By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — With a little research, UVa senior Mike Scott could have supplied the correct answer. After practice Monday, though, the newly honored ACC men’s basketball player of the week wasn’t sure.
“I don’t know the last time we played at home,” Scott said. “It’s been a while.”
It’s been three weeks and a day, to be exact. But the team Scott leads will spend plenty of time at John Paul Jones Arena in the next month. Starting Tuesday night against Radford (2-5), Virginia (5-3) will host eight straight games.
The Cavaliers’ next game away from JPJ? Jan. 15, at Duke.
“It’s great to come back home and play,” Scott said. “I know the fans are anxious to watch us. They’ve been watching us on TV.”
Not everything they’ve seen on the tube has delighted UVa supporters. After beating USC Upstate at JPJ on Nov. 15, the Wahoos traveled to Stanford for the first of six consecutive games away from Charlottesville. The Cardinal crushed the ‘Hoos 81-60.
Four days later, in the first round of the Maui Invitational, Virginia bottomed out, losing 106-63 to the Washington Huskies.
“That was just an eye-opener,” Scott said. “I guess you could kind of say we needed that, because I think after that, we’ve been playing well. Even though we lost to Wichita State [in Maui], we played well that game.”
Indeed, since losing to Washington, UVa has won three of four. The ‘Hoos beat Oklahoma 74-56 in Maui, stunned then-No. 15 Minnesota 87-79 in Minneapolis and, Sunday night, knocked off Virginia Tech 57-54 in Blacksburg.
Scott, who has posted four consecutive double-doubles, averaged 19 points and 12.5 rebounds in the wins over Minnesota and Tech to earn his first weekly award from the ACC. The 6-8, 242-pound senior also had 3 assists against the Golden Gophers and 2 against the Hokies.
“He has a nice presence,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “When [defenders are] really converging on him, he’s finding the right guys … I just like that Mike, he’s aggressive enough when he needs to, but he’s letting it come and finding the open guys when he’s got doubles or triples on him.”
Sammy Zeglinski entered UVa with Scott in the summer of 2007, and the redshirt junior guard marvels at his teammate’s growth on the court and off.
“He’s really come a long way through the four years,” Zeglinski said. “He’s such a leader now, and he’s just been great all year. He’s been tough to stop by any team, so hopefully he keeps that rolling.”
The victory over the Hokies was the Cavaliers’ first in Blacksburg since Feb. 11, 2006. The lessons they’d learned on the road trip helped prepare the ‘Hoos for what they faced at Cassell Coliseum.
“We needed to play against all the great competition that we did in Maui and then Minnesota,” UVa freshman Joe Harris said Sunday night, “to come into this game and be ready to play in an environment like this against a great team like Virginia Tech.”
Tech puts its best defender, 6-7 Terrell Bell, on Harris, who had scored a career-best 24 points at Minnesota. The 6-6 Harris slipped free often enough at Cassell to score 10 and help UVa, which never trailed, hold off the Hokies.
“I didn’t really understand the whole Virginia Tech-Virginia rivalry, not being from here, but I’d heard about it a ton,” said Harris, who’s from Chelan, Wash. “So coming into a hostile environment like this and getting the win was really exciting and fun.”
This is Bennett’s second season at UVa. In his first, the Cavaliers went 5-11 in ACC play and 15-16 overall. Of Virginia’s 12 scholarship players this season, six are freshmen.
“We have a ways to go,” Bennett said. “I’m real on that. If you just watch the Washington game … I just gotta pop that tape back in and see the Stanford game, the last 10 minutes, so I understand where we’re at.
“But I tell our guys: Good basketball, it doesn’t matter age. When you tap into it, when you understand who you are as a team, and I think our team’s beginning to understand that more, you’ll have a chance to compete. You have to make plays down the stretch and show some composure, and that’s what I’m pleased with, that our guys doing that. Hopefully we’ll just keep getting better.”
For Bennett’s players, that means putting the win over the Hokies, however satisfying, behind them.
“Virginia Tech is over, and now we’re on to Radford,” Scott said Monday evening. “We celebrated last night, and that was it. Just like we had a short memory for Washington, now we have a short memory for Virginia Tech.”