By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — UVa men’s basketball coach Tony Bennett caught part of the game on TV at Wild Wing Café, where he was doing his weekly radio show, then watched the overtime period at home.
UVa big man Akil Mitchell? If not for alerts from friends, he might have missed all the excitement Wednesday night.
“Everybody was calling me, everybody was texting me and telling me to turn it on,” Mitchell recalled Thursday. “I caught like the last two minutes of overtime.”
The game in question, of course, matched Boston College, the ACC’s 14th-place team, and Syracuse, the nation’s top-ranked team, at the Carrier Dome. It was supposed to produce an easy win for the Orange, which came in undefeated, but the Eagles shocked the basketball world by prevailing 62-59 in overtime.
“It was a great game,” Anderson said Thursday. “BC did a great job. They played their game, and they came out on top.”
The result had major implications for the Cavaliers. UVa (22-5,13-1) heads into the weekend as the ACC leader, a half-game ahead of Syracuse (25-1, 12-1). Still, even though the Wahoos’ position in the standings has changed, their approach won’t, according to Bennett’s players.
“People are just calling and texting you all the time, so you have to know it’s there, you have to acknowledge it, ” Mitchell said, “but at the same you’ve got to understand that you’ve got to keep our goal in mind, and our goal is the NCAA tournament, our goal is to win games. If you keep that at front of every practice, every day, you can’t go astray.”
Mitchell admitted to checking out the revised ACC standings — and liking what he saw.
“You don’t want to, but at the same time it’s a dream of yours,” he said. “But at the end of the day it’s all about business. You gotta get it done.”
Anderson, whose two late 3-pointers Tuesday night helped UVa rally past Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, texted his teammates as soon as the BC-Syracuse game ended the next night.
“I put everyone in a group message and said, `Hey, guys, that was a great win for Boston College, and everybody’s excited about it, tweeting about how we’re No. 1 now [in the ACC], but let’s remain level-headed and let’s stay hungry for Notre Dame,’ ” Anderson recalled Thursday.
Virginia, ranked No. 13 in the USA Today coaches poll and No. 14 by The Associated Press, has four regular-season games left. The first three are at John Paul Jones Arena, where the `Hoos are 12-2 this season. The homestand begins Saturday at 2 p.m. against Notre Dame (14-13, 5-9) at sold-out JPJ.
Five of the Cavaliers’ past seven games have been on the road, including the past two: wins at Clemson and Virginia Tech.
“It’ll be fun, because I know our crowd is excited we’re back at home,” Mitchell said. “It’ll be loud, it’ll be rocking, and it’s exciting to be back.”
Bennett knows that friends, relatives and classmates have been praising his players for the Cavaliers’ success this season. He warned his team during practice Thursday about “drinking the Kool-Aid.”
Anderson, a sophomore, knows the `Hoos can’t afford to take any opponents lightly. “Once you start thinking that,” he said, “then anybody can come in and beat you.”
A victory would give UVa a school-record 14 ACC victories and stretch its winning streak to 11 games. It would also give the Cavaliers a regular-season sweep of the Fighting Irish, whom they pounded 68-53 on Jan. 28 in frigid South Bend, Ind.
Substantial margins of victory have been common for the `Hoos. Nine of Virginia’s conference wins have been by 10 or more points. Against Clemson and Virginia Tech, however, the Cavaliers couldn’t relax until the final seconds. The `Hoos defeated the Tigers 63-58 and the Hokies 57-53.
“In conference play late in the year, home or away, teams are improving and playing free and loose, and you gotta be as ready as you can,” Bennett said.
That makes practice especially important this time of year.
“It’s that idea of really being faithful to the process and being faithful to trying to improve in practice,” Bennett said. “Prepare yourself to the best of your ability for Notre Dame and know that they’re a dangerous opponent coming in.”
This will be the third game in seven days for the Irish, all on the road. Notre Dame lost 71-64 to Miami on Wednesday night. In the two games immediately preceding their trip to Coral Gables, however, the Irish beat visiting Clemson 68-64 in double overtime and edged BC 73-69 in Chestnut Hill, Masss.
In their Jan. 25 game against Virginia Tech at JPJ, the `Hoos romped 65-45, only to struggle in the rematch at Cassell Coliseum. They’re understandably wary of the Irish.
“Virginia Tech has improved,” Bennett said. “I think Notre Dame’s improved. They beat Clemson at home. It’s good to be back home, but [the Irish are] familiar with us, and I think when you beat a team, they’re ready for you.”
Like the Notre Dame game, Virginia’s home finale, March 1 against Syracuse, is sold out. Tickets remain for the Wednesday night game against Miami (13-13, 4-9) at JPJ.
For ticket information, visit VirginiaSports.com/tickets or call (800) 542-8821.