by thirteen after the first half; but ended up losing by three after allowing Virginia to score fifty-seven second half points in what was one of the more bitter losses for the Arizona program in quite some time.
However, last year is last year, and this is a different team in terms of personnel and abilities that the Wildcats will be putting up against Virginia this evening. The Cats have replaced a senior point guard with a freshman point guard in Jerryd Bayless; they've also inserted freshman Jamelle Horne into the starting lineup, along with Jordan Hill on a full time basis.
On the other hand, Virginia also lost some key components to last year's squad in J.R. Reynolds and Jason Cain, two key contributors to their ACC regular season title last season. However, what they do return is a group of very good athletes, led by senior Sean Singletary. Singletary has been a member of the All-ACC team for two consecutive years. For the Cats to succeed against the Cavaliers tonight, their main objective should be to contain Singletary, something they failed to do in last year's contest.
Virginia already has two games under their belt, having faced the universities of Howard and Vermont, both at home. This contest versus Arizona will be an early test for the Cavaliers in what is a very young college basketball season.
This is the fourth consecutive year that the Cats and Cavs have faced off, with the home team holding strong each time. The Wildcats defeated the Cavaliers at the McKale Center in 2005, with Virginia winning at home in 2004 and 2006. Despite this being just the second game on this season's schedule, this is an important game for the Wildcats.
This team feels like they've got a lot to prove off of what happened last year. They know that many people view them as being soft, and unwilling to play defense for forty minutes at a time. Despite hiring Kevin O'Neill back, and continually working on that during practice, the Wildcats still failed to display the physicality and ability to play defense on a consistent basis during their first regular season game versus NAU. Many feel that's mainly because of the Cats lack of depth in the front court.
The Cats know they need to improve their toughness and physicality. However, if that's going to be the case, it needs to start with sophomore Jordan Hill and his inability to remain out of foul trouble. In order for the Cats to be successful against Virginia's front line, Hill will need to remain on the court. The Wildcats just don't have enough depth at the front court positions to have Hill sitting on the bench more than he is on the court. Players like Brielmaier, Horne, and Tangara are good, solid players, but the Wildcats cannot afford to have Hill on the bench.
The Cavaliers have a very good head coach in Dave Leitao, the 2006-07 ACC Coach of the Year. You can fully expect to see him use his Virginia big men attacking Hill from the very beginning, trying to get him in early foul trouble.
Despite not playing in last year's game versus Virginia, freshman Jerryd Bayless knows what happened and what was said following last year's game.
"I wasn't there, but I feel upset for the team," Bayless said.
Bayless has a tough task at hand tonight going against Sean Singletary, but with the amount of competitiveness and tenacity that Bayless displays, you can expect him to give everything he's got in trying to neutralize the abilities of Singletary. Singletary has a great ability to get the foul line, which is something Bayless and the rest of the Wildcats need to contain. If the Wildcats allow Singletary to shoot fourteen free throws, like he did in last year's contest, this game could turn into something Arizona does not want it to.
For the Wildcats to be successful versus Virginia, their ability to defend and rebound the basketball will be critical. That may sound like a cliché for the game of basketball, but it's especially true for this basketball team. The Wildcats were out rebounded against NAU, along with being outscored inside the paint. That cannot be the case against Virginia tonight, or the Cats could be facing another bitter outcome.
This team has something to prove; not just because of what happened in last year's game versus Virginia, but because of what people are beginning to portray Arizona basketball as being. Tonight will be just the second game of the season, but this is certainly a good place to begin proving it.