Virginia 84, Albany 57

Friday, March 16th 2007, 1:46 pm
By: News On 6

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- The next time J.R. Reynolds insists he's feeling fine, believe him.

The high-scoring guard with a balky hip regained his shooting touch Friday, leading Virginia to an 84-57 victory over Albany in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

The Cavaliers (21-10) advanced in the South Regional with their first tournament win since 1995, when they reached the final eight. They also answered their biggest question for March: Could half of a dangerous guard tandem deliver when it matters most?

Reynolds responded emphatically, scoring 28 points by hitting shots from every spot on the floor -- behind the arc, off the baseline, flat on his back.

Yes, even on his back.

The senior went down hard after he was fouled while driving to the basket with 4:21 left in the first half and the game already well in hand. About 10 feet from the hoop, he decided to let one fly for fun and banked it in cleanly.

Albany (23-10) had never seen anything like it. For the last three games, neither had the Cavaliers.

Reynolds (17.8 points per game) and point guard Sean Singletary (18.9 per game) form one of the nation's most prolific backcourts. Lately, things haven't been so smooth. A sore hip knocked Reynolds out of his shooting rhythm as the season wound down, and threw the Cavaliers for a loop, too.

In his last three games, Reynolds went 3-of-15, 3-of-14 and 3-of-15 from the field. No coincidence that Virginia lost two of the three, leaving the Cavaliers unsure what to expect in the tournament.

A day earlier, Reynolds declined to say exactly what was wrong with the hip or exactly how he felt, other than to assure everyone that he would be fine Friday. One pretty shot proved him honest.

The first time he was in position to shoot, he took a baseline jumper that cleared a defender's hand and swished. At that moment, the Cavaliers felt a lot better.

His next three shots were 3-pointers -- two of them rattled and went down -- followed by a driving bank shot. Another long 3, a driving left-handed layup, a short jumper ... he was on a roll.

So were the Cavaliers, who pulled ahead 19-2 and were never seriously threatened. They led by as many as 22 in the first half, and prevented the Great Danes from rallying in the second.

Reynolds made his first seven shots -- four of them from behind the arc -- and went 7-of-9 overall in the first half, piling up 23 points in only 17 minutes. He finished 9-of-13 from the field, 5-of-7 from behind the arc.

Virginia wasn't a one-man show. Singletary added 23 points and nine assists, marking the fourth time this season that both guards topped 20 points in a game. And the Cavaliers' collective defense dismantled an Albany team that brought a little swagger into its second consecutive NCAA tournament appearance.

The America East Conference champs gained distinction last year, when they made the tournament for the first time and, as a No. 16 seed, took mighty UConn to the limit. Huskies coach Jim Calhoun was so impressed that he later embraced Albany coach Will Brown and told him: "You guys are special."

They returned to the tournament with senior guard Jamar Wilson, the conference's two-time player of the year, and a confidence bordering on brashness. They packed enough clothes to spend the weekend in Columbus.

Wilson missed five of his first six shots, allowing Virginia to take control. He finished with 25 points on 9-of-18 shooting.

And, the Great Danes headed home with a lot of clean clothes.