By Jeff White (email@example.com)
DURHAM, N.C. — With a women’s game in progress next door at Cameron Indoor Stadium, the UVa men’s basketball team practiced Sunday afternoon at Duke’s Krzyzewski Center.
Monday night will find the Cavaliers on a considerably bigger stage. At 7 o’clock, in an ACC game ESPN will televise, Virginia (12-4, 3-0) plays on Tobacco Road for the second time in three days.
The first game could not have gone much better for UVa, which destroyed NC State 76-45 at PNC Arena on Saturday night. The win was Virginia’s third straight over the Wolfpack in Raleigh. The Cavaliers’ opponent Monday night is No. 13 Duke, at Cameron Indoor Stadium, where they have lost 15 consecutive games.
The `Hoos are looking to end that streak and remain atop the ACC standings. For that to happen, much will be required of them Monday: stellar defense, sound offense and poise under pressure. But that’s not all. Not with the Blue Devils determined to bounce back from a stunning loss at Clemson.
“We gotta have an edge,” fifth-year coach Tony Bennett reminded his players repeatedly this weekend.
To All-ACC guard Joe Harris, that means “having a sense of urgency and taking some ownership. We believe in our system. We trust in our system. I think we’ve kind of found our identity a little bit, and that’s coming out now. We’re going to face a very tough team, a team that’s going to come at us. They’re hungry for a win, and [Bennett] talks about being hungry and going after the crumbs and trying to do all the little things, being great at the stuff that’s ordinary to normal teams. The ordinary stuff like rebounding and defense, we gotta be great at, in order for us to win.”
The Cavaliers had that edge Saturday night, refusing to let up after overwhelming the Wolfpack in the first 20 minutes.
“This year we know we have the talent, and we’re finally coming together, which is a good thing,” sophomore center Mike Tobey said after the game. “Before in the past what we’d do is we’d get a lead and we’d let `em back in, but this year we’re [trying to] just step on the gas and keep going.”
Bennett said: “At halftime I just challenged them and said, `Is this a flash in the pan, or is this the real deal? So let’s see what we’re about.’ ”
Since losing Dec. 30 to Tennessee, Virginia has won three consecutive games, each by double figures. After beating Florida State 62-50 in Tallahassee, where they had dropped 10 straight games, the `Hoos humbled Wake Forest 74-51 at John Paul Jones Arena. Then came the romp in Raleigh.
“We just came out and we were locked in,” Harris said after scoring 16 points against NC State. “Guys were focused, ready to get out there. We wanted to build off of what we did against Wake Forest.”
And now the Cavaliers want to build off their performance in Raleigh. For UVa seniors Akil Mitchell and Harris, this will be the final appearance at Cameron, which adds to the game’s significance.
“You grow up watching Duke’s games, all their games at home especially, and Cameron Indoor, in my opinion, is the premier place to play in college basketball,” said Harris, who’s from Chelan, Wash. “To get a win here would be huge, and it would definitely be something on the bucket list.”
Virginia has yet to trail in an ACC game this season. It’s probably unrealistic to think Duke won’t lead at some point Monday night, and the Cavaliers know they’re in for a battle.
The key for UVa is “to stay the course,” Harris said. “We’ve prepared well, we’ve practiced well. We’re going into a hostile environment, but we’re looking forward to the challenge of playing in a setting like Cameron.”
The teams haven’t met in Durham since Jan. 12, 2012, when Duke won 61-58. The outcome was more satisfying for the Cavaliers last season at John Paul Jones Arena, where Harris scored a career-high 36 points in a 73-68 win over the No. 3 Blue Devils.
Associate head coach Ritchie McKay has prepared the scouting report on Duke in each of Bennett’s five seasons at Virginia. Asked what stands out about Mike Krzyzewski’s latest team, McKay didn’t hesitate Sunday.
“Jabari Parker,” McKay said. “Again, it’s Duke. They play with such a high level of energy and confidence, and now you add to the mix a guy that legitimately is one of the best scorers in the country in Jabari Parker. I think it makes for a hard equation to solve.”
Parker, a 6-8, 235-pound freshman from Chicago, is averaging 19.5 points and 7.6 rebounds. Should he decide to leave Duke after this season, he would probably be the No. 1 pick in the upcoming NBA draft.
“The thing about Jabari is, there’s not really a place on the floor, from the NBA 3-point line and in, that he can’t score from, and there’s not a way that he can’t do it,” McKay said. “He’s good with both hands around the basket. He can play physically and get in your body against a smaller matchup. He can take a bigger player outside and isolate him one-on-one. And they run a ton of quick-hitting NBA-type stuff for Jabari and Rodney Hood.”
Hood, a transfer from Mississippi State, is a 6-8, 215-pound redshirt sophomore. He’s averaging 18.6 points and has scored at least 20 in three straight games.
The Devils are “not top-10 in the country, so people think they’re having a bad year,” McKay said. “But when you watch them on tape, they’re just as hard to guard as any Duke team that we’ve played in the five years we’ve been here.”
That’s especially true at Cameron, where Duke is 9-0 this season. During Coach K’s tenure, the Blue Devils are 451-58 at home.
“Because of the energy that building creates and the fans, they’re a 10-0 run waiting to happen,” McKay said. “And it can come really suddenly.”
A year ago, London Perrantes was playing high school ball on the West Coast. Now he’s Virginia’s starting point guard, preparing for his first encounter with Duke and the Cameron Crazies.
“Typically with a freshman going into Cameron — especially a freshman point guard — I’d be fairly nervous and anticipate him having shaky knees or nervousness,” McKay said. Perrantes, though, has not played like a typical freshman.
“He is as calm, cool and collected as they come,” McKay said, then smiled. “He’s really an old man. I think the guy might be 29. We’ll see if we’re right [Monday night], but I’m confident that he’ll have the composure to at least compete like he has thus far in the ACC.”
Will the Cavaliers show the same composure? Tune in Monday night. They have immense respect for Krzyzewski and his program, McKay said, and they know how difficult Cameron can be for opposing teams.
Still, he said, if “we want to reach the level that we aspire to, we gotta come in and handle it.”