By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — To students, fans and alumni, it’s a huge deal.
To UVa basketball player Mike Scott, not so much. Never mind that the Chesapeake resident is one of the few Virginians on a team stocked with out-of-staters.
When UVa meets Virginia Tech, it’s just another game to the 6-8, 239-pound junior.
“I’m really not that seriously into the rivalry,” Scott said after practice Tuesday at JPJ, “but I know it’s a rivalry that goes back to who knows when. These two schools, we just compete in every sport and everything.”
The Cavaliers will face the Hokies at least twice this season. The first of their two regular-season clashes is Thursday night at John Paul Jones Arena, where a near-capacity crowd is expected.
Virginia (3-1 ACC, 12-5 overall) is coming off a one-sided loss at Wake Forest, a setback that ended the team’s eight-game winning streak. Tech (2-2, 15-3) edged Boston College on Saturday in Blacksburg.
Scott missed the first two games of the Wahoos’ winning streak with an ankle injury, but he averaged 13.3 points and 5.7 rebounds in the next six. Against Wake, however, he finished with 6 points and 2 rebounds, both season lows.
If the ‘Hoos are to beat Tech, they’ll need more than that from Scott, and he knows it. Asked if he’s satisfied with his recent play — he scored 12 points but had only 3 rebounds Jan. 18 against UNC Wilmington — Scott shook his head.
“Nah, not really,” he said. “I gotta rebound more. Gotta get more offensive rebounds, more defensive rebounds.”
For the season he’s averaging 7.2 boards per game, a slight dropoff from 2008-09, when Scott was 10th in the ACC at 7.4. As a sophomore, however, he averaged 3.4 offensive rebounds, second only to Georgia Tech’s Gani Lawal in the ACC.
Scott’s average in that category has plummeted to 1.9 this season, in part because he’s expanded his game to include a midrange jumper with which he’s been accurate. But he’s operating farther from the basket, which reduces his effectiveness on the boards.
“I just need to work some more in the paint,” Scott said, “so I can get more offensive rebounds.”
Scott is UVa’s only consistent threat to score in the low post, and when his shots are falling, his teammates get better looks on the perimeter. He’s averaging 12.7 points — 2.4 more than in 2008-09 — and he’s fourth among ACC players in field-goal percentage (55.3).
Tony Bennett talks often about wanting sophomore swingman Sylven Landesberg to become a more complete player. The Cavaliers’ first-year coach wants Scott to aspire to the same thing.
“He can help us by offensive rebounding, defensive rebounding, being a presence in all ways,” Bennett said. “Yes, the scoring is important, post moves are good, all those things. But sometimes players feel like, ‘If I’m not making my shot or scoring, I’m letting my team down,’ and it affects the rest of their game.
“Certainly when he’s scoring, yes, that’s when we’re at our best, when he can score in the post. But when he’s doing other things, it makes a big difference. Just his ability to draw a little attention, to set a screen, play off of a screen, pass, offensive rebound.
“I think sometimes you can get tentative or timid if you miss a few shots or you make a couple mistakes, if you have a couple breakdowns. You have to have a short memory and play on. You can’t get it back in one play. You just gotta keep chipping away.”
From Chesapeake’s Deep Creep High, Scott went to Hargrave Military Academy, where he enrolled in the postgraduate program. His teammates at Hargrave included Jeff Allen and Dorenzo Hudson, both starters now for Virginia Tech.
“We’re cool,” Scott said. “I talk to them on and off. I watch some of their games. We normally talk to each other when it’s close to game time.”
Hudson, a 6-5 guard, is an explosive scorer — witness his 41 points in an overtime win over Seton Hall in Cancun, Mexico — but Scott will be more concerned with the 6-7, 230-pound Allen.
“That’s the matchup most of the time [when the teams meet],” Scott said.
Inconsistency remains a problem for Allen, but he’s an immensely gifted player whose career highs are 30 points, 21 rebounds, 6 steals, 5 assists and 5 blocks, respectively. Allen leads the Hokies in rebounding and steals.
“That’s him,” Scott said. “He’s quick with his hands, quick with his feet.”
The Hokies have won three of the past four games in a series that moves to Cassell Coliseum on Feb. 13. Virginia needs a victory Thursday night to climb into a tie for first in the ACC with Maryland, and this is Bennett’s first game against his school’s biggest rival.
All of which makes it particularly important to the ‘Hoos, right?
“I think every game, especially in this league, is a big game,” Scott said. “This game is especially big because of the rivalry, but every game is a big game.”