Another Top 10 Opponent: Wolfpack Plays At #4 Virginia
Jan. 3, 2002
By Tony Haynes
Raleigh, N.C.-The date was February 27, 1988. Ronald Reagan was in the White Hourse and a charismatic fellow by the name of Jim Valvano was NC State's head basketball coach. It was on that cold winter day that Valvano's Wolfpack edged Virginia at University Hall, 64-63.
The score is significant only because the Pack hasn't won in Charlottesville since then. Thirteen straight years NC State has traveled to Thomas Jefferson's stately grounds and 13 straight years it has come away with a loss.
This Saturday at 2 p.m., the Wolfpack (10-3, 0-1) will give it another shot.
"The good thing is that this particular team is zero and zero there and hasn't lost all those games in a row that our university has," said NC State head coach Herb Sendek. "We have to build on what we can control this year and try to go up there and be as competitive as possible. Virginia has flat out dominated us in University Hall, there's no other way around that."
In winning all nine of its games this season, the 4th ranked Cavaliers (9-0, 0-0) have dominated a lot of people. Thanks to talented and experienced all conference candidates like guard Roger Mason, forward Chris Williams and center Travis Watson, Virginia coach Pete Gillen has himself a team that could make a lot of noise come March.
"We are getting recognition and we are ranked high, but we don't really talk about numbers because it doesn't really mean anything at two o'clock on Saturday afternoon," Gillen said of his team's lofty rankings in the national polls. "You have to play, the game is a whole separate entity. We don't really talk about it. What we talk about is getting better and improving and the bulls eye is getting bigger on our back."
Says Sendek: "They're an awfully good basketball team. They are one of the only undefeated teams left in the country, they return just about everybody from last year's team that won nine games in the ACC. The way they're just dismantling people is impressive. They do have two good road wins at Georgetown and at Auburn. I do think that they are as formidable as their ranking."
Virginia's average margin of victory this season is 21 points, although it did have close battles with Rutgers (76-68), Georgetown (61-55) and Auburn (77-72).
After establishing himself as one of the ACC's best shooting guards last season, the 6-5 Mason (18 ppg.) has done a good job of taking over the point guard duties in the wake of a season-ending knee injury suffered by Majestic Mapp prior to the season. Williams (15.6 ppg.), a 6-7 senior, is a former ACC Rookie of the Year, while the 6-8, 254 pound Watson (13.0 ppg., 10.6 rb.) provides Virginia with plenty of inside punch.
Despite its well-chronicled problems in Charlottesville, NC State has actually played some of its best basketball against the Cavaliers in recent years. The Wolfpack has prevailed in three of the last five games played between the two schools, including last year's impressive 90-80 romp at the Entertainment and Sports Arena. In both games last season, the Pack did an effective job of attacking the Virginia press for good shots. And even in the game that NC State lost last January, it made 61 percent of its shots.
Speaking of shooting percentages, in its 10 wins this season, the Wolfpack has made an average of 49 percent of its shots. In the three losses, that figure averages out to 30 percent. In last Sunday's 72-65 loss to 6th ranked Maryland, NC State hit 29.9 percent from the field.
"For the most part, I thought our shot selection was pretty good," Sendek said. "There were a couple we would like to take back, but probably not as many as in some of our earlier games when that was more of an issue."
Now that freshman forward Levi Watkins is out for the rest of the season after tearing the ACL in his left knee against Maryland, Sendek will be relying on others to provide more of a spark, especially off the bench.
"It's a considerable loss for us," Sendek said. "We going to have to collectively try to make up for his absence because I thought he was really coming on and playing some really good basketball for us. I think Mike Bell in particular has to be ready for us. Even before Levi was injured, I thought he was having some of his best practices of the year. Hopefully he'll be able to continue with that and give us some much-needed help."
Bell, a 6-10 redshirt freshman from Raleigh, has been used sparingly this season after undergoing surgery on both knees more than 12 months ago.