By Jeff White
CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — He’s known for his even temper, but as the end of Tony Bennett’s first season as UVa’s basketball coach nears an end, his patience occasionally runs thin.
His basketball team practiced well Monday night in Charlottesville. No problem there. About 24 hours later, however, in this New England town, the Cavaliers’ focus waxed and waned, and Bennett didn’t hesitate to voice his displeasure toward the end of practice.
For a slumping team such as Virginia, which has lost seven straight, sustaining concentration and intensity can be difficult, Bennett acknowledged Tuesday night.
“But you’re trying to still build for the future,” he said, “and that’s [on] me. I’m not going to let up on these guys in terms of letting our standards slide. Maybe the quality isn’t great, maybe we’re not being successful, but I still have expectations for this team in terms of what we want done in practice, in terms of how we’ll defend, what matters to this program, and that’s what I’m all about installing.
“It gets hard when we’re not all on the same page, but that’s your job as a coach: to demand that, and do your best to keep a level of excellence in terms of what matters to you for the future of this program, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
With two regular-season games left, UVa (5-9, 14-13) is tied for eighth in the ACC with Boston College (5-9, 14-14). The teams meet at 9 p.m. Wednesday at BC’s Conte Forum in a game ESPNU will televise.
The Cavaliers close the regular season Saturday afternoon against No. 22 Maryland at John Paul Jones Arena. That will be the final home game for UVa’s seniors — Jerome Meyinsse, Calvin Baker, Solomon Tat and Tom Jonke, a walk-on guard.
Win both games, and the Wahoos could earn the No. 7 seed in the ACC tournament, which starts March 11 at Greensboro, N.C. A split would probably assure UVa the No. 8 seed.
The ‘Hoos are coming off a 67-49 loss to fifth-ranked Duke, which had an easy time against a team missing its best player. Virginia sophomore Sylven Landesberg watched from the bench Sunday night. He wasn’t happy about his spectator’s role, but Landesberg was still hampered by the deep thigh bruise he’d suffered five nights earlier at Miami.
Landesberg is accustomed to being in the middle of the action. His injury offered him a different perspective.
From the bench, Landesberg said Tuesday night, basketball “is a lot easier than it is when you’re out there, because the game’s so fast. I kept talking and saying, ‘I see this, I see that.’ But it was tough to sit out.”
A variety of treatments, including heat, ice and underwater treadmill work, have eased the pain in Landesberg’s right thigh. He’s not 100 percent, but the 6-6 swingman is expected to play against BC.
Landesberg practiced Monday and Tuesday and fully participated in the team’s shootaround Wednesday, working with a group that also included big men Meyinsse and Assane Sene.
It’s good “just to have him out there,” Bennett said of Landesberg, who leads UVa in points and assists and is second, behind Mike Scott, in rebounds.
Scott, a 6-8 junior, is staggering through the worst stretch of his college career. He’s still second on the team in scoring, at 12.3 ppg, but he’s missed his past 13 shots from the floor. Scott hasn’t scored since Feb. 20, when he had 14 points in a loss at Clemson.
Asked after the Duke game why Scott is struggling, Meyinsse said, “I’m not sure. I think he’s just going through a slump, and hopefully he’ll recover from it when we play Boston College.”
Meyinsse did his part against the Blue Devils, contributing a career-high 21 points. Before Sunday night, he’d never scored more than 13 in an ACC game.
“I was just trying to be aggressive,” Meyinsse said. “Every time I caught the ball I tried to attack the rim, tried to finish stronger.”
This is the only regular-season meeting between UVa and BC, though they could see each other again in the ACC tourney’s first round.
The Eagles beat the ‘Hoos twice last season. Their second meeting, in the ACC tournament at Atlanta, turned out to be Dave Leitao’s final game as UVa’s coach. Four days after BC thumped Virginia 76-63 in a one-sided contest, Leitao resigned.