‘WAR’ WITH RUSSIANS POINTS OUT CAVS’ FLAWS
A few days ago, an individual who works for the University of Virginia athletic department called the sports editor of this newspaper and, after perfunctory greetings, asked sotto voce, “Have you seen any of our scrimmages yet?”
When the answer was, “No,” the man said, “Well, you should, you know.” And why is that? “Because we’re looking awfully good. I mean, AWFULLY good.”
How good is that? “We’re looking awesome.” He hesitated, as if searching for the proper word. “We’re looking… INVINCIBLE! Honest, we might not lose a game.”
Surely, the caller was told, he was jesting. Not lose a game? Against the most difficult schedule any Virginia team has ever played? “I’m not kidding, we may not lose even one,” the man said. “I really can’t see how anybody can beat us.”
It’s a long time between a Wednesday night in midDecember and a Saturday afternoon in early April in Albuquerque, where the NCAA semifinals will be played, but it’s apparent Virginia’s basketball team has a considerable amount of work to do before it should be considered bulletproof.
Last night, before 10,716 customers at the Coliseum, the Cavaliers were one-third “on” and two-thirds “off” in beating the Soviet Union’s excellent national team 94-87 in double overtime. Admittedly, UVA was facing a collection of superior athletes, but the Cavaliers still hit only 38.8 percent of their field goal attempts, turned the ball over 25 times and blew what should have been comfortable leads both at the end of regulation and at the end of the first overtime.
Ominously for Virginia, Ralph Sampson disappeared from the offense down the stretch just as he did so many times late last season. The 7-4 senior center didn’t score the last 25 minutes and four seconds of the game.
But Sampson did manage 25 rebounds and nine blocked shots, and he was around at the finish, which is more than can be said of Alexandr Bolosttenny and Arvidas Sabonis, the Soviets’ two 7-2 inside players. They were among the five Russians to receive five fouls and disqualifications, and in addition referees Jim Burch and Joe Forte drilled the Soviets with four technical fouls.
In fact, there were some at the Coliseum last night who were sure the Cavaliers, ranked No. 1 in almost every preseason poll, would not have escaped with a victory had they not been helped by Burch and Forte. Ahead by 2 points in the waning moments of regulation, the Russians drew two straight personal fouls, the second of which instanced the visitors.
When Sampson intentionally missed a free throw with 5 seconds left, the ball caromed into the grasp of teammate Othell Wilson. The Soviets’ Khose Birukov bumped Wilson in the struggle for the ball, and, in the general context of the way the game was played (which is to say extremely physical), the contact appeared to be incidental. But Birukov was called for a foul and Wilson went to the line with 4 seconds left to knock in two free throws that enabled the Cavaliers to get into overtime.
Later, the Soviets’ Valdis Valters would draw a technical for protesting a Fore call by throwing the ball into the stands. Soviet coach Alexandr Gomelsky twice spat on the floor at the end of heated discussions with the officials, unsanitary behavior which escaped penalty. But he was given a “T” for kicking a towel on the floor in the direction of the beleaguered referees.
After the game, Gomelsky refused to discuss the game with the press. “You know what he would say and I don’t blame him,” said Bill Wall, executive director of the Amateur Basketball Association of the U.S. and the Soviets’ guide on their current 12-game, 20-day tour of the States. “At least,” Wall added,
“they [the Russians] ought to get an even break.”
Wall described Forte and Burch, who also happened to be members of the Atlantic Coast Conference officiating staff, as “two of the best officials, but there were a number of mistakes. This is their first international [rules] game of the year, but judgment is another thing.”
Naturally, UVA coach Terry Holland had a different view of the work of Forte and Burch. “It was,” Holland said, “an impossible game to officiate, and they did as good a job as they could do to control it.”
On balance, Holland said he expected “about what we got” in the team’s first outing of the year against outside opposition. “It was ragged at times, but we got a very good, hard effort. I would not like to invite the Russians to play in he ACC.”
At the beginning, UVA treated the Russians as if they were Georgia Tech, running off to a 12-2 lead in the first 3:26 of the game.
But from there on, it was a struggle. The Soviets are an extremely active group on defense, and they are nothing less than terrific on the fast break. Holland said he had seen teams better on the run “in spurts, but never for the whole game.”
“Ralph got a great deal of attention,” Holland said. “There was a lot of physical pressure put on him. Hopefully, we won’t see anything else like this for a while.”
He certainly won’t see it in UVA’ss next game, which will be against Johns Hopkins next Friday night in the opening round of the Cavalier Invitational in Charlottesville. Holland said he would be using the time to increase U.Va.’s offensive and defensive repertoires, which he said at the moment is about half complete.
Before he left the Coliseum for the night, Holland noted,
“for us to be able to gut it out this early in the season and win a game like this leaves me very pleased.”
Ralph Sampson, Virginia’s 7-foot-4 center, defended against Arvidas Sabonis of the Soviet national team during an exhibition game in 1982 at the Richmond Coliseum. UVA won 94-87 in double overtime. Sabonis, who was his team’s leading scorer, is 2 inches shorter than Sampson.