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Nov. 27, 2013

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CHARLOTTESVILLE — The UVa men’s basketball team will wake up Thursday morning in Corpus Christi, Texas, some 1,500 miles from the familiar surroundings of John Paul Jones Arena.

The Cavaliers will celebrate Thanksgiving together later that day. Basketball becomes the focal point Friday and Saturday.

Since falling 59-56 to then-No. 14 VCU, Virginia has faced Davidson, Navy, Liberty and Hampton, teams whose combined record is 8-17. The final two rounds of the Corpus Christi Challenge figure to pose greater challenges for the Wahoos.

Friday, at 7:30 p.m., UVa (5-1) takes on SMU (5-1), which is in its second season under Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown. Saturday night, Virginia will meet Texas A&M (6-0) or Missouri State (5-0).

The Cavaliers’ next home game is Dec. 4 against No. 10 Wisconsin (7-0) in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

“Nothing to take away from the teams that we’ve been playing,” senior guard Joe Harris said, “but we’ll see some high-level competition in Texas and from here out.”

“The season ramps up, just like that,” sophomore swingman Justin Anderson said. “We’re just going to stay mentally ready, stay focused and just continue to bring it.”

UVa tuned up for its Texas trip Tuesday night with a 69-40 rout of Hampton at JPJ. The teams were tied at 16-16 with 9:50 left in the first half, but moments later the second of Harris’ four 3-pointers started a 23-0 run that buried the Pirates (2-4).

Harris missed one of his three free throws, but he was 7 for 7 from the floor. His 20 points were a season high for Harris, whose scoring load is lighter than in 2012-13, when he made the All-ACC first team.

“I think it’ll help him in the long run, and we have to be balanced to be good,” head coach Tony Bennett said. “We have to be able to go inside-out, we have to have other guys touching the paint, moving the ball and have some threats.Joe will do whatever you ask, but I think he’s comfortable in that role. He’s a team guy. He’s not like, `I gotta have volume shots, and it’s gotta be about me.’ “

Against Navy on Nov. 19, Harris was 7 for 8 from the floor. He wasn’t as accurate (3 for 9) four days later against Liberty, but his touch returned Tuesday night.

“He had a great rhythm and was letting it fly, and some of those were a little bit contested too,” Bennett said. “But he moved hard without the ball, and it seems like he’s getting his timing back. It doesn’t means he’s going to do that every night, but that was nice to see. Obviously he hit the 3s, but I thought he did some other things well, and I was happy to see that.”

Led by Harris and Anderson (2 for 3), Virginia was 8 for 12 from beyond the arc Tuesday night. The Cavaliers entered the game shooting 28.8 percent from 3-point range.

“I don’t think we’re a lights-out shooting team,” Bennett said. “If we’re sharing the ball — and it happened [against Liberty too] — when it rotates, it touches the paint and moves, and guys are set for the most part, then I think we take good shots. I think we can be solid. We can’t live and die by the 3. If we’re shooting 25, 30 3s a game, that’s not our ticket.”

Virginia’s starting post players Tuesday night were senior Akil Mitchell and sophomore Mike Tobey. Neither was especially sharp, but the `Hoos are exceptionally deep in the frontcourt, and sophomore Anthony Gill and junior Darion Atkins contributed seven points apiece off the bench. Bennett started Gill and Atkins in the second half.

“That’s the competition and the depth,” Bennett said.

UVa’s coaching staff has 80 minutes to divide at power forward and center. The Cavaliers’ big men know their playing time will vary from game to game.

“That’s something that we all have to accept,” Atkins said. “No one knows what’s going to happen on any given night, and you just come out and try to give your best. If it’s not clicking with you, [Bennett] already told us he’s going to go with who he thinks is clicking that night.

“If it’s not you, then, I guess, so be it. But if it is you, go out and play as hard as you can. If it’s not you, don’t necessarily dwell on it, because not everyone has a great game. You just try to move past it and go out the next game and play as hard as you can.”

The 6-11 Tobey made his first shot from the floor but finished 1 for 6. He also turned the ball over three times in his 15 minutes.

“Mike will certainly learn from it,” Bennett said. “He’s a very young sophomore, and that’s the difference maybe this year [from] the past. When a guy like that’s cold, someone else can step up.”

Players’ roles continue to evolve. Anderson, who started the first two games, has sparkled off the bench in three of the past four. Against Hampton, he had 12 points, four rebounds, three blocked shots, two steals and one assist. Only freshman point guard London Perrantes (23) played more minutes than Anderson (21).

“This sixth man thing is starting to click, huh?” Anderson said, smiling. “That’s pretty sweet.”

Like the San Antonio Spurs’ sixth man, Manu Ginobili, Anderson is a left-hander. But Anderson said he sees himself as more of “a Nate Robinson/J.R. Smith sixth man, just bringing it, just bringing the energy, bringing the passion, bringing the toughness. That’s what I want to do.”

The speed of Hampton’s Deron Powers bothered Virginia early, and so Bennett put the 6-6 Anderson on the 5-11 point guard. The Pirates’ offense stalled, and Virginia seized control of the game.

Anderson is “what we call a roadblock,” Bennett said. “Sometimes Justin, when he gets low and wide and he’s engaged, he’s hard to get around, and I thought that certainly helped us. He took that challenge on.”

Anderson said: “I love that. It’s always been like that for me, especially when it comes to point guards. I love guarding point guards, because they have the ball in their hands, and I just use my limbs, spread out, get low and try to contain them. It’s a challenge, and I love challenges.”

That’s a good thing, because the `Hoos will face their share of challenges in the coming weeks.

“We know that, and it’s time for that, and we’ve got to embrace it and see where we stand,” Bennett said.

CLOSING TIME: All five of UVa’s walk-ons played Tuesday night, and three of them scored: Rob Vozenilek (three points), Caid Kirven (two) and Jeff Jones (two).

Vozenilek was the first to check in, with 8:51 to play, and he hit a 3-pointer that stretched Virginia’s lead to 64-28. At the 3:54 mark, with the score 65-30, Kirven, Jones, Thomas Rogers, and Maleek Frazier joined Vozenilek in the lineup.

“It’s always good for those guys. They work hard, and they’re such servants in practice,” Bennett said. “We challenged them. We said, `See if you can go out there and keep `em under 40.’ They didn’t do that, but they tried.”

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