By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — UVa men’s basketball coach Tony Bennett was not, it turned out, imagining things Wednesday night at John Paul Jones Arena. In his postgame press conference, Bennett expressed dissatisfaction with his team’s performance in a 75-57 win over Morgan State, but he also acknowledged that a review of the videotape might show he was overly harsh in his criticism.
The video didn’t lie.
“As I mentioned, there were some solid things that happened, but the stretches and the lapses were costly for us, and that’s what I was pointing to,” Bennett said Friday afternoon at JPJ.
“Watching video certainly [confirmed] what I thought. There’s that saying, that’s it’s never as bad as you think or as good as you think, so perhaps it wasn’t quite as bad. But it was close in those stretches. And that’s what we’re trying to get our guys to understand: Every game out, you have to be ready.”
In its most recent game, Virginia turned the ball over 16 times, missed 10 free throws and allowed Morgan State (3-5) to shoot 52.2 percent from the floor in the second half, none of which pleased Bennett. And so in practice Thursday and Friday the Wahoos focused more on themselves than on their next opponent, Old Dominion. The `Hoos worked on their transition defense, on their offensive execution, on all the cornerstones of Bennett’s system.
“If you wonder why we’re going basic, I think you know,” Bennett told his players Friday.
He’ll find out Saturday if the Cavaliers respond in a positive manner. At 5:30 p.m., UVa (9-2) meets ODU (1-10) in the second game of the Governor’s Holiday Hoops Classic at the Richmond Coliseum. George Mason takes on Richmond at 3 p.m.
Old Dominion went 28-6 in 2004-05, its fourth season under coach Blaine Taylor. Since then the Monarchs have won at least 22 games six times, which makes their struggles this season stunning.
ODU has dropped nine consecutive games since defeating Morgan State 72-61 in Norfolk on Nov. 10. Even so, the `Hoos remain wary of the Monarchs, whose top scorer and rebounder is DeShawn Painter, a 6-9 senior who played at NC State last season.
“They have a heck of a coach, and a great tradition,” Bennett said. “They’re better than their record, I believe, and I know that they’ll be ready to play, and we have to be ready.”
The Cavaliers haven’t played in Richmond since Nov. 22, 2005, when they beat UR 59-43 at the Robins Center.
They haven’t played a full game at the Richmond Coliseum since Jan. 24, 2000, when the `Hoos edged Virginia Tech 71-66 in overtime.
On Nov. 28, 2001, Virginia returned to the Coliseum to face Michigan State in one of the marquee matchups in that season’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The Cavaliers were ranked eighth in the USA Today/ESPN coaches’ poll, and the Spartans, who in 2000-01 had advanced to the Final Four for the third straight season, were 17th.
The nationally televised game drew a crowd of 11,666 to the Coliseum, whose capacity was then 12,500. The fans went home unhappy.
With 15:04 left in the second half and UVa leading 31-28, the game was stopped because of condensation on the court. Unseasonably warm weather had combined with the hockey ice underneath the court to create dangerously slick conditions. The game was never completed.
“Bambi on Ice,” Pete Gillen, then Virginia’s coach, called it.
The Cavaliers’ standouts that season included Travis Watson, who became concerned about the conditions at the Coliseum during warmups.
“We were doing layups, and everybody was slipping,” Watson recalled Friday morning at JPJ. “It felt like you didn’t have any traction under your shoes. So even before the game started, we kind of knew.
“For myself, I was worried. I remember that, because I’m a two-foot jumper, so every time I came down to plant, I didn’t feel real comfortable doing anything. And I know some of the players on the Michigan State side were slipping in the first half. So really I thought they might have canceled the game after the first half.”
Early in the second half, Watson took a hard fall, and he believes that contributed to the officials’ decision to halt the game.
“It was an out-of-bounds play, and I went to fake out to go to the corner for the ball, and when I pushed in and came out, my foot slipped,” Watson said, then smiled. “I got great hands, so I caught myself, but it looked like I smacked my face on the court.”
Watson said players on both teams were happy that the game was stopped before anyone got hurt, but overall it was a frustrating experience.
“That’s the only game I’ve ever played in that was canceled because of the floor,” he said. “That stunk. And at the end of the day, we didn’t even get to the make the game up.”
He laughed. “But we were up [on the Spartans], so I’ll take that as a W.”
The 2012-13 Cavaliers have been piling up Ws — eight straight — since a Nov. 13 loss to Delaware in the NIT Season Tip-Off tournament. After facing ODU, Virginia won’t play again until Dec. 30, when Wofford visits JPJ.
“We gotta finish strong,” said UVa’s Darion Atkins, a 6-8 sophomore who scored a career-high 17 points against Morgan State.
When a team that’s won eight in a row meets a team that’s lost nine in a row, an upset isn’t expected. “But the beauty of competition is you can’t hide,” Bennett said. “Every game out, whether you’re winless or you’ve won them all, you’ve gotta come to play, and that’s the case when you’re playing an in-state rival or you step into conference play. You have to be ready, and that’s the mindset that we want.
“I think our guys are smart enough to know — at least guys that have played college basketball for one or two years — how [records] can be misleading. Your young guys, it’s hard to say if they’ve been in that spot. You just don’t know. Their plates are full in so many ways, with school and the volume of work in practice and all that, I think they’re just sometimes trying to keep their head above water.”