Hoos Win Despite ‘Lackluster’ Outing

Mike Scott finished with 22 points and seven rebounds, but Virginia put out one of its poorest performances of the season against UTPA.

If there was any non-conference opponent on Virginia’s schedule that wasn’t supposed to get even a whiff of an upset, it was Texas Pan-American, a school that sits fewer than 20 miles from the border into Mexico. The Broncs carried a 1-14 record going into their game against the Hoos, with the only win coming against Chattanooga. The tallest player on the roster is 6’7″ Luis Valera, who started along with four guards, the tallest of which stood 6’3″. Starting freshman guard Aaron Urbanus was listed at 6’0″, 147 pounds, generous on both counts.

“I was standing next to some of them,” Sylven Landesberg said, “and I don’t think some of the guys reached up to my head. It was just weird playing against that.”

But, at the 16:28 mark of the first half, the score was tied. At 14:54, tied again. And again at 13:53. By the halfway mark of the first half, the Broncs had nailed two free throws to give them a 20-18 advantage. The kids from UTPA had come to Charlottesville to play, and Virginia, apparently, hadn’t.

The Cavaliers went on to make a 17-2 run to end the first half, springing them to a 17-point halftime lead that the Broncos would never seriously threaten. But those final moments of the opening period marked the only stretch in which the Hoos outplayed the Broncs. And so, even as the Cavaliers took home a 72-53 win to improve to 8-4 on the season, Virginia coach Tony Bennett had little positive to say about his team as it prepares for its upcoming conference opener this weekend.

“I thought it was a poor performance,” Bennett said. “We did not perform well. We were sloppy. We were unalert. That was disappointing coming off the UAB game. We will get back at it tomorrow to prepare for a different level of competition.”

The mistakes were numerous on both ends of the floor. Virginia often gave up the baseline defensively, a cardinal sin in Bennett’s Pack-Line defense. Help defense came late, if at all. Virginia had a tolerable 11 turnovers, but they resulted in 16 UTPA points.

One of Virginia’s worst stretches began with the Hoos leading 18-14. Sammy Zeglinski first threw a careless pass to the wing, which resulted in a steal and an uncontested lay-up. Calvin Baker handed to Jontel Evans on the ensuing inbounds, but UTPA’s Rico Seagears snuck up on Evans to snatch the ball away. On that possession, Mike Scott then allowed Valera to spin to the baseline in the post for a lay-up, and just like that, the score was tied.

Sammy Zeglinski had 13 points and six assists, but had two key turnovers that led to UTPA taking a two-point lead midway through the first half.

And the dismal display wasn’t over for the sparse crowd of 7,574. Baker followed with a missed 3-pointer, and Zeglinski committed yet another turnover going into a media timeout. Assane Sene made his first appearance of the game after the break, and proceeded to commit a foul on UTPA’s first possession; two converted free throws gave the Broncs a 20-18 lead.

The defense to that point was some of the worst Virginia had played all season. UTPA shot 8 of 12 en route to the early edge, including four lay-ups and a tip-in.

“What bothered me is, they got by us off the dribble, we didn’t help in the gaps,” Bennett said. “The things we did in previous games were nonexistent, and that’s what we work on every day.”

“You have to respect your opponent whether it’s a top-10 team or a team that’s not so good,” he said. “If our guys disrespected their opponent, that would be very disappointing. I thought they certainly disrespected the game the way they approached it. We were just lackluster.”

Virginia went on its lone positive spurt in the final eight minutes of the half. The Cavaliers tallied six assists – three by Baker, who ended with seven assists and one turnover to increase his team-leading assist-to-turnover ratio to 28-to-8 – and committed just two turnovers.

The improved play, however, did not carry over into the second half. Virginia continued to play poorly defensively in stretches. And then when the Cavaliers finally clamped down on the defensive end for a brief span midway through the second half, they went seven possessions without a point.

Mike Scott was on the bench throughout that stretch, and his absence was noticeable on the offensive end – the power forward made 22 points look easy against the undersized UTPA frontcourt. With Scott absent, Virginia’s offense turned stagnant, resulting in a significant amount of one-on-one play and little ball movement.

“They were switching a lot of screens, which kind of threw us off a little bit,” Zeglinski said.

Overall, the offense was carried by Scott’s production, some pinpoint shooting for 13 points from Zeglinski, and 20 points from Sylven Landesberg on 9-15 shooting, including one of Virginia’s few good moments of the game on a highlight-reel and-one dunk over Valera. The fact remained, however, that UTPA played Virginia to a stand-still for 32 minutes – had the Broncs made a few more open jumpers, the Cavaliers may have been the victims of a brutal upset.

“They missed a lot of shots,” Bennett said, “Some point-blank shots that would have made that a lot closer than it was.”

Bennett admitted that the Broncs had some fight – “They spread you out and they do some things,” Bennett said – and indeed, they were sound in their execution on both ends. But, as the Cavaliers secured just one more offensive rebound against a team with the height of an average high school squad, and as the Broncs’ offense made Virginia’s Pack-Line defense look silly, one couldn’t help but wonder if the Cavaliers simply looked at the 1-14 record and figured the game was won. Whether that was the case or not, Bennett said that a lack of effort was a factor. That, of course, will not be tolerated come next game, a road test against N.C. State to open the conference schedule.

“I told them how they played this game would prepare them for ACC basketball,” Bennett said. “That obviously didn’t go over too well.”

Final Stats