augusta free press news

They make you play their game

Duggar Baucom has you beat before you even make it to courtside.
“They play you against you, things that you work on every day. They play you against yourself,” UVa. coach Dave Leitao said after his ‘Hoos had eeked out a 107-97 victory over Baucom’s VMI Keydets Sunday in Charlottesville in a game that had a lot of similarities to one that the Keydets had played two nights earlier in Lexington.

That’s Lexington, Kent., for those who missed out on the big news in college basketball in Virginia from the past week. VMI went into Rupp Arena and upset Kentucky by an 111-103 count that few Keydets fans will ever forget.

Leitao had a hard time shaking what his eyes had seen himself. He watched the game live Friday night and saw VMI jump out to a 42-21 lead 10 minutes in and then fight off a furious second-half UK rally that actually saw the Wildcats take a brief lead with five minutes to go before the Keydets outscored the national power 16-6 down the stretch.

They did it like Baucom teams always do – hitting their threes (14-of-31 for the game, including seven of their first eight) and forcing turnovers (25 all told). If you ask Leitao, they also did it by playing Kentucky against itself. UK coach Billy Gillespie somewhat stubbornly played his two big men, Perry Stevenson (40 minutes) and Patrick Patterson (27 minutes) pretty much the way he would if he was engaging in a regular basketball game and not a track meet forced by Baucom’s 94 feet of hell full-court defense.

“Kentucky had Stevenson and Patterson in the open court too much, and they were having to make decisions,” said Leitao, who decided after breaking the game tape down Friday night and into Saturday to shelve his bigs, centers Tunji Soroye and John Brandenburg, in favor of a small lineup featuring at times three point guards (Calvin Baker, Mustapha Farrakhan and Sammy Zeglinski) and only two post players (6-8 forward Mike Scott and 6-9 forward Jamil Tucker, both of whom have the skill sets of perimeter players despite their size).

“We do that to some teams. They’ll play smaller lineups against us,” Baucom said. “A lot of teams go smaller against us because we don’t have the option to go big. We’re going to play small. I’m sure Dave prepared – they had two days to prepare, Saturday shootaround and today.”

An usher told me on my way out of the John Paul Jones Arena Sunday night that Leitao actually had two Saturday practice sessions. Which isn’t surprising considering the coach had a lot of tweaking to do.

“We wanted to make sure that we got out of the gate early, not get behind and have to play catchup the first five, 10 minutes of the game,” said Leitao, whose Cavs did get out to an early 36-19 lead before VMI started chipping away, cutting the margin to six at the half at 51-45 and bringing things to an 82-82 stalemate with 6:45 to go in the game.

Only a late 10-2 run fueled by a pair of long threes by second-year guard Jeff Jones saved Virginia’s bacon. Which is to say, even as Leitao had everything going pretty much according to his makeshift plans, it still took a herculean effort down the stretch to pull this one off.

Not bad if you’re VMI and were picked to finish near the bottom of the Big South in ’08-’09. Not that the kids in the VMI locker room were up for hearing about moral victories.

“As a coach, the happiest thing about this whole thing is that my guys are upset that they didn’t win the game today. And I’m not sure that’s always been the mindset at VMI, and it’s something that we’ve been trying to build for three years. They are very, very disappointed because they think they let one get away,” Baucom said.


Story by Chris Graham