By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — History will record that on Jan. 5, 2010, Mike Scott had 22 points and 7 rebounds, Sylven Landesberg 20 points and 6 boards, Sammy Zeglinski 13 points, 6 assists and 4 steals, Calvin Baker 7 assists and only 1 turnover.
So why were UVa’s players and coaches so dissatisfied Tuesday night at John Paul Jones Arena? Because the Cavaliers’ effort in a 72-53 win over the University of Texas-Pan American might have been their worst of the season.
“I wish I could say it more eloquently, but we were poor,” first-year coach Tony Bennett said.
That the Wahoos would win their penultimate non-conference game was almost a foregone conclusion. UTPA (1-15) ranks among the weakest teams in Division I. Only one Bronc stands taller than 6-7, and he plays about five minutes a game.
This is a team that lost by 28 points at Nebraska, by 56 at Missouri, by 62 at Texas. Yet after a 5-0 run by Texas-Pan American, UVa’s lead was only 12 with 2:25 remaining Tuesday night.
“I think we kind of played down,” said Scott, a 6-8, 239-pound junior who encountered little resistance inside. “No disrespect towards them, but we knew we were a lot better team, and we just played down towards their level. We just gotta play harder than that.”
A few minutes earlier, in the JPJ press room, Bennett had said, “If our guys disrespected their opponent, I’d be very disappointed. I thought they certainly disrespected the game the way they approached it.
“We were just lackluster. As I’ve said before, when we’re not clicking, when we’re not sharp and alert, we become not a great team, and that showed tonight.”
What made the effort particularly frustrating for Bennett was that the Cavaliers (8-4) had played with palpable passion and intensity last week in an upset of then-No. 24 Alabama-Birmingham at JPJ.
“I told the guys before the game, ‘When you’re alert and real competitive,’ I said, ‘I like the group sitting in front of me. But when you’re not,’ I said, ‘then it’s tough,'” Bennett recalled.
“And tonight we weren’t alert and real feisty and real competitive, and we’ll have to have that. That effort factor, that’s the entry fee to play at the high-major level. When that’s not there, you don’t belong.”
Landesberg said: “I think we came in with the mindset that we just came off a big win, and we might have been a little too confident in ourselves. We let them stay in the game with us, and that built their confidence up to continue to play well.”
Stats can deceive, and such was the case Tuesday night. UVa’s defense was not nearly as good as the Broncs’ 41.7 shooting percentage would suggest.
“Texas-Pan American, they’re scrappy kids, they work hard,” Bennett said. “They missed a lot of shots, they missed some point-blank shots, some open shots, that would have made that a lot closer than it was.
“We did not perform well. We were sloppy. We were un-alert, and that was disappointing coming off of the UAB game. But we’ll get back to work tomorrow, and we certainly have to prepare for a different level of competition.”
Virginia’s ACC opener is Saturday at N.C. State (0-1, 10-4). And if the ‘Hoos play as poorly in Raleigh as they did against UTPA?
“We can’t play like that anywhere in the ACC against any team if we want to win any games,” Landesberg said. “We know that, but tonight we definitely didn’t show it.”
Scott, in his second game back from a high-ankle sprain that still bothers him, hit 10 of 15 shots from the floor Tuesday night.
“I was just taking what I could get,” he said.
Against the smaller Broncs, Scott got pretty much whatever he wanted.
“It was a hard matchup for them,” Bennett said. “He got pretty deep position [in the post]. I don’t know if he’ll get quite that deep position in the ACC. It’d be nice. He made some nice plays.
“I thought he was solid on the offensive end and was rusty on the defensive end. It’s nice to have in a game like that, when you’re struggling, to be able to dump it inside and have him go to work. He has a knack down there, but he’s got to bring a complete performance on both ends of the floor.”
UVa guards Jontel Evans, Baker and Zeglinski were a combined 9 for 14 from the floor and had 16 assists, 7 steals and only 4 turnovers among them.
Zeglinski’s torrid perimeter shooting continued. After making 2 of 3 attempts from beyond the arc, the 6-0 sophomore from Philadelphia is 30 for 61 from 3-point range this season.
Still, he wasn’t much happier than his coach after the game. Bennett had warned his players that UTPA could be a “trap game,” and “and that’s exactly what happened,” Zeglinski said.
“And it’s disappointing, because I thought we were going the right direction. Tonight was definitely a step back, but we got three days to regroup and focus in on the ACC schedule.”