Mustapha Farrakhan played solid all-around game in the win against Oral Roberts.
Since accepting the Virginia job in April, Tony Bennett has placed an emphasis on defense and taking care of the basketball. He says it to his team, to the media, to fans – anyone who asks really. The theory is simple. Strong defense and giving yourself opportunities offensively means you will have a chance in every game.
Of course, if you find a rhythm on both ends of the floor with those principles, you will have some games where you post a lopsided final score. Just ask Rider and, now, Oral Roberts. The Hoos put together their second straight solid performance on Saturday with stifling defense and more assists than turnovers as they dismantled the visiting Golden Eagles, 76-55. UVa won its last two home games by 33 and 21 points respectively and has a 2-0 record so far in the Cancun Challenge.
“I hope we’ve progressed. It’s baby steps,” Cavalier coach Tony Bennett said. “I thought we reeled them back in that second step because at first we were just exchanging baskets. We weren’t really making any stops and we had too many breakdowns. My challenge to them though is just don’t go back down to ground zero. There might be some setbacks but let’s make sure we just keep knocking and maybe eventually we’ll be able to push that door open. As I said after last game, there are steps and it will take time but this was a good win for us.”
ORU’s coach Scott Sutton said he was impressed with how quickly it appears that the Cavalier players have bought into Bennett’s philosophy.
“I was really impressed with [Virginia Head Coach Tony Bennett’s] team. When a new staff takes over, a new head coach, it takes time to implement his system and his philosophy. It seems like they really picked it up well,” Sutton said. “I think that Tony is one of the best coaches we have in this country and they play excellent defense. They put you on defense for 25 or 30 seconds and it eventually wears you down. I think that’s kind of what happened tonight. I am disappointed we didn’t make it more of a game; I really thought we would. Obviously the first half kind of went back and forth and then when [Roderick] Pearson went out, it really hurt our offense. One time I looked down and we were 2-15 from the field in the second half. We were probably fortunate to score 55 points.”
It’s now wonder Sutton was impressed. After a somewhat shaky start defensively – Oral Roberts hit five 3-point shots for 15 of its 19 points in the first 7 minutes – the Cavaliers clamped down on defense and gave the Eagles fits, especially without Pearson, their point guard that exited with an apparently severe knee injury before intermission. In the end, Virginia allowed just 32.1% shooting on the afternoon and it gave up just 20 points after halftime.
The Hoos also held Dominique Morrison, the Eagles’ player that lit up Stanford with 31 points, to 7 points on 3-of-15 shooting. And when Kyron Stokes got hot early with four 3-pointers early in the first half, Virginia locked him down too. Stokes had 13 first-half points, did not score after halftime and only attempted one more shot. Really the only blemish in the defensive effort was the play of ORU’s Kevin Ford, who made 6 of 9 shots to finish with 16 points and 10 rebounds from his post position.
Bennett said Mustapha Farrakhan , who finished with 13 points, 4 assists and 1 steal in 32 minutes, did a solid job defensively on Morrison.
“I thought he was complete offensively too. Morrison had a career high with 31 points against Stanford and Mustapha took that challenge and made him earn as much as possible,” Bennett said. “He was constantly in front of him – making him make shots over the top. Certainly he made a few shots but most of them were contested and I thought the other players did a good job with helping Mustapha to plug the gaps.”
On the other end, Virginia is quickly becoming a more patient and more efficient team. After taking far too many costly early shots at South Florida on Monday, the Cavaliers returned to the John Paul Jones Arena and started to choose their shots more wisely. On Saturday against Oral Roberts, there were some iffy moments but there were also signs of a developing system. There is more screening action making its way on to the floor while the spacing continues to create opportunities.
Plus, the Hoos have fed the post consistently. Thanks to the interior touches, UVa forward Mike Scott posted a double-double to the tune of 15 points and 10 rebounds. He also posted 2 assists and 1 steal while making good decisions of when to go to work and when to get the ball moving again.
The junior said he is feeling comfortable on the blocks this season.
“I’ve been working with Coach Williford and Coach Sanchez and they’re saying take your time. I rushed a couple of shots early in the game, but I took my time in the second half and found the open man [when I couldn’t get a shot],” Scott said.
Assane Sene , playing in his first game of the season, posted 8 points and 7 rebounds.
Assane Sene , Scott’s post counter-part, also returned to the line-up after sitting out a three-game suspension and made an impact. He posted 8 points and 7 rebounds in 13 minutes, but also committed 5 fouls. Sene, though, was happy to be back in action.
“I’m so excited to be back out there, to play hard and help my team to win,” Sene said. “I was working really hard this summer and right now and I’m going to still be working hard. Only eights points and seven rebounds, I know if I keep working hard it will pay off and that I can score more points than that and grab more rebounds than that. I’m just going to keep working and it will pay.”
Bennett is encouraged by what Sene brings to the locker room in addition to the floor.
“He’s very vocal. He’s an energy player too,” Bennett said. “It’s like a point guard that goes and heats up the ball and gets you kind of revved up on the defensive end. Assane is kind of like that with his activity defensively whether it’s a blocked shot or a big rebound or how he helps – he’s a very good help defender. We need that and obviously some size and depth on the front line. … He is a likeable guy and he’s got a good voice on the team.”