Richmond Times-Dispatch - - SPORTS MEMORIES - BY BILL MILLSAPS

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.”

And re­lieved.


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.

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