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Sports memories: Soviet Union hoops team faces UVA at Richmond Coliseum in 1982

Sports memories: Soviet Union hoops team faces UVA at Richmond Coliseum in 1982

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About this series

While most sports are on hiatus, we’ll reprint stories from The Times-Dispatch sports archives, paired with memories of those events from our readers. Send your memories, no more than 200 words, to sports editor Michael Phillips at

Memory from an RTD reader

My sports memory is when the UVA basketball team played the Soviet Union at the Richmond Coliseum. Ralph Sampson was on the team, and it was an exciting evening.

Walter R. McNair

From the RTD archives:

Nov. 17, 1982

Sampson gets revenge shot at Russians

By Bob Lipper

In November 1979, when Ralph Sampson was a callow but promising freshman and Virginia’s Cavaliers hadn’t cracked the Top 10 in the college basketball polls, their first outing was on exhibition match against a touring squad from the Soviet Union. The game was played on U.Va.’s campus in Charlottesville. The Soviets won 75-74.

Sampson, who’s 7-4 in case you’ve forgotten, had 16 points and six rebounds in the game before fouling out with four minutes to go. His Russian counterpart, 7-3 Vladmir Tkachenko, finished with 30 points and 11 rebounds. He also sank the winning free throws.

Three years later, as the Soviets and Cavaliers enter tonight’s game at the Richmond Coliseum (8 p.m., Channel 8 in Richmond), some things are the same and some have changed.

For example, even though Tkachenko isn’t a member of this group of barnstormers, the Russians remain one of the world’s best non-NBA teams. They won three days ago at Indiana 87-77 and are 6-1 — the loss was to Wichita — after beating Vanderbilt last night 102-89.

On the other hand, this team does not bear a strong resemblance to the one that beat Virginia. For sure, the Russians are as physical around the basket as always, but they’re also far more fluid and quick than the mechanical plodders of the past.

“They’re definitely much quicker,” agreed U.Va. coach Terry Holland, who has studied a couple of tapes. “They’re improved from the team we played three years ago.”

The changes are more dramatic at Virginia. After two straight finishes atop the ACC standings and an 1981 appearance in the NCAA’s Final Four, the Cavaliers have rocketed into national prominence. They’re a constant in the Top 10. And they’re No. 1 in every preseason poll that’s appeared so far.

The main reason is Sampson. He’s a senior and twice has been voted the country’s player of the year. Back at U.Va. after spurning an early leap to the pros fro the third straight spring, he has his sights set on an NCAA championship.

He is not, however, looking past the Russians.

“I feel I owe ‘em,” says Sampson.

With Tkachenko back home, Sampson will have to administer payment to Arvidas Sabonis, an 18-year-old who had 25 points against Indiana. He’s one of two 7-2 players on the roster. He’s also very good.

“He’s one of the finest players I’ve ever seen,” says Holland. “We’d like to recruit him. I’ve had my assistants learning Russian.”

In his practice sessions, Holland hasn’t spent much time going over the international rules by which tonight’s game will be played: the wider lane, the 30-second shot clock, no stoppage of play on most inbound situations, etc. He has counseled his Cavaliers on the Russians’ physical approach, however.

“They try to stretch your defense until they have a chance to go 1 on 1,” he says. “If they miss a shot, they send five people to the boards and essentially bludgeon the ball into the goal.”

Guard Jeff Jones is the only player missing from last year’s team, which finished 30-4. His starting spot likely will be filled by Rick Carlisle, a junior who sat out last season after transferring from Maine.

The rest of the lineup figures to be the same: Sampson, senior Craig Robinson and sophomore Tim Mullen at forward and junior Othell Wilson at guard. Sophomore Jimmy Miller and junior Kenton Edelin are pushing hard at forward, and junior guard Ricky Stokes completes what Holland likes to call his starting eight.

Nov. 18, 1982

Virginia Triumphs over Soviets in 2OTs

By Bob Lipper

It was billed as an exhibition. It evolved into a small war. And when the dust had settled and the body count had been concluded on the Coliseum floor, Virginia’s Cavaliers had beaten the Soviet Union’s touring national team 94-87 in two overtimes last night.

