By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Had a game been scheduled Tuesday or Wednesday for the University of Virginia men’s basketball team, London Perrantes would not have objected. Like his teammates, the junior point guard was eager to get back on the court after the Cavaliers stumbled Monday night at Virginia Tech.
“But we needed a break, we needed some rest,” Perrantes said Thursday afternoon at John Paul Jones Arena, “to get some energy and then get back to what we do. We obviously didn’t play the way we should have, and I think we needed these practice days.”
Five days after its disappointing effort in Blacksburg, where the Hokies held on for a 70-68 victory, fourth-ranked Virginia will try to return to form in Atlanta. At 2 p.m. Saturday, UVA (12-2 overall, 1-1 ACC) meets Georgia Tech (10-5, 0-2) at McCamish Pavilion.
“When you go on the road, what a test in front of us,” head coach Tony Bennett said.
Three Cavaliers — fifth-year senior guard Malcolm Brogdon, senior forward Evan Nolte and sophomore forward Isaiah Wilkins — are from the Atlanta area, and they’ll have dozens of friends and relatives in the stands Saturday afternoon. The fans can expect more intensity from the Wahoos than was apparent for much of the game at Cassell Coliseum.
“It just felt like [the Hokies] wanted it more,” Wilkins said. “They were more revved-up on defense, and they played with a lot more energy and passion.”
The Hokies, who had lost seven straight in the series, shot 57.7 percent from the floor in the second half. Overall, they shot 52.9 percent from 3-point range.
“We just weren’t crisp,” Virginia head coach Tony Bennett said. “We didn’t beat screens quickly. We were not active or [were] soft on the ball defensively, and that made a difference. I felt like Virginia Tech could really do what they wanted to do.”
UVA’s players had Tuesday off. When the Cavaliers reconvened Wednesday, they viewed videotape of the Virginia Tech game.
“Coach Bennett didn’t really talk,” Wilkins said. “We just watched the film and basically had time to reflect. If we don’t change what we did or what we’re doing, then the ACC’s going to be rough for us.”
That Bennett’s seventh team at UVA is not as formidable defensively as some of its predecessors has become clear. Last season, for example, the Cavaliers held foes to 36.7-percent accuracy from the floor. Opponents are shooting 42.3 percent against Virginia this season.
“We’re not in the same place,” Bennett said. “We’re a different team. I just want this team to reach its potential defensively, and I don’t feel like we’ve done that yet.”
The `Hoos have had stretches where they’ve played solid defense, but there’s “certainly room for improvement,” Bennett said.
“That’s a growing process. We’ve just got to keep working at it, and there’s no magic formula.”
Not surprisingly, Virginia has focused on defense in practice this week. “It was definitely lacking [in Blacksburg], Perrantes said, “so [Bennett] has been challenging us to get it back to where it’s supposed to be.”
The Cavaliers, burned repeatedly Monday night on the perimeter and around the rim, know they can’t afford such lapses Saturday. The Yellow Jackets’ standouts include 6-5 guard Marcus Georges-Hunt (15.2 ppg), 6-1 guard Adam Smith (14.7 ppg), and 6-8 forward Charles Mitchell (13.4 ppg).
“They definitely have some offensive weapons,” Perrantes said.
Bennett said: “They’re a better team than last year, in my opinion.”
Smith, who played last season at Virginia Tech, is shooting 47.3 percent from 3-point range. Mitchell, who began his college career at Maryland, leads the ACC in rebounding (11.6). He’s averaging more than four offensive boards per game.
“We’ve got to put our defense up to their offense, and we’ve got to have our offense ready too,” said Perrantes, who hit a career-high seven treys and led the `Hoos with 22 points Monday night.
The teams met only once in 2014-15, in Charlottesville, where the Cavaliers shut down the Yellow Jackets 57-28. The 28 points are the fewest ever by a team in an ACC regular-season game.
That Virginia team went on to capture a second straight ACC regular-season title. The Yellow Jackets finished 12-19 overall and 3-15 in conference play in 2014-15, but they’re “so much more balanced this year offensively,” Bennett said, “with their power inside of Mitchell, and then Hunt on the perimeter, and Smith.”
Overall, Bennett added, the ACC “is the best it’s been since I’ve been here, top to bottom, and when you go on the road — or at home — and you’re playing against these teams that have depth, that have [power forwards and centers] that can shoot the ball, and guards with that kind of quickness … it puts a lot of pressure on you.”
Virginia has lost only 13 of its past 85 games — an 84.7 winning percentage — and so the defeat in Blacksburg led to intense self-evaluation.
“You kind of refocus even more in a loss than perhaps in a win, when you get away with some things,” Bennett said, “even though we’ve used that saying: Don’t accept in victory what you wouldn’t in defeat.
“You gotta know what you’re going into, but hopefully you look inward a little bit and you try to get back to things that have been a little bit loose. If you feel like some areas have slipped, you say, `OK, these are the things that have made us successful, let’s get back to those and be as good as we can be and get after it.’ ”