No. 3 'Hoos Ready For Final Non-Conference Test
Dec. 29, 2014
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Tony Bennett is not easily satisfied on the basketball court, and he periodically grew irritated over his team’s defensive lapses during practice Monday afternoon at John Paul Jones Arena.
Finally, though, the Cavaliers clicked in a drill, defending with the precision and intensity their head coach demands.
“That’s it,” Bennett yelled. “Now, can you do that about 40 or 50 times [in a game]? That’s the question.”
That question will be answered Tuesday night in front of a sellout crowd at JPJ. At 6 o’clock, in a game that can be seen on ESPNU, Virginia (11-0) hosts Atlantic 10 newcomer Davidson (9-1).
The game will offer an intriguing contrast of styles. The Wahoos lead the nation in scoring defense (46.2 points per game). The Wildcats, off to their best start in 26 seasons under highly respected head coach Bob McKillop, lead the nation in scoring (87.7 ppg).
“In my opinion, what makes them so good is they can shoot from every position, and it becomes a difficult matchup for your [big men],” said Ritchie McKay, UVa’s associate head coach.
“Where our defense is usually successful is we help one another out. Davidson has the floor so spaced because of the threat of making a 3-point shot, it’s going to take a great effort [defensively].”
Davidson has won seven straight since a 90-72 loss to then-No. 6 North Carolina on Nov. 22. The Wildcats average nearly 28 3-point attempts per game, and they’re shooting 41.4 percent from beyond the arc.
Five players have made at least 16 treys apiece for Davidson, led by 6-4 guard Tyler Kalinoski (32 for 73). Oskar Michelsen, a 6-9, 210-pound freshman from Finland, is 21 for 41 from long range.
“When Steve Donahue was [head coach] at Boston College, we played a team that would shoot close to 30 3s a game,” McKay said, “but we haven’t seen a team like that all season, and probably won’t [after Tuesday night].”
Something has to give in the Cavaliers’ final non-conference game. Opponents are shooting only 27.8 percent from 3-point range against UVa this season.
“We’re not a team that blocks [many] shots, but we’re a team that tries to contest every shot,” redshirt junior guard Malcolm Brogdon said after practice Monday.
The Wildcats “live and die by the 3,” Brogdon said. “And if we can get them to miss some shots and get them out of rhythm and make them take some tough 3s, then I think we have a chance to be successful.”
When these teams met early last season at Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, N.C., the Cavaliers won 70-57, but had to survive a barrage of long-range shots by the Wildcats, who were 11 for 29 from beyond the arc.
That Davidson team went on to play in the NIT and finished 20-13. The Wildcats’ leading scorer and rebounder last season, De’Mon Brooks, was a senior, but they’ve reloaded without him.
“I think they’re more experienced than last year,” McKay said. “They don’t have Brooks, but they’ve got a lot of weaponry. We need to have a better effort than we did last year in order to have success, because if not for Mike [Tobey] and Malcolm and Justin [Anderson] really having great games for us, we might have left Charlotte with an L.”
Tobey scored 18 points, then a career high for the 7-0 center, and grabbed seven rebounds against Davidson. The 6-5 Brogdon totaled 17 points, seven rebounds, two assists and two steals, and the 6-6 Anderson contributed 12 points and eight boards in 24 minutes off the bench.
Having faced the Wildcats last season, Brogdon said, “I think we have a sense of how they play defense, what their weaknesses are, how we can run our [offensive sets] against them.”
On offense, Brogdon said, the Wildcats “played very similar last year. They were a team that shot a lot of 3s and were a very good jump-shooting team.”
In its sixth season under Bennett, Virginia is off to its best start. UVa is one of only six unbeaten teams in Division I, along with Kentucky, Duke, Villanova, Colorado State and TCU.
The Associated Press poll and the USA Today coaches’ poll were released Monday, and UVa climbed two spots, to No. 3, in each one. That was not a topic Bennett bothered to address with his players.
“The only time he’ll bring up a ranking is when someone does something bad in practice,” Brogdon said, smiling. “He’ll say say we’re thinking too highly of ourselves. But rankings, for all of us, are something we try to block out. It can be a distraction if you pay attention to it, so we really don’t worry about it.”
After beating VCU in Richmond on Dec. 6, the `Hoos broke for final exams and didn’t play again until Dec. 18, when they defeated Cleveland State at JPJ.
Three days later, Virginia humbled Harvard by 49 points at JPJ, and then Bennett’s players scattered to celebrate Christmas with their families.
After playing so sporadically for most of this month, Virginia is about to settle into a more familiar routine. The defending ACC champion, UVa plays its conference opener Saturday at 5:30 p.m. against Miami (9-3) in Coral Gables, Fla.
Once the `Hoos begin conference play, only twice will they go more than five days between games.
“I think our players are ready for that,” McKay said. “You can only practice against each other for so long without becoming a little chippy or what have you. But we have such good character in our program, I think our guys approach it in a professional manner, and we have the utmost respect for Davidson and their program. So hopefully we’ll be ready to go [Tuesday night].”
Brogdon said: “We’re all so competitive, including our coaches. We just want to get back on the floor. But we don’t take these breaks for granted. We really try to sharpen up and prepare the right way.”
A victory Tuesday night would give UVa its first 12-0 start since 1981-82 and its first perfect record in non-conference play since 2000-01.
“We know we’re going into a hostile environment at Miami and a tough conference [schedule],” Brogdon said. “I think it would be huge for us [to defeat Davidson].”