Rich Carlisle’s three-point play with 3:41 left in the second overtime gave Virginia the lead for good at 89-86. Jim Miller connected on a follow shot, and Ricky Stokes sank a free throw to make it 92-86. The Cavaliers were home free at that pint.

NCAA finals aren’t played with more intensity. Ranked No. 1 in the preseason college basketball polls, Virginia pulled away to a 12-point lead in the first half and was ahead by 10 with 10 minutes left in regulation, but the Russians kept plugging away.

Some long-range jump shots aided the Soviet comeback. So did a number of U.Va. turnovers in the second half. And the Russians did a defensive number on Ralph Sampson, too. Guarded alternately and sometimes in tandem by Arvidas Sabonis and Alexandre Belostennyi, both 7-2, the Cavaliers’ 7-4 senior didn’t score for the last 25 minutes. Her finished with 13 points on 6-for-17 shooting but did compensate with 25 rebounds and nine blocked shots.

“I didn’t do some things I wanted to,” said Sampson. “They were tight on me. Overall, I played fair.”

At any rate, the Soviets caught and passed Virginia down the stretch, and it took two free throws by Wilson with four seconds remaining to send the game into overtime.

The Cavaliers scored six straight points — the first three on a Wilson’s snaking drive down the lane that drew a foul and also earned him a free throw — and they seemed in control at that juncture. But not quite. Virginia didn’t score for the last 3:13 of the period, and the Russians fought back to tie the score at t84. Only Sampson’s defense against Sabonis on a driving lay-up attempt with four seconds left kept the Soviets from winning.

Again, the Cavaliers broke away in the second overtime — and this time they didn’t wilt. By then, the Russians’ top six players were on the bench, five with the maximum five personal fouls each, one — Sergey Yovaisha, perhaps the squad’s best shooter — with a sprained ankle.

“We were real lucky to win,” said Carlisle, the lone new member of Virginia’s starting lineup. A junior who sat out last season after transferring from Maine, he scored 20 points, one less than backcourt partner Wilson. Carlisle was particularly impressive in the first half, when he scored 10 points and assisted on another basket during an eight-minute stretch.

“The fans were getting into the political thing,” added Carlisle. “Sure, we like to beat the Russians, but it’s not like a sadistic thing.”

Now 6-2 on their current tour against I.S. college squads, the Russians were playing their eighth game in 16 days. They won at Vanderbilt on Tuesday night, made the trip from Nashville, Tenn., yesterday morning, and play Illinois tonight.

If we’re lucky, the Russian army isn’t in as good a condition. Despite their hectic travels, the Soviets kept running and shooting and hounding Virginia’s ballhandlers — and rallying. They’re not the swiftest or quickest team on the planet, but they compensate with muscle, quick hands and the sort of cohesiveness that comes from long months of practice sessions.

“They have a way of looking like they’re frustrated, but they snap out of it quickly,” said Carlisle. “They’ve been playing together long enough and they know each other well enough that they can turn it off and on.”

Sabonis is a good example. He suffered through 1-for-6 shooting in the first half and seemed to drift tat the offensive end for long periods of time, but he came on strong after intermission and finished with 21 points, 14 rebounds and four blocks. An 18-year-old high school senior, he’s the best young seven-footer Sampson will face this side of Georgetown’s Pat Ewing.

Certainly, Sabonis is about as physical as Ewing, whom Sampson will meet Dec. 11 at the Capital Center in Landover, Md. But then all the Russians are physical. When Belostennyi attempted to tackle Miller after a rebounding tussle and when a frustrated coach Alexander Gomelsky later drop-kicked a towel onto the court, it appeared the Soviets might be making a pitch for an NFL franchise.

“It was every man for himself out there,” said Carlisle.

And on this occasion, the Cavaliers walked off the battlefield with a win.

'War' with Russians points out Cavs flaws

By Bill Millsaps

A few days ago, an individual who works for the University of Virginia athletic department called the sports editor of this newspaper and, after perfunctory greetings, asked sotto voce, “Have you seen any of our scrimmages yet?”

When the answer was, “No,” the man said, “Well, you should, you know.” And why is that? “Because we’re looking awfully good. I mean, AWFULLY good.”

How good is that? “We’re looking awesome.” He hesitated, as if searching for the proper word. “We’re looking… INVINCIBLE! Honest, we might not lose a game.”

