By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — The UVa men’s basketball team has played 12 ACC games, and Mike Scott has scored at least 18 points in nine of them. In four of those games the Cavaliers’ All-America candidate has scored 23 or more.
Only once this season has Scott finished with fewer than 13 points in a conference game: against Virginia Tech. Not coincidentally, perhaps, the Hokies prevailed in that Jan. 22 game, holding on for a 47-45 victory before a stunned crowd at John Paul Jones Arena.
“They did a good job guarding us,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said Sunday at JPJ.
Tech’s strategy against Scott was clear from the opening tip Jan. 22, and the 6-8, 237-pound fifth-year senior is likely to see more of the same in the rematch Tuesday night. At 9 o’clock, in a game ESPNU is carrying, the 25th-ranked Wahoos (7-5, 20-6) meet the Hokies (4-8, 15-12) at Cassell Coliseum.
When Scott is near the basket, expect to see the Hokies “surround him with different players,” said Ritchie McKay, UVa’s associate head coach. “They try to make his catch a little more difficult. And they really, really play physical against Mike. Other teams have tried that, and on nights when the whistle is tight, Mike gets to the line eight, nine times a game. On nights when it’s not, it’s a little more difficult for him.”
Scott attempted only two free throws Jan. 22. He made both to complement his 4-for-9 shooting from the floor. Sophomore swingman Joe Harris was 4 for 8 from the floor for Virginia. The other Cavaliers, however, combined to make only 7 of 29 field-goal attempts. From 3-point range, Virginia was a ghastly 1 for 14, with junior point guard Jontel Evans making the team’s lone trey.
“Give credit to Tech, but we got the shots we needed,” Scott said. “We just couldn’t knock them down.”
That remains Virginia’s lowest scoring output of the season. UVa’s 32.6-percent field-goal percentage is a season low, too.
“Everybody was off, and we still had a chance,” Bennett said. “But when the game was in the balance, they made the plays down the stretch and we couldn’t.”
The Hokies aren’t the only team, of course, that has taken extra measures to try to stop Scott, who leads UVa in scoring (17.2 ppg) and rebounding (8.2). Despite all the attention, Scott is shooting 58.9 percent from the floor.
“Mike is having to work very hard to get good opportunities,” Bennett said. “That’s to be expected when you’re putting up the numbers he’s putting up. He’s the focus of a lot of defenses, and obviously in that game Tech did a good job of really making him work.”
In recent games, Bennett has modified the Cavaliers’ offense, partly in an attempt to get Scott the ball in different spots on the court. And that, Tech’s Seth Greenberg said Monday on the ACC coaches’ teleconference, has made Scott more difficult to defend.
“They move him around a lot more than maybe they did when we played them the first time,” Greenberg said.
The Jan. 22 game was Virginia’s first without senior center Assane Sene, who had fractured his right ankle three nights earlier in a win over Georgia Tech. It also marked the first ACC start for forward Akil Mitchell, a 6-8 sophomore who had only 2 points and 1 rebound in 25 minutes against the Hokies.
“We were a little out of sorts,” Bennett said.
With Sene, who started every game, Virginia was 15-2. The ‘Hoos have struggled at times without the 7-footer, especially against teams, such as Florida State and North Carolina, that have towering frontcourts.
“But as with every team that loses a guy or two, you just learn to adjust as the season goes on,” Bennett said. “You know you don’t have him, and guys are a little more comfortable in their roles.”
UVa suffered another blow when Harris, its second-leading scorer, broke a bone in his non-shooting hand Feb. 11 against UNC. Harris hasn’t missed any games, but his left hand is heavily wrapped when he plays, and he scored only 2 points Feb. 14 in a loss at Clemson. Against Maryland, though, Harris looked more comfortable and contributed 6 points in UVa’s 71-44 romp Saturday afternoon.
“He was a little slower with his release,” Bennett said, “but he got a few lined up, and that gave us a big lift as well.”
Virginia Tech, which is coming off a last-second victory over Georgia Tech, may not have a full complement of players, either, Tuesday night. Victor Davila, a 6-8, 242-pound senior, has missed the Hokies’ past two games with a groin injury. Davila is scheduled to have an MRI on Tuesday, Tech’s Seth Greenberg said Monday on the ACC coaches’ teleconference, and is unlikely to play against UVa.
Davila, who started the Hokies’ first 25 games, is averaging 7.5 points and 4.2 rebounds.
“We’re both a bit short-handed,” Bennett said. “Whoever wants it more probably will come away with it.”
The Hokies’ season has been marked by close losses, and Greenberg’s team would like nothing more than to sweep its biggest rival. Virginia doesn’t lack for motivation, either. Not only are the ‘Hoos looking to enhance their postseason résumé with another road win, they want to avenge their only home loss of the season.
“We know that they stole one from us here earlier in the season,” fifth-year senior guard Sammy Zeglinski said Saturday at JPJ, “so we’re excited to go in there and give them 100 percent.”
Scott said: “I get motivated for each game, but especially against Tech. This’ll be my last trip to Tech, so I’m definitely going to be motivated to try to come out with a win.”
This is Bennett’s third season at UVa. He’s 1-1 at Cassell Coliseum, which can be one of the ACC’s loudest venues.
“It’ll be a hostile environment,” Bennett said. “They’ll be up for us. At this stage of the game, they’re all challenging, and I just want our guys to know how hard they have to play and really have that mindset.
“They did it here [against Maryland]. The home crowd helped. The fans were phenomenal. Now we’ve got to take that kind of effort and put it on the road.”