By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — About 12 hours after the dramatic ending to UVa’s basketball game with Norfolk State at John Paul Jones Arena, Tony Bennett’s players were back in the gym practicing Tuesday morning.
“Very spirited today,” Bennett said later during a break from a recruiting trip. “They worked hard.”
The Cavaliers’ second-year coach laughed.
“We still didn’t make shots,” Bennett said, “but they tried.”
Missed shots were among UVa’s many problems Monday night. The Wahoos shot only 35.2 percent from the floor and 50 percent from the line. Worse, a MEAC team whose record is now 1-8 outrebounded its ACC host 42-36.
Somehow, though, the Cavaliers won, prevailing 50-49 on 7-0 center Assane Sene’s tip-in of a missed free throw by freshman guard KT Harrell. That was Sene’s only field goal.
“We certainly could have lost that game and felt worse, but I’m concerned about the quality of our play,” Bennett said.
UVa (8-3) closes the pre-Christmas portion of its schedule Wednesday night against Seattle (4-10) at JPJ. With so little time between games, Virginia’s coaching staff narrowed the focus of Tuesday’s practice.
“You can hammer them and go for 2½ hours, but that’s not smart,” Bennett said.
Instead, the coaches “picked one area and said that’s what we’re going to attack,” Bennett said. “So we worked at that and then walked through the other areas.”
After reviewing videotape of the Norfolk State game, Bennett said, he concluded his team’s defense had not been as poor as he first thought. So the Cavaliers spent most of practice Tuesday trying to improve an offense that, without all-ACC candidate Mike Scott, frequently stalled against the Spartans.
“I told them, ‘Let’s work on trying to get quality shots. Let’s work on trying to be sounder with the ball,’ ” Bennett said.
Scott, the Cavaliers’ leading scorer and rebounder, is the team’s only consistent low-post threat. The 6-8, 242-pound senior had arthoscopic surgery on his left ankle last week and has missed the past two games. He’s not expected back before Virginia’s Dec. 30 game with Iowa State.
In Scott’s absence, the Cavaliers have relied almost exclusively on jump shots. “We just don’t get any easy baskets,” Bennett said.
When those jumpers are falling, as they did Friday night in a win against Oregon, UVa is fine. When they’re not dropping, as was the case against Norfolk State, UVa is in trouble.
“As far as the lineup we have right now, we just gotta keep fighting,” junior guard Sammy Zeglinski said. “We know it’s not going to be easy. We’re pretty guard-oriented, so obviously we’d like to make some shots.”
With Scott and another frontcourt starter, 6-9 senior Will Sherrill, sidelined by injuries, 6-8 freshmen Will Regan and Akil Mitchell have seen their minutes increase.
Neither is capable of matching Scott’s offensive production, but Mitchell had 7 rebounds against Oregon and 6 against Norfolk State, and Regan scored on a textbook up-and-under in the low post Monday night.
“Any experience is good experience, and they’re getting some court time,” Bennett said. “Will made a nice move, and I think Akil showed some activity and some energy.”
UVa can expect no lack of energy from its opponent Wednesday night. Seattle’s second-year coach, former UCLA guard Cameron Dollar, is a protégé of Washington’s Lorenzo Romar. The Huskies embarrassed the ‘Hoos 106-63 last month in the first round of the Maui Invitational.
Dollar spent seven years as a Washington assistant before taking the job at Seattle, which is in its second season as a full-fledged Division I member. He knows Bennett’s system well. Bennett coached for six seasons at Washington State — the final three as head coach — before moving to UVa in 2009.
Seattle traveled to College Park, Md., for its opener this season and lost 105-76 to Maryland. The Redhawks have beaten Oregon State, Navy, Montana State and Idaho. Seattle doesn’t have a player taller than 6-8, but it will run and press and try to force the Cavaliers into an uptempo game.
If the ‘Hoos come out flat and fail to execute better than they did against Norfolk State, Bennett stressed, this is a game they can lose. His veterans know he’s not bluffing.
“We just got a lot of work to do,” senior guard Mustapha Farrakhan said Monday night. “We’ve just got to attack practice and just find other ways to get it going and come out of the gates with a little more intensity.”
Zeglinski said: “We’re obviously thin in the frontcourt, but that’s no excuse. We still have to bring higher energy to the court every night, and I think Wednesday we’ll be ready to play.”