If you're looking for signs of progress in Virginia's basketball program this season, Saturday afternoon provided ample evidence.
The Cavaliers' 74-60 win against Maryland represented a 38-point turnaround from their previous meeting and encompassed nearly all of the competitive basketball food groups.
Virginia shot well, protected the ball, handled Maryland's defensive pressure, defended solidly and exhibited balance in the regular-season finale.
As a result, the Cavs (16-14, 7-9 ACC) head to the ACC tournament winners of four of their last five games and assured of a winning record.
"That's a good step," Virginia coach Tony Bennett said after the Cavaliers' most lopsided win in College Park since 1991.
"I think we had a couple of games where if we had made our free throws or done some little things, it could have been the difference," Bennett said. "We just needed to learn from those other times. We handled the ball well and didn't give up second-chance baskets. We were solid enough to win a game like this."
Sammy Zeglinski scored a career-high 25 points and tied his career-best with six 3-pointers. He shot in rhythm and consistently lost Maryland defenders in the Cavs' maze of screens, jump-starting the team with 15 points in the first half.
Center Assane Sene tied his career-high with 15 points, was active at both ends of the floor and made perhaps the day's biggest defensive play — a block against Jordan Williams as the Terps tried to scramble from behind in the second half.
"He stepped up big today and played great," teammate Mustapha Farrakhan (19 points). "He's a warrior, as far as trying to block shots and sticking his nose in there. He puts his body up for the team and he works well for us."
The day's most significant statistic, however, might have been six — Virginia's season-low turnover total, which included a giveaway at the very end as the clock expired.
"That was the key to the game," Zeglinski said. "Not letting them get offensive rebounds and taking care of the ball."
The Cavaliers threw a bucket of water on Maryland's Senior Day and made a fibber out of new Terps' football coach Randy Edsall. In a halftime address to the crowd at Comcast Center, he announced, "At Maryland, we don't lose to Virginia."
Bennett and the Cavs didn't get the memo.
The Terps (18-13, 7-9 ACC) rolled Virginia 66-42 Jan. 27 in Charlottesville. Maryland shot 68 percent in the second half and its press kept the Cavs on their heels.
In preparation for Saturday, the Cavaliers worked seven-on-five in practice to get accustomed to the pressure.
"With seven-on-five pressing us, we had to attack and move hard," said senior forward Will Sherrill, a valuable outlet, "and that preparation made breaking their press a lot easier."
Virginia built a 63-50 lead with 7:14 remaining when the Terps made their final push. They muscled back within 63-58, and the crowd, fairly tepid much of the game, was itching to assert itself.
But as Williams went up for a dunk that would have cut the lead to three and energized the faithful, Sene elevated and challenged. He got just enough of the ball to thwart the dunk.
"A big block," Bennett called it. "That's a strong man trying to flush it."
After a Zeglinski miss at the other end, Maryland's Pe'Shon Howard spun into the lane for a driving shot. But Farrakhan got a fingertip on the ball to alter the shot.
Farrakhan missed a 3-pointer at the other end — the last of six consecutive empty possessions — but the Terps' Cliff Tucker also missed a 3-pointer.
Farrakhan finally ended the drought with a pair of free throws with 2:50 remaining. The Terps' Williams scored to cut the lead to 65-60, but Farrakhan answered with the offensive play of the game.
Virginia broke the press, again, and Farrakhan attacked. He drove the lane, faked as if he was going to pull up and pass, and then converted a reverse layup as he was fouled by Williams. He completed the three-point play for a 68-60 lead, which seemed to deflate the Terps.
"Coach told us to just be aggressive, break the press and score," Farrakhan said. "I saw that I had a little lane and I made a (side) step and a ball-fake pass, and it just worked out well for us at the end there."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun