Jontel Evans had a good night with 12 points, 4 rebounds, and 5 assists.
Virginia coach Tony Bennett presented reporters with a simple question during the week: would the Cavaliers’ game travel well in the first true road test of the season? The answer after the first contest of a two-game West coast swing proved to be yes. The Hoos, after all, overcame a somewhat sluggish first half to grind out a 67-54 win at Oregon on Sunday. UVa is 9-1 for the first time since 2003-04.
The Cavs had not played since winning 68-48 against George Mason on Dec. 6, but they shook off some first half exam rust to take the second 20 minutes by a 15-point margin. The final score Sunday resembled UVa’s 63-48 victory against the Ducks last season in Charlottesville.
“It was a long couple of weeks of preparation and we had finals beforehand,” Virginia’s Joe Harris said on the Fox TV broadcast. “We got our minds right, got ready to play Oregon, came out here and I guess it showed.”
Virginia’s defense provided the necessary foundation for a win on the road against a Pac 12 team. Oregon joined nine other teams – everyone on the schedule thus far in fact – in the under 60 club. No opponent has reached the 60-point barrier on the year; Michigan holds the high-water mark of the season to date at 58 points. Oregon’s total on Sunday is a season low.
UVa had some trouble in transition defense early against the Ducks, who had not lost at home in five previous games this season, but corrected those problems as the game progressed. Oregon’s Devoe Joseph , for example, hit two 3-pointers in transition in the first 12 minutes; the first came as he flared out to the win on the break and the second came on a pitch-back pass to Joseph trailing behind the play. The hosts only made one more 3-pointer in the game, finishing 3 of 15 in that category.
Bennett said that the team refocused on transition defense at halftime and that set the tone after intermission.
“Well I thought they were hurting us in transition in the first half and that’s one of our things that we say we’ve got to be great at,” Bennett said on the Fox TV broadcast. “We really tried to recommit to getting back and making them play against a set defense. … Some guys made some plays offensively in the second half, which helped, and obviously some offensive rebounds were key, but the transition D is where it started for us. Once we got that taken care of, our defense settled in and was better.”
After trailing 30-28 at the break, Virginia took control during the opening minutes of the second half and then pushed the accelerator during a key stretch to pull away. Leading 48-45, Jontel Evans fed Mike Scott with a high-low pass against a 2-3 zone look from Oregon, which produced two Scott free throws. Two possessions later, Evans drove the baseline against that zone for a layup and 52-45 advantage. Harris added to the lead with a bucket off of a dribble drive move that followed a nice screening exchange.
Senior Mike Scott added another double-double to his resume.
Oregon stopped the 6-0 run with a bucket before Evans crossed over and drove to the paint where he dropped off a pass for a cutting Scott, who completed a traditional 3-point play with the layup and free throw. The Ducks missed a 3-point shot on the other end and Evans corralled the long rebound before racing it up court for an assist on a Malcolm Brogdon layup to make it 59-47. That 11-2 burst essentially buried Oregon’s hopes of a win.
Evans, Harris, and Scott were consistently involved outside of that stretch as well. Evans scored 12 points, the third time he’s been in double figures this season, and chipped in 4 rebounds, 5 assists, and 1 steal. Scott, on the receiving end of some of those assists, overcame first-half foul trouble to post the 28th double-double of his career with 17 points and 13 rebounds. Scott’s rebounding helped the visitors dominate the boards 39-25.
The senior forward moved into 38th place on UVa’s career scoring list with 1,118 points (Adam Hall had 1,104 from 1999-2002). He now stands eighth on the Hoos’ career rebound list with 774 boards (Norman Nolan had 765 from 1995-1998).
“He’s an experienced player and he gives us that inside-out threat and I thought he did a good job once he established himself. He got on the glass for us. He’s an important piece for us,” Bennett said. “I thought it was a good mature win for us, having a shaky start but we battled back and we’ll take it.”
UVa’s Joe Harris recorded 15 points in the win.
Harris, meanwhile, seemed happy to have a good game near his childhood roots in Chelan, Washington. UVa travels to Seattle, just three hours from Chelan, on Wednesday; Seattle shocked the Hoos at the John Paul Jones Arena last season 59-53.
Against the Ducks, Harris continued to show off his diversified game with a solid all-around offensive performance. He scored 15 points on 6-of-13 shooting and added 5 rebounds and 1 steal. Harris not only hit stationary jumpers, but scored in the paint, coming off screens, and at the free throw line as well. He said that he took the coaches’ challenge to expand his offensive skills seriously in the offseason.
“Coach gave us a list of things to work on in the offseason and he really challenged me to work on finishing, pull-up jumpers, and that sort of thing. I took it to heart and tried to work on it a lot in the offseason,” Harris said. “Coach Ritchie McKay works a lot with the guards and obviously Coach Bennett was a guard himself so those two guys focus more on the guards when we do individual work.”
Sammy Zeglinski added 9 points and 4 assists for the Hoos, while Assane Sene had 4 points and 5 rebounds. Brogdon finished with 9 points, 6 rebounds, and 1 assist; that’s a new career high for rebounds for Brogdon.