By Jeff White
SEATTLE — Since arriving here late Monday morning, they’ve traversed the downtown streets of this city, shopping at Niketown and H&M and sampling the wares at the ubiquitous Starbucks cafes. They visited the famed Pike Place Market, where a fishmonger knocked a water bottle off Assane Sene’s head with a well-aimed toss, to the 7-foot center’s amazement, and senior forward Mike Scott and Sene showed off their dancing skills at another stop.
What the members of the UVa men’s basketball team haven’t done in Seattle is play a game. That will change Wednesday night, when Virginia (9-1) meets Seattle University (2-7) at KeyArena, former home of the NBA’s SuperSonics, at 10 o’clock Eastern.
The game will be the Cavaliers’ first since Sunday, when they rallied to defeat Oregon 67-54 in Eugene. It also will be their first game since they entered The Associated Press’ Top 25 on Monday, at No. 24.
That gave the Wahoos their first ranking in the AP poll since Nov. 19, 2007, but third-year coach Tony Bennett didn’t break the news to his players Monday. He didn’t have to.
“With social media now, they know,” associate head coach Ritchie McKay said Wednesday. “They see it on a tweet if they didn’t see it in the paper, because not all of them read the paper. So they know. But with the kind of kids we recruited, it’s not as big a deal as it would be playing in the ACC championship game or finding ourselves at the top of the standings.”
Bennett brought up the ranking with the players at practice Monday in Seattle, but only to downplay its significance.
“Tony alluded to the fact that they must have seen we got mentioned in a poll and that that doesn’t mean anything,” McKay said. “That’s not what we’re about and not what we’re trying to do. What we’re trying to do is elevate Virginia basketball to a place it used to be regularly.”
A national ranking “lends a little credibility to your team or its direction,” McKay said. “I also think once you get there you get targeted, with a little bit of a bull’s eye. I think it’s a little bit of a double-edged sword.”
The ‘Hoos haven’t played in Seattle since the 1984 Final Four, in which they lost in overtime to Houston in a NCAA semifinal at the Kingdome. Bennett is more familiar than his players with KeyArena, having gone 3-0 there as head coach at Washington State.
Seattle U., the alma mater of the great Elgin Baylor, is in its third season under former UCLA guard Cameron Dollar. The highlights of the Redhawks’ 2010-11 season included victories over Oregon State and UVa.
A year ago Thursday, Seattle stunned Virginia 59-53 at John Paul Jones Arena. If the ‘Hoos can avenge that loss, they will be 10-1 for the first time since 2000-01. They won’t lack for support Wednesday night. About 200 friends and relatives of Joe Harris are expected at KeyArena. Harris, a sophomore swingman, is from Chelan, Wash., about a three-hour drive from Seattle.
McKay will have a cheering section, too. His wife, Julie, is from Seattle, and the McKays visit the area regularly. Moreover, McKay is a graduate of Seattle Pacific and a former assistant coach at his alma mater and the University of Washington, where the Cavaliers practiced Monday and Tuesday.
“I’ve needed a few tickets,” McKay said.
NOTE: A live video webcast of the game, produced by Seattle University, will also be available through VirginiaSports.com. Monthly and annual video subscribers can watch the game at no extra charge. A single-event pass is available for $7.95 by clicking here.