The Virginia men’s basketball team suffered neither a post-Thanksgiving nor a post-Island letdown Friday night when Green Bay visited Charlottesville. In fact, the Cavaliers led by double digits for nearly the entire game en route to a 68-42 victory against coach Tony Bennett’s alma mater.
While the lopsided score gave UVa a 5-1 start to the season, there were enough hiccups along the way to be thankful that it’s still November on the season calendar. The Hoos committed 13 turnovers and allowed an 18-8 half-ending run from the Phoenix after dominating the game’s first 11 minutes.
“The defense was real good early and they got to the paint about three times in a row to where they made that run at the end of the first half and we had a little trouble. They really started attacking the paint. I challenged them at halftime to regain their defensive edge and their ability to keep the ball out of the lane and I think they did a pretty good job,” Bennett said. “.”
Indeed, the Hoos’ defensive prowess to start the 2011-2012 season continued as the 26-point margin of victory proved substantial. Green Bay became the fourth team on the schedule to fall short of 50 points, joining Winthrop (48), South Carolina State (38), and Drexel (35) in that club. No one has reached 60 points yet against the Cavaliers.
Outside of the surge to end the first half in Friday’s contest, the visitors struggled to produce many consistent looks on the offensive end. They tried a variety of on-ball screens and dribble hand-offs throughout the night, but usually couldn’t create the angles needed to put pressure on the defense. The Phoenix shot just 33.3% in the first half and 30.0% for the game (15-50). After opening the game with a 3-pointer and 3-0 lead, they knocked down just 1 of 10 triples the rest of the way (2-11, 18.2%).
All in all, it was another unbending effort from Virginia on that end of the floor.
UVa’s Akil Mitchell dunks in the second half.
“We’ve been drilled since the beginning of the year and with all the returners back, Coach Bennett has drilled that into us for years now so we know what to expect as a team and that’s really helped us,” Virginia’s Akil Mitchell said. “The scout [report] told us there were a lot of ball screens. I think we handled it pretty well. They slip a lot of screens and they’re real slithery with their screens so I think we handled it really well.”
While the Cavaliers had a double-digit lead for the final 35 minutes of the game, one potentially important development came from KT Harrell. Before Friday’s game, Harrell had opened the season in a bit of an offensive slump. He made just 10 of 32 shots (31.3%) in the season’s first five games. That start included just 3-of-13 shooting from 3-point range (23.1%).
Against Green Bay, the sophomore guard recorded 14 points on 5-of-8 shooting. He hit a mixture of shots to get those numbers, including pull-ups, curls off of screens, and one 3-pointer. In general, however, Harrell looked more comfortable than the most recent games at the Paradise Jam where he had some trouble with his footwork off of screens and with finding his rhythm consistently on offense. Harrell said he felt like he was rushing and being indecisive in those games so he wanted to be more aggressive and confident in this contest.
“I’m not the type of person that is going to get sad or down about what’s going on. Obstacles are going to come your way, you just have to fight through them. … I just told Coach [Bennett] basically that I’ve just got to play with that passion and fire that I used to play with. I think the last couple of games I haven’t really been talkative and sort of sluggish,” Harrell said. “There’s just times where any player goes through a certain time where they’re losing confidence, but you have to fight through it and I think that’s what I did.”
KT Harrell put in 14 points in Virginia’s win.
Bennett said with five players capable of producing on the perimeter, it could be a different guy night in and night out for the Hoos.
“KT gave us a nice lift. We’ve got five guys – I hope we’ve got five guys – to play those three perimeter spots and they’re all going to have their opportunities. Some nights it’s going to be KT, some nights it’s going to be someone else and it’s just the ability to play and be ready when you’re called upon. There’s ample opportunities for all five of those guys,” Bennett said. “He did a good job coming off [the bench]. … It’s nice sometimes to have a little bit of scoring punch like KT coming off the bench.”
Virginia also got productive nights from its veteran front line. Senior Mike Scott dominated the glass with 10 rebounds, four more than any other player in the game. Scott also made 6 of 9 shots and 3 of 5 free throws to score a game-high 15 points to go with 1 block and 1 steal. That’s the 26th double-double of Scott’s career; he’s the ACC’s active leader in that category as well as points scored with 1,037 (he passed the 1,000-point barrier in the Paradise Jam Tournament). He has made 30 of 57 shot attempts this season, a 52.6% clip.
“I’ve got my legs back so that’s just being aggressive and trying to take what they give to me,” Scott said.
Senior Assane Sene , meanwhile, added 8 points on 3-of-4 shooting to go with 4 rebounds. The Hoos opened the second half on a 10-0 run and Sene was a big part of that burst. On three moves from the right block, he earned six points in the run. Sene made two free throws to start the half after getting fouled on a post move; he then added a scooped hook to the middle off of a spin move and a shot on a turn to the baseline too.
Mitchell, the third post in the early rotation, made 3 of 5 shots to chip in 8 points and 5 rebounds. He had a one-handed dunk on the back end of a fastbreak created when Virginia broke some fullcourt pressure from Green Bay. Freshman post Darion Atkins also made his season debut as he clocked 13 minutes and the highlight of the night. Atkins’ first career bucket and only basket of the game came on a rim-rocking tip-dunk in the second half.
“I thought [Darion] did some good things. He’s real quick. You can see that. The youth of our first years shows – Malcolm [Brogdon], James [Johnson], and certainly Darion – at times where I’ve got to remind myself this is new to them and they’ve got to get used to it,” Bennett said. “But for Darion’s first minutes, he showed you with that dunk glimpses of his athleticism and his ability to block some shots and get some offensive rebounds. I think he can do some good things defensively.”
Note: Sammy Zeglinski left the game in the second half after twisting his right ankle again when Mitchell stepped on it during a rebound sequence. X-Rays, Zeglinski said, were negative as he just tweaked the same ankle that has been injured since a preseason scrimmage.