Guard Sean Singletary scored 24 points. He made 11 of 11 free throws.
Battling the flu, poor shooting, and a physical defensive approach from Arizona, Sean Singletary delivered when it mattered most and the Virginia basketball team rode a balanced effort to an impressive early season win at No. 17 Arizona. Singletary scored four of the last six points as the visiting Cavaliers won 75-72.
Singletary finished with 24 points (the 29th time in his career he’s scored more than 20 points), 8 assists, 5 turnovers, and 1 steal. He has scored in double figures for 25 straight games, the longest active streak in the ACC. Singletary’s climb up several of the school’s career charts continued as well: he is now 15th on the career scoring list with 1,492 points (surpassing Othell Wilson’s 1,469 and Donald Hand’s 1,486 points), 7th on the career assists list with 407 (passing Cory Alexander’s 401), and 9th on the career free throws made list with 407 (eclipsing J.R. Reynolds’ 402).
“I’ve had the flu for a few days, but I had every intention of playing tonight,” he said. “I couldn’t do it without my teammates and this was a great win for us.”
UVa coach Dave Leitao said the performance was another in a long line of heart-driven outings from the star guard.
“You know, he was gassed five minutes in to the game and I was trying to be judicious with subbing him out. He looked dizzied and dazed, but he didn’t let that deter him,” Leitao said. “That’s as big-time of an effort from a guy that has as big-time a heart as I’ve ever been around.”
Never was that more clear than the final 2:02. In that span, Singletary scored four points, forced a turnover by stripping the ball free on an Arizona post feed, and had a defensive rebound.
Singletary, who is averaging 22 points and 7.3 assists through three games, struggled with his shooting touch (6 of 19), particularly in the first half when he went 2 of 10 from the floor. As conventional basketball wisdom would suggest, however, struggling shooters get to the free throw line to score and that’s what Singletary did. He made 11 of 11 freebies in this contest, including a stretch of five straight late in the first half that seemed to help him settle down a little bit offensively.
UVa’s senior point guard also had two important free throws in the final two minutes to give his team a final lead that it didn’t relinquish. Moments after creating a steal on defense, Singletary caught the ball on the left wing and gave a shot fake before driving to the left baseline. He used a step-back move to get space and got the defender in the air with a head-and-shoulders fake before absorbing the contact on a jumper. He made both free throws to give Virginia a 71-69 lead with 1:22 to play.
Singletary followed that up with a defensive rebound on the other end before hitting another big shot on the Hoos’ next possession. On that play, Laurynas Mikalauskas set an on-ball screen at the top of the key with Singletary moving left. Arizona’s Jordan Hill, defending Mikalauskas on the play, tried to hedge to force Singletary away from the lane area, but slipped and fell. Singletary calmly knocked down the wide-open look from 16 feet for the 73-69 lead.
From there, UVa survived some tense moments late – Jerryd Bayless (team-high 21 points) hit a 3-pointer to draw Zona within one point and the teams traded turnovers on inbounds plays – before Adrian Joseph swished two free throws to reach the final 75-72 margin.
Freshman Jeff Jones had it going from 3-point land where he made 5 of 8 shots.
“It’s very difficult to come in here and win,” Leitao said. “We were able to do that with some timely offense, we shot the ball well, and I thought we executed O.K. But then in the last five, six, seven minutes of the game, we really started to make a difference on the defensive end.”
While Singletary’s production despite struggling steals much of the thunder, Virginia got a balanced effort from its deep roster.
Six other players scored with Jeff Jones (15) and Jamil Tucker (12) joining Singletary in double figures. Jones hit five 3-pointers to log all of his points, while Tucker finished 5 of 7 from the floor (2 of 3 on treys) to set his career high in scoring. Ryan Pettinella and Mikalauskas combined for a formidable showing at the center slot. Pettinella did not score, but had 4 rebounds and 1 steal as well as taking two charges; Mikalauskas had 6 points (3-of-4 shooting), 6 rebounds, and 1 steal as well as one charge taken.
Mamadi Diane , meanwhile, scored 9 points on 3-of-4 shooting (including a 3-pointer that gave UVa a 69-67 lead) to go with 3 blocks and 1 assist. Two of those blocks came in the second half on Wildcat star Chase Budinger. Diane had the assignment of dealing with Budinger for most of the night and he made life difficult for the forward. Budinger still finished with 15 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists but most of his offensive work came under a stiff challenge from the Cavaliers’ Diane-led defense.
“That was definitely one of our points of emphasis the last couple of days in practice, being able to stop him being that he’s their best player and all,” Diane said. “Coach gave me the assignment by putting me on him. I just wanted to get stops on him.”
“I’ve got to commend him. He was feeling bad because he didn’t call a timeout on the inbounds play towards the end, but we wouldn’t have been in that position had he not guarded Budinger the way he did,” Leitao said. “He did a terrific job.”
(For complete coverage of the Virginia basketball team, please sign up for the Sabre Edge. Edge subscribers get exclusive analysis, features, and more!)