Nov. 11, 2016
GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP)- Virginia coach Tony Bennett didn’t know exactly what to expect in the eighth-ranked Cavaliers’ season opener, between being down two forwards to losing so much from the team that made a deep NCAA Tournament push.
When it was over, he saw the Cavaliers have some balance and depth to work with, along with a defense that looked ready from the tip.
Marial Shayok scored 15 points to lead the offense in Virginia’s 76-51 win against UNC Greensboro on Friday night. Meanwhile, the defense – the bedrock of Bennett’s program – held the Spartans scoreless for more than 11 minutes spanning halftime as the game turned into a methodical rout.
”With this team and us this year, I think there’s even more unknowns because of the amount of newcomers, the lack of experienced guys,” Bennett said. ”So we just didn’t know what to expect. I just want them to battle and play hard each possession. ”
It was a welcome first step for a team that lost a lot of production from its first trip to the NCAA Tournament’s Elite Eight since 1995. London Perrantes was the only returning player to average at least five points per game, but Virginia had four players hit double figures Friday night.
Virginia ran off a 22-0 run to blow the game open, shot 52 percent and made 8 of 16 3-point attempts with a juggled rotation with the absences of Memphis transfer Austin Nichols and Mamadi Diakite inside.
”Honestly I didn’t know what to think coming in (defensively),” said Isaiah Wilkins, who had 10 points and nine rebounds. ”We’ll take this as a marker and try to improve it on Tuesday.”
Francis Alonso scored 14 points for UNCG, which shot 37 percent. It marked the first time the program has hosted a ranked opponent in a season opener, though the Spartans ended up falling to 2-55 all-time against Atlantic Coast Conference teams.
”We just ran into a buzzsaw tonight,” sixth-year UNCG coach Wes Miller said. ”I think it’s something we can learn from and grow from.”
VIRGINIA: The Cavaliers were thin inside with Nichols out due to a violation of team rules, and Diakite sitting due to an NCAA review of his amateur status. That gave Bennett an extended look at some players who have spent time developing within Virginia’s program. Of note: 6-foot-11 redshirt sophomore Jack Salt got the start and had seven points in 27 minutes as he tries to earn steady rotation minutes and provide interior depth this season.
UNCG: Picked to finish fifth in the Southern Conference, the Spartans quickly fell behind by double figures and made what amounted to only a 2-minute flurry of resistance. Hardly the start that Miller wanted from a team with four returning starters.
”My biggest disappointment was I think when it got away from us … we were frustrated and disappointed and we let that affect us in the next possession,” Miller said, adding: ”We’re too mature, we have too much experience to let being down 15 points affect who we are on the next possession.”
Bennett has described preseason rankings as more of a compliment for what the program has done in recent years as opposed to a measure of the current team’s standing. But Miller was sold on the No. 8 team in the AP Top 25 , noting, ”We can talk for days about their defense.”
”Guard-wise, I feel like we don’t have certain starters every night,” Thompson said. ”Anybody can come in and contribute … so really it shows how deep we can be.”
VIRGINIA: The Cavaliers should get their first chance to integrate Nichols into the lineup Tuesday against St. Francis Brooklyn.
UNCG: The Spartans play at home Monday against Presbyterian.