By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Saturday turned out to be a false start for the UVa men’s basketball team, thanks to Mother Nature and the record-breaking storm that pummeled Central Virginia.
Monday night, however, should mark the Cavaliers’ return to the court after a 14-day break.
The break was supposed to have been 12 days, but UVa’s Saturday night date with visiting UNC Wilmington was postponed because of treacherous travel conditions.
The Wahoos (4-4) may yet meet UNCW this season, but their immediate focus is the New Jersey Institute of Technology. The Highlanders (3-7) play at John Paul Jones Arena at 7 p.m. Monday.
UVa’s most talented big man, Mike Scott, would not have played Saturday night had the UNCW game proceeded as scheduled. The 6-8 junior from Chesapeake suffered a high-ankle sprain Dec. 5, and as of Friday afternoon Scott still hadn’t resumed practicing with the team.
He remains doubtful for Monday night. Jontel Evans is healthy, however, and don’t be shocked if he plays a prominent role against NJIT.
A 5-11 point guard who, like Virginia’s new football coach, Mike London, graduated from Hampton’s Bethel High, Evans impressed in his team’s most recent game, a Dec. 7 loss at Auburn.
Since then, Evans has been working more with the first team in practice, sometimes with Sammy Zeglinski at shooting guard. First-year coach Tony Bennett has started Zeglinski at the point in every game thus far.
“I guess that’s the new move, Sammy playing 2,” Evans said after practice Friday afternoon. “But wherever [the coaches] go, I’m just going to step in there and try to do what I do.”
Against Auburn, Evans came off the bench to contribute 5 assists, 4 points, 3 steals and 2 rebounds in 18 minutes. Equally important, he played the suffocating defense for which he became known at Bethel.
“He gave us a nice lift,” Bennett said. “He energizes, as he did at the end of the Penn State game [on Nov. 30].”
Evans said: “I’m feeling comfortable. I’m just playing my role. My role is to get guys open, not turn the ball over, make good decisions on the offensive end, make open shots, and play defense.”
He’s not known for his outside shooting, but Evans has been working diligently to improve in that area. He stayed after practice Friday to put up extra shots with junior guard Mustapha Farrakhan, who has perhaps the best stroke on the team.
Evans made a lot more than he missed in that session.
“I’ve come a long way,” Evans said. “I changed the mechanics of my shot, because when I first got here, I would shoot on the way down. I was holding it. But now I’m shooting on the way up and I’m following through and staying with it.”
Final exams ended Friday at UVa. This time of year is especially tough on basketball players, said sophomore swingman Sylven Landesberg.
“We always have school to worry about, but this is crunch time,” Landesberg said. “You gotta really buckle down and get all your schoolwork done, as well as getting prepared for the games coming up. There’s a lot on your mind.”
Before breaking for the holidays, the Wahoos will play two games in three days, both at JPJ. Hampton visits Wednesday night.
Asked last week to grade his team after eight games — it was exam time, after all — Bennett said there “have been some highlights and there has been some frustration. I don’t know what that is as a letter grade. Sometimes it’s been a B, sometimes it’s been a D-minus.”
In the end, though, Bennett said, “I know this sounds like a cop-out, but I’m trying not to get caught up in the wins and losses. I’m really trying to look at the quality and [asking], ‘Are we improving? Are we accomplishing some of the things we want?'”
UVa has yet to beat a team from a major conference. The ‘Hoos got blown out Nov. 16 at South Florida, but their losses to Stanford, Penn State and Auburn were by a combined nine points.
Bennett said he’s concerned, “but as I told our guys, you keep knocking on the door. You just keep knocking.”