By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — The four-guard lineup that proved so effective for UVa at the RBC Center? Don’t expect to see it much, if at all, Wednesday night at John Paul Jones Arena.
At 7 o’clock, Virginia (1-0, 9-4) hosts ACC rival Georgia Tech (1-1, 12-3), which has a tall and talented frontcourt led by Gani Lawal and Derrick Favors.
“Favors is a great athlete,” UVa center Jerome Meyinsse said after practice Tuesday at JPJ. “They’re both great athletes, and they’re both very physical. It’s going to take a great effort from our post players — myself, Mike [Scott], Assane [Sene] and Will Sherrill — to get the ‘W’ tomorrow.”
Lawal, a 6-9, 234-pound junior, averages 15.7 points and 9.4 rebounds. Favors, a 6-10, 246-pound freshman, averages 11.7 and 8.7. The 20th-ranked Yellow Jackets have the luxury of bringing another gifted big man, 6-8, 235-pound senior Zachery Peacock (10.1 ppg, 4.6 rpg), off the bench.
“We’ve got plenty of size, and our big men have gotten off to a good start this season,” said Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt, whose team upset Duke on Saturday.
The Cavaliers got off to a good start in ACC play, rallying to win 70-62 at N.C. State on Saturday afternoon. In the second half, first-year Tony Bennett relied heavily on a lineup that consisted of one post player — usually the 6-8 Scott (13.8 ppg, 8.6 rpg) — and perimeter players Sylven Landesberg, Sammy Zeglinski, Jeff Jones and Mustapha Farrakhan.
“As a coach, you look at the situations in the games, and sometimes, whether it’s [because of] foul trouble or you’re down, you’re forced to go with a different plan of attack,” Bennett said.
“I wasn’t even planning on going with the four-guard attack against N.C. State, but we had a little foul trouble, and I thought we needed a boost, and it certainly gave us that.
“Against Georgia Tech, I wouldn’t say there’s no way we wouldn’t try it, but I think you have to be mindful of their prowess on the glass and their interior presence. But they certainly have some good perimeter guys, too, so you can’t just gear up to only play the inside against them. You have to be ready for their outside as well.”
The Jackets’ guards include freshman point guard Mfon Udofia and sophomore Iman Shumpert, both of whom were coveted recruits. Still, Georgia Tech’s inside game is probably a bigger concern for the Wahoos, who have won five straight since losing 68-67 at Auburn on Dec. 7.
“It’s definitely going to be a physical game,” Meyinsse said. “We’ve been preparing for the past two days for a very physical game. We can’t let them outmuscle us and outrebound us, because that’s their game — getting rebounds, offensive rebounds and pushing in transition.”
In six of UVa’s first eight games this season, Meyinsse played at least 20 minutes. In the four games leading up to the ACC opener, however, the 6-9, 233-pound senior averaged only 10.5 minutes.
He continued to practice hard, though, and his effort was rewarded at the RBC Center. In 18 minutes, Meyinsse contributed 6 points, 5 rebounds and 2 blocked shots and played rugged defense against the Wolfpack’s 6-8, 247-pound Tracy Smith.
“It’s a challenge, but it’s one that I have to do,” Meyinsse said of his fluid role on the team. “During my first three years, I was kind of in the same position. Sometimes I’d play, sometimes I wouldn’t. I just learned over time that you have to come prepared every day, because you never know when your number’s going to be called, and when it is, you have to be ready to play.”
He wasn’t shocked that he played so much against the Pack, Meyinsse said, “because I knew they had a good post player in Smith, and I needed to go in there and be a tough defender and make everything very difficult for him. I was mentally prepared to play, and I went out and I had a good game.”
The spring semester doesn’t start at UVa until Jan. 20, so the student section won’t be close to full Wednesday night. Even so, Meyinsse expects an electric atmosphere at 14,593-seat JPJ, where the ‘Hoos are averaging only 8,582 this season.
ACC games have “a different feeling,” he said. “Especially the home opener, the crowd’s going to be into it. Everybody’s excited. At the beginning of the season, everybody’s into it, so you’re going to get everybody’s best effort. It’s just a great experience.”