By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — At the end of practice Monday afternoon, Assane Sene sneaked up behind Mike Scott and pecked him on the shoulder.
“Welcome back, man,” Sene said with a playful smile. “We love you.”
Scott rolled his eyes at his teammate’s antics, but he’s happy to be back on the court. The 6-8, 239-pound junior — UVa’s most talented low-post player — practiced Sunday and again Monday. And he’s expected to play Wednesday night when Virginia (6-4) hosts 24th-ranked Alabama-Birmingham (11-1) at John Paul Jones Arena.
“I’m very excited,” Scott said Monday afternoon. “I was off the court for a couple weeks, so I’m just anxious to get back out there.”
Scott hasn’t played since Nov. 30, when he had 17 points and 11 rebounds in a loss to Penn State. He sprained his right ankle near the end of practice Dec. 5 and missed Virginia’s game at Auburn two nights later.
“The Auburn game was tough to watch,” Scott said.
Without Scott, who’s averaging 13.1 points and 9.3 rebounds, the Cavaliers fell 68-67. The Wahoos’ other post players — Sene, Will Sherrill and Jerome Meyinsse — combined for 7 points and 10 rebounds against Auburn.
“Certainly we need him,” first-year coach Tony Bennett said of Scott, who’s from Chesapeake.
Not against every opponent, it turns out. The ‘Hoos hammered New Jersey Institute of Technology and then Hampton without Scott last week, but UAB is likely to be the toughest opponent they’ve faced this season.
The Blazers’ victims include Wisconsin-Green Bay (Bennett’s alma mater), Georgia, Cincinnati and Butler. UAB is averaging 38 rebounds per game, to only 30.8 for its opponents.
During the summer before his first year at UVa, Scott hurt his left ankle, an injury he’s never been able to completely move past.
“My left was a severe high-ankle sprain,” he said. “This was a mild high-ankle sprain. It’s not even swollen. Actually, my left is still swollen from my first year. My right ankle looks better than my left.”
His injured ankle was mostly healed when Hampton came to town last week, but his right Achilles tendon was too painful for him to play, Scott said. When the Cavaliers reconvened Sunday for their first post-Christmas practice, however, he was ready to take part.
“I think the break helped out a lot,” Scott said. “Got a little rest, and I worked out a little bit with my father.”
When he returned to practice, Scott said, “I felt a little bit winded, but I got my wind back.”
UVa’s long break for final exams, combined with the postponement of the Dec. 19 game with UNC Wilmington because of the record-breaking storm, meant that Scott missed only three games.
Sene was ineffective at Auburn, but he made significant contributions, especially on defense, against NJIT and Hampton.
The 7-0 sophomore had 11 rebounds, 4 points and 2 blocked shots in the Cavaliers’ 68-37 romp over NJIT. Two nights later, Sene totaled 8 rebounds, 8 points and 5 blocks in a 80-54 win over Hampton.
UAB’s big men include 6-10, 260-pound senior Kenneth Cooper and 6-10, 225-pound sophomore Cameron Moore.
Blazers forward Ovie Soko, a 6-8, 225-pound freshman, played with Jontel Evans at Bethel High in Hampton. Evans is a first-year point guard at UVa.