By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CANCUN, Mexico — Starting at 11:15 a.m. Central time, UVa went through a 45-minute walkthrough Wednesday at the Moon Palace Resort gym.
Virginia meets Cleveland State at 6 p.m. (Central) in a consolation game at the Cancun Challenge. Both teams are 3-2 after losing Tuesday — the Cavaliers to Stanford and the Vikings to Kentucky.
These schools never have met in men’s basketball. The Vikings compete in the mid-major Horizon League, but don’t expect them to be awed by the Wahoos’ status as ACC members.
In the NCAA tournament’s first round last season, Cleveland State humbled Wake Forest 84-69. The Vikings finished 26-11 after losing to Arizona in the second round.
Virginia finished 10-18, which led to Dave Leitao’s departure as coach and Tony Bennett’s hiring.
Against fifth-ranked Kentucky, Cleveland State stayed close for a half. The more talented Wildcats pulled away after intermission for a 73-49 win, but the Vikings will be anything but pushovers for UVa.
“I was impressed early with how physical they are,” said Bennett, who watched the first half of the Vikings’ game with UK. “They play with a chip on their shoulder. They play hard. Very well-coached. Good defensive team. They turned over Kentucky’s guards so many times. They just couldn’t hang with [Kentucky’s superior] talent.
“They will come after us, and we’ll have to be ready. Again, at this level, no matter who you play, you can’t assume anything, and we don’t have enough talent to just expect to show up and beat people. That’s not us.”
When he left the gym Tuesday night, Bennett hadn’t decided what his team’s schedule would be the next morning.
Still, he said, “whether you shoot around or you don’t, whether you practice or you don’t, it’s about having the right mindset coming into a game. Until that’s right, we won’t be competitive.”
The team is scheduled to arrive back in Charlottesville around 8:30 a.m. Thursday. UVa hosts Penn State in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge on Monday. ESPN2 will televise the 7 p.m. game.
BAD OMEN: Bennett was worried about the Stanford game, in part because his team practiced poorly Monday. Those concerns proved well-founded. The Cardinal capitalized on the Wahoos’ late defensive breakdowns and rallied for a 57-52 victory.
“That’s all we talk about, trying to do things the right way, trying to come with effort,” Bennett said Tuesday night. “In our practice leading up to this, I didn’t feel like we came ready, and I thought it carried over into the game, which was discouraging.
“And again, at this level there’s so much parity, and if you’re not more talented than your opponents, which will [be the case for UVa] many times this season, you’d better be rock-solid in the little areas, the execution.”
Those areas include moving the ball on offense, “blocking out on defense, closing out on shooters, playing with passion,” Bennett said. “When those things aren’t there, it won’t work.”
OFF THE MARK: Sophomore swingman Sylven Landesberg (15.4 ppg) leads the ‘Hoos in scoring, and most of his points continue to come from around the basket.
The ACC rookie of the year in 2008-09, Landesberg spent the offseason polishing his outside shot, but that work has yet to pay dividends. He’s 1 for 8 from beyond the arc this season.
Of the Cavaliers who have attempted more than three 3-pointers, only sophomore guard Sammy Zeglinski is shooting better than 32 percent. He’s 9 for 18 from long range.
Jeff Jones is 7 for 22, and Mustapha Farrakhan is 5 for 16. Calvin Baker is 1 for 5.
Virginia’s 3-point defense hasn’t been good, either. Stanford was 8 for 16 from beyond the arc, and UVa has allowed opponents to shoot 39.3 percent from 3-point range this season.
WAIT AND SEE: Bennett said Wednesday morning that it’s too early to say if or when Jamil Tucker will start practicing with the team again.
Tucker, a senior forward, has been on a leave of absence from the program since early this month.
In 2008-09, he averaged 7.4 points and 3.8 rebounds. For his career, he’s shooting 40.7 percent from 3-point range.
Tucker’s return would added much-needed depth to a team that in Cancun has only four post players: 6-9 senior Jerome Meyinsse, 6-8 junior Mike Scott, 6-9 junior Will Sherrill and 7-0 sophomore Assane Sene.
LOUD AND PROUD: There weren’t many UVa fans in the gym Tuesday night, but those in attendance made themselves heard.
The orange-clad supporters behind the Cavaliers’ bench included Drs. David and Rebecca Swett of Charlottesville and their children, Evan and Rosalie.
Seated courtside were Gordon Burris and his wife, Marjorie. Burris is the senior assistant to UVa’s president, John Casteen.