Every student-athlete anticipates the start of a new season, but perhaps no player in the country is looking forward to tipping off the 2020-21 campaign more than No. 4 Virginia’s Sam Hauser.
The 6-foot-8 senior forward sat out last season after transferring from Marquette, where he made the All-Big East second team in 2018-19 with 14.9 points and 7.2 rebounds per game. He started 97 games over three seasons and knocked down 246 3-pointers at a 44.5 percent clip for the Golden Eagles.
Hauser will make his long-awaited and eagerly anticipated Cavaliers debut Wednesday afternoon against Maine at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn.
“Having a redshirt year, you get a whole year to really work on your game and figure out what you need to fine-tune and what you really need to get better at, and I took that very seriously,” Hauser said. “I hope I can show everyone that I’ve gotten better and I’ve improved, and hopefully I’m more than (the) shooter that I’m labeled as. I’ve taken that personally, and I’m just really excited to showcase it.”
Virginia lost two frontcourt starters in 6-foot-9 Mamadi Diakite and 6-8 Braxton Key. Both were important pieces on the 2019 national championship team, and their defense and rebounding helped the Cavaliers finish 23-7 last season despite scoring just 57.0 points per game (351st in Division I).
“Hopefully we can fill the shoes of those guys, because they’re big shoes to fill,” said Hauser, one of 50 players named to the Naismith Trophy watch list. “But I think with the guys we have we’re going to have a good year again.”
Those guys include three starters: 5-foot-9 point junior point guard Kihei Clark, 7-1 senior forward Jay Huff and 6-5 senior guard Tomas Woldetensae.
“I think the identity of this team is going to be just like any other (coach Tony Bennett) team — our defense — but I definitely think we have offensive capabilities with a lot of shooters on the floor,” Clark said.
Virginia’s patented “pack line” defense was too much for Maine last season, as the Black Bears shot just 18.6 percent (8 of 43) and committed 21 turnovers in a 46-26 loss in Charlottesville, Va., on Nov. 27, 2019. It matched the fewest points scored against UVA in the shot-clock era (since 1985-86).
Maine finished 9-22 last season, a slight improvement from the 5-27 mark in coach Richard Barron’s first season in Orono in 2018-19.
The Bears’ top returning scorer, senior forward Nedeljko Prijovic (10.7 points per game), announced late last month he was opting out and returning to his native Serbia to pursue a pro career. No current member of the squad scored more than 6.3 points per game last season.
Playing an acoustic guitar and singing to the tune of Train’s “Meet Virginia,” Barron discussed the challenges of facing UVA and running a team during a pandemic in a music video posted this week on Twitter.
“The team colors are orange and blue. They put their socks on just like you. Tested for COVID like we did, too,” he sings. “Meet Virginia. I can’t wait to meet Virginia. The defense is suffocating, need really good officiating to beat the odds we are calculating. Ain’t that beautiful.”
–Field Level Media