Surely, the caller was told, he was jesting. Not lose a game? Against the most difficult schedule any Virginia team has ever played? “I’m not kidding, we may not lose even one,” the man said. “I really can’t see how anybody can beat us.”

It’s a long time between a Wednesday night in mid-December and a Saturday afternoon in early April in Albuquerque, where the NCAA semifinals will be played, but it’s apparent Virginia’s basketball team has a considerable amount of work to do before it should be considered totally bulletproof.

Last night, before 10,716 customers at the Coliseum, the Cavaliers were one-third “on” and two-thirds “off” in beating the Soviet Union’s excellent national team 94-87 in double overtime. Admittedly, U.Va. was facing a collection of superior athletes, but the Cavaliers still hit only 38.8 percent of their field-goal attempts, turned the ball over 25 times and blew what should have been comfortable leads both at the end of regulation and at the end of the first overtime.

Ominously for Virginia, Ralph Sampson disappeared from the offense down the stretch just as he did so many times late last season. The 7-4 senior center didn’t score the last 25 minutes and four seconds of the game.

But Sampson did manage 25 rebounds and nine blocked shots, and he was around at the finish, which is more than can be said of Alexandr Bolosttenny and Arvidas Sabonis, the Soviets’ two 7-2 inside players. They were among the FIVE Russians to receive five fouls and disqualifications, and in addition referees Jim Burch and Joe Forte drilled the Soviets with four technical fouls.

In fact, there were some at the Coliseum last night who were sure the Cavaliers, ranked No. 1 in almost every preseason poll, would not have escaped with a victory had they not been helped by Burch and Forte. Ahead by two points in the waning moments of regulation, the Russians drew two straight personal fouls, the second of which instanced the visitors.

When Sampson intentionally missed a free throw with five seconds left, the ball caromed into the grasp of teammate Othell Wilson. The Soviets’ Khose Birukov bumped Wilson in the struggle for the ball, and, in the general context of the way the game was played (which is to say EXTREMELY physical), the contact appeared to be incidental. But Birukov was called for a foul and Wilson went to the line with four seconds left to knock in two free throws that enabled the Cavaliers to get into overtime.

Later, the Soviets’ Valdis Valters would draw a technical for protesting a Fore call by throwing the ball into the stands. Soviet coach Alexandr Gomelsky twice spat on the floor at the end of heated discussions with the officials, unsanitary behavior which escaped penalty. But he was given a “T” for kicking a towel on the floor in the direction of the beleaguered referees.

After the game, Gomelsky refused to discuss the game with the press. “You know what he would say and I don’t blame him,” said Bill Wall, executive director of the Amateur Basketball Association of the U.S. and the Soviets’ guide on their current 12-game, 20-day tour of the States. “At least,” Wall added, “they [the Russians] ought to get an even break.”

Wall described Forte and Burch, who also happened to be members of the Atlantic Coast Conference officiating staff, as “two of the best officials, but there were a number of mistakes. This is their first international [rules] game of the year, but judgement is another thing.”

Naturally, U.Va. coach Terry Holland had a different view of the work of Forte and Burch. “It was,” Holland said, “an impossible game to officiate, and they did as good a job as they could do to control it.”

On balance, Holland said he expected “about what we got” in the team’s first outing of the year against outside opposition. “It was ragged at times, but we got a very good, hard effort. I would not like to invite the Russians to play in he ACC.”

At the beginning, U.Va. treated the Russians as if they were Georgia Tech, running off to a 12-2 lead in the first 3:26 of the game. But from there on, it was a struggle. The Soviets are an extremely active group on defense, and they are nothing less than terrific on the fast break. Holland said he had seen teams better on the run “in spurts, but never for the whole game.”

“Ralph got a great deal of attention,” Holland said. “There was a lot of physical pressure put on him. Hopefully, we won’t see anything else like this for a while.”

He certainly won’t see it in U.Va.’s next game, which will be against Johns Hopkins next Friday night in the opening round of the Cavalier Invitational in Charlottesville. Holland said he would be using the time to increase U.Va.’s offensive and defensive repertoires, which he said at the moment is about half complete.

Before he left the Coliseum for the night, Holland noted, “for us to be able to gut it out this early in the season and win a game like this leaves me very pleased.”

And relieved.

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