By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Akil Mitchell cannot provide a play-by-play breakdown of UVa’s Dec. 5 basketball game against Virginia Tech. Some 11 weeks later, though, he hasn’t forgotten who led the Wahoos that night at Cassell Coliseum.
“I know Mike had a huge game there,” Mitchell said this week.
That would be 6-8, 242-pound forward Mike Scott, who totaled 21 points, 13 rebounds and 2 assists in Virginia’s 57-54 upset of its biggest rival.
UVa (3-8 ACC, 12-13 overall) and Tech (7-4, 17-7) meet again Saturday afternoon at John Paul Jones Arena. The ‘Hoos may have the home-court advantage this time, but they don’t have Scott. He played in only 10 games before an ankle injury ended what was expected to be his final college season.
And so the Cavaliers, for the first time this season, are preparing for a rematch against a team they’ve already faced with Scott in their lineup.
“That was early,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said of his team’s ACC opener. “We’re a different team now, different personnel.”
Much has changed on each side since Dec. 5. That game marked the 2010-11 debut of UVa guard Sammy Zeglinski, who had been out while recovering from an Oct. 19 operation on his left knee. Zeglinski went scoreless in Blacksburg but has since become one of the Cavaliers’ top 3-point threats.
One of Scott’s classmates, Will Sherrill, sat out the game in Blacksburg with a fractured right fibula. The injury continues to bother Sherrill, but the 6-9 forward may try to play Saturday at JPJ.
For the Hokies, Dorenzo Hudson was still in the rotation at guard Dec. 5. A foot injury ended his season prematurely, however, and Hudson, like Scott, plans to return as a fifth-year senior in 2011-12.
All of which means the second meeting between these teams in 2010-11 may not closely resemble the first.
When they arrived in Blacksburg, the Cavaliers were coming off an 87-79 win over then-No. 15 Minnesota in Minneapolis. They stagger into this one, having lost three straight and eight of their past 10 games.
The Hokies, meanwhile, have won two straight and seven of their past nine.
“They’re playing good basketball, and I think they have their core intact,” Bennett said. “I think we’re probably more different than they are this time.”
Virginia’s rotation includes three freshmen — Mitchell, shooting guard KT Harrell and swingman Joe Harris — and Bennett starts only one senior, guard Mustapha Farrakhan.
“Mike is a major loss, but guys have to step up,” said sophomore Jontel Evans, Virginia’s starting point guard. “We are a different team since the last time we played Virginia Tech in December, with Mike being out … Guys on the perimeter have to make plays, because we don’t really have that big-time presence down low.”
Tech has two proven big men in 6-8, 245-pound center Victor Davila and 6-7, 230-pound power forward Jeff Allen. Coach Seth Greenberg has something else that’s equally valuable: experience.
The Hokies’ starters include three seniors — Delaney, Allen and small forward Terrell Bell — and a junior, Davila.
Delaney, at 19.1 points per game, is the ACC’s second-leading scorer. He had a game-high 26 points Dec. 5 against UVa in Blacksburg. Allen averages a double-double: 13.8 points and 10.2 rebounds. Tech’s fifth starter, sophomore point guard Erick Green, was not a heralded recruit, but he’s averaging 11 points and 2.7 assists and has blossomed in Hudson’s absence.
The Hokies are trying to lock up the NCAA tournament invitation that has eluded them in recent years, “so they’ll be motivated,” Bennett said.
So will the Cavaliers, of course. Mitchell is from Charlotte, N.C., but he quickly learned to appreciate the rivalry between this state’s ACC schools.
“I don’t like Virgina Tech already,” Mitchell said Wednesday night after Virginia’s loss to Duke at JPJ. “I know a lot of our fans don’t, either, and I’m excited to see how much they really don’t like them. It’s going to be a good one.”
“To get a win would be huge here. I’m not calling it a must-win or anything, but I think it would feel really good to get a win.”
Mitchell played 14 minutes in the game at Cassell Coliseum and scored 2 points. With Scott out and Sherrill still hobbled, Mitchell’s role has steadily grown. He played 24 minutes against Duke and contributed 2 points, 5 rebounds and 3 steals.
“In the first half he was very active and gave us some good minutes defensively,” Bennett said afterward. “Hopefully he’s really growing up as he’s getting these minutes in these spots. His activity is good, his athleticism. He’s got to continue improve at becoming more of a threat offensively, and I think he’ll do that. It’ll be a big offseason for him. But he’s given us some good minutes.”
The frontcourt injuries have put Mitchell in a position “to learn and grow,” Bennett added, “and hopefully he’ll make the most of this experience.”
Mitchell said: “This has been huge, [not only for] this season, but progressing to the future. There’s nothing like game experience, and I feel like every game I’m getting more and more comfortable.”
The Cavaliers are coming off perhaps their most uneven performance of the season. They held fifth-ranked Duke to a season-low 56 points, well below the defending NCAA champion’s average of 84.3. But the ‘Hoos could muster only 41 points themselves, their lowest total in nearly 13 years.
Virginia shot an abysmal 28.6 percent from the floor versus Duke. In all likelihood, that kind of marksmanship won’t get it done against Virginia Tech either, Bennett’s players know.
“We just gotta come ready to play,” Zeglinski said. “I’m sure we all want this win pretty bad. It’s gonna be exciting. We gotta come in and just put our stamp on the game and execute our game plan and be able to knock down some shots and play defense.”