Virginia's Sammy Zeglinski hopes poor shooting doesn't follow him into postseason

College BasketballVirginia CavaliersCollege SportsBasketballSportsAtlantic Coast ConferenceMike Scott

ATLANTA — To his Virginia teammates, fifth-year senior Sammy Zeglinski is known as "The Godfather." It's a term of endearment, but also a constant reminder of just how long he's been around Charlottesville.

As a player that's relied upon to make perimeter shots and provide some kind of spark for a team that has often been offensively-challenged outside of All-Atlantic Coast Conference first-teamer Mike Scott, relative gray-beard Zeglinski has endured cold shooting stretches this season that had to take years off his life.

In his first 11 ACC games of the season, Zeglinski made just 14 of 58 shots from 3-point range (24.1 percent). For a guy that entered the season having made 35.8 percent of his 3-point shots in his career, and who was sixth in career 3-point goals in U.Va. history entering conference play, the slump through the bulk of the ACC slate was hard to swallow.

It was even harder to accept once U.Va. fans started to get on him. Fans brought the ugliness to his Twitter feed.

"It's not easy when you're going through a slump, especially in your senior year," said Zeglinski, who averages 8.8 points per game and who will help lead No. 4 seed U.Va. (22-8) against No. 5 seed North Carolina State (20-11) on Friday in the quarterfinals of the ACC tournament.

"I know what people are saying in the public, but at the same time, I have such a great coaching staff and teammates that really helped me through it. Coach (Tony Bennett) just kept reminding me, 'You're so much more valuable to this team other than just whether your jump shot is going in or not.' He was keeping me confident and keeping me focused, and my teammates were doing the same thing."

At least there's reason for optimism for Zeglinski, a 6-foot-1 guard from Philadelphia. He's picked it up in the last five games, making 14 of 37 long-range shots (37.8 percent). On Sunday, in U.Va.'s 75-72 overtime win at Maryland, he made 4 of 9 shots from 3-point range.

Zeglinski, 23, attributes his recent shooting improvement to nothing more than being a gym rat. For the last month, he has shown up early at practice with a team manager to rebound for him to make sure he makes an extra 150 to 200 shots.

"What you have to do is just get a lot of reps and get the confidence back and get a little bit of a rhythm," said Zeglinski, who redshirted after his first season at U.Va. in 2007-08 after playing in just eight games due to an ankle injury. "It felt good to see some results."

"I never go into a game just thinking about my shot, or hoping my shot goes in. I attack every game with the mindset of playing defense first, and seeing how I can help the team in other ways, such as my leadership, defensive rebounding, distributing the basketball or whatever it may be. My teammates will help me get open and get good looks for me. It's my job to do the rest."

Seeing his primary 3-point shooting threat struggle mightily had to be difficult for Bennett to accept. After all, Bennett was a pretty darn fine perimeter shooter in his own playing days from 1989-92 at Wisconsin-Green Bay, knocking down 49.7 percent of his 3-point attempts — still an NCAA record.

As his team enters the postseason, Bennett understands the importance of having a perimeter presence to complement Scott, another 23-year-old fifth-year player who's known as "The Grandfather" by his teammates (he's a month younger than Zeglinski). Yet, Bennett's options for 3-point shooting are limited beyond Zeglinski.

Guard Joe Harris has made 47 of 119 shots from 3-point range this season, but he's been struggling with a fractured left hand for the last seven games. He's attempted just seven 3-point shots in the last six games. Beyond Zeglinski and Harris, no other U.Va. player has made more than six 3-pointers.

"Hopefully, Joe will continue to come around," said Bennett, who has just seven scholarship players available to him due to transfers and injuries. "With his hand, he's not quite the same.

"They're all important now, because there's only seven, but Sammy's ability to shoot the ball well and just play well — he's been playing well except for the shooting…Those guys are all going to have to be effective."

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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College BasketballVirginia CavaliersCollege SportsBasketballSportsAtlantic Coast ConferenceMike Scott
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