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Jan. 28, 2014

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Mother Nature made sure this would be no ordinary trip for the UVa men’s basketball team. Travel plans had to be radically altered Monday, but the Cavaliers finally made it to this frozen town at 10:30 p.m. — five hours later than originally scheduled.

“Of course you’d like to go from Point A to Point B and get there quick, but it happens,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said Tuesday afternoon. “When these things happen, you just roll with the punches.”

At the Charlottesville airport, the team waited on the tarmac in its bus for nearly two hours Monday afternoon after word arrived that the South Bend airport had been closed because of bad weather. The Wahoos’ charter plane flew them instead to Chicago, where another bus — and Italian food from Giordano’s, one of Bennett’s favorite restaurants in the Midwest — awaited them.

Then came a two-and-a-half-hour bus ride to South Bend, where the streets were empty when the bus pulled up to the hotel.

At sunrise Tuesday, the temperature here was 13 below zero, with a wind chill of minus-29, and a state of emergency had been declared in the city.

“I don’t mind being away from this weather,” said Bennett, a native of Wisconsin. “You don’t realize how good you have it until you live somewhere else, like Virginia and the South.”

Fortunately for the `Hoos, they’ve had to spend little time outside. Even better, speculation that their game with ACC newcomer Notre Dame would have to be postponed turned out to be unfounded. The teams will meet as scheduled at 9 o’clock Tuesday night.

“I’m glad we’re playing,” Bennett said. “That was the one concern, if they were going to push the game to the next day.”

Games that tip off at 9 p.m. aren’t always popular with players and coaches, but in this case the late start may be a blessing for the Cavaliers.

“Even though we had a long day of travel,” senior guard Joe Harris said after shootaround Tuesday, “we still get some time to rest and put our feet up, and it’s good to come in and get some shots up and do things we wouldn’t have been able to do if we’d had an earlier game.”

UVa (15-5, 6-1), the ACC’s second-place team, behind No. 2 Syracuse, has won three straight games since a four-point loss to Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Fighting Irish (11-9, 2-5), who lost their leading scorer, Jerian Grant, to an academic issue in late December, are headed in the other direction. Notre Dame has dropped five of its past six games.

At home, though, the Irish are 10-3, and among the teams they’ve beaten in South Bend is Duke.

“You’re going to see a team that’s ready to go,” Bennett told his players, “so you better be ready too.”

On the ACC coaches’ teleconference Monday, Bennett said the Irish have shown, in their win over Duke and in other games, that “they’re very talented, and again there’s not a big difference in our league between the tops and the bottoms. Record-wise, you throw that out, because they can play. They’ve been right there.”

The Cavaliers are seeking their third ACC road win. They opened conference play Jan. 4 with a 62-50 victory over Florida State in Tallahassee, and a week later they hammered NC State 76-45 in Raleigh.

“I think our system travels really well,” said Harris, UVa’s leading scorer (11.6 ppg), “the fact that we grind it out and play tough defense. As long as we’re patient offensively, try and establish ourselves on that end of things and make them have to work, we should fare well.

“We have a lot of confidence in our game right now. We’ve been playing well offensively, and we believe our system travels well.”

For Harris, who grew up Catholic in Chelan, Wash., this is his first visit to South Bend. Teammate Mike Tobey pelted him with a well-aimed snowball Tuesday morning, but that didn’t spoil Harris’ mood.

“It’s so cool just being here,” he said. “Watching a movie like Rudy, you kind of see the mystique of Notre Dame. You’ve got a lot of history and tradition there.”

The analysts on ESPNU’s broadcast Tuesday night will be former coaches Digger Phelps and Bob Knight. When Knight was at Indiana, he faced Wisconsin teams coached by Bennett’s father, Dick. Phelps greeted the younger Bennett when UVa’s bus arrived for shootaround Tuesday morning.

“Take care of Tony,” Phelps told a Notre Dame employee inside the arena.

This is Bennett’s first trip to Notre Dame. There are many “bucket-list places, in college athletics and certainly professionally, and that’s one of them,” he said Monday.

He hopes his team will appreciate the experience, Bennett added, “because you’re not always going to get to see that stuff once you’re done playing and competing, and traveling and playing college sports affords you that opportunity, which is tremendous.”

The Cavaliers are 1-0 at the Joyce Center. They beat the Irish 68-67 there on Jan. 26, 1991. Bryant Stith, whose younger son, B.J., will join the Virginia program in 2014-15, scored the Cavaliers’ final 19 points in that game.

“He went into a trance,” athletic trainer Ethan Saliba, who was on UVa’s bench in the 1991 game, recalled Tuesday. “It was mesmerizing.”

Bennett’s `Hoos are coming off a 20-point win over Virginia Tech at John Paul Jones Arena. The victory gave UVa its best start in ACC play since the 1982-83 season.

“It feels good to win,” redshirt sophomore Anthony Gill said afterward, “but we still have to keep going, because we do have bigger goals in mind, and we just want to keep pushing to achieve those goals.”

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