UVa’s Joe Harris finished with 20 points.
The Virginia men’s basketball team made it a Wisconsin sweep this week. Just three days after taking down Wisconsin on Wednesday in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, the Cavaliers returned to Charlottesville and knocked off Wisconsin Green Bay on Saturday, 67-51.
“Obviously, we didn’t put together two halves and Virginia did. I thought in the first half we played pretty smart, played pretty disciplined, and we did some good things. I thought we had some good looks that we can knock down, that we missed, and then in the second half they jumped on us and we struggled to score,” GB coach Brian Wardle said. “It was a tough way to go down in the second half, we obviously didn’t shoot the ball well and that has a lot to do with Virginia being a very good defensive team.”
Indeed, the Hoos’ Pack-Line defense created problems for the Phoenix (3-4). Virginia held the visitors to just 34% shooting, which included a rough second half where Green Bay made just 8 of 26 shots (30.8%).
UVa, meanwhile, started to heat up in the second half as it wore down the GB team. The hosts hit 15 of 25 shots in the second half (60%) and finished the game with 50% shooting. The strong showing after intermission helped the Hoos pull away after leading just 31-27 at the break. That score changed quickly in the early moments after halftime, though. The Wahoos opened the half with a 22-7 run and eventually led 55-38 before the midway point of the half.
Virginia had a pair of 20-point scorers lead the way as Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell each reached that number in the game. Harris had another solid all-around performance highlighted by his growing offensive arsenal. Harris made 8 of 14 shots to finish with 20 points, 2 rebounds, and 2 assists. He’s also looking more and more comfortable in the role where the offense runs through him as one of the team’s primary scoring options.
Akil Mitchell posted a new career high with 20 points.
Mitchell dominated in the paint with quick moves to the bucket and added a few jumpers as well; he also had a driving dunk in the second half that showed off his hops. Mitchell finished with a career-high 20 points, 9 rebounds, and 2 assists – just one board shy of another double-double. He’s had three of those nights already this season.
Cavalier coach Tony Bennett said Mitchell continues to improve as he moves into an upperclassman role. UVa pairs that with the rapidly developing Darion Atkins (7 points, career-high 11 rebounds, 3 assists, and 4 blocked shots) to give the Hoos a quick and feisty pair of starting post players.
“I talked before about their activity. I didn’t think we were really alert or active to start the game defensively, but I thought as it wore on that we got better. They’re quick, and they can show on ball screens and get back. That quickness is important,” Bennett said. “They’re not the bulkiest of guys, but they can use their feet and their position to be effective. I like what I’m seeing. Then, when you get some scoring inside off them, or offensive rebounds, it really helps our offense.”
Mitchell and Atkins contributing on the inside creates more space for Virginia’s shooters to get looks and for guards like Jontel Evans and Teven Jones to drive to the rim. In addition to Harris’ big night where he 4 triples, UVa also got a pair of 3-pointers from Paul Jesperson and one more from Justin Anderson .
Importantly for the long season ahead, Virginia also saw Evans look more like himself as the team’s only senior scholarship player. Playing big minutes for the first time this week after offseason surgery, Evans looked somewhat rusty Wednesday at Wisconsin but a lot more comfortable Saturday at home. He logged 23 minutes and put up 2 points, 7 assists, and 5 steals. Those 7 assists are a season-high total for any Cavalier, while the 5 steals are the most in a game for Virginia since Sammy Zeglinkski posted 5 against Florida State in 2009.
The Hoos will need Evans’ driving ability and defensive toughness as the schedule toughens down the road with conference play.
“He was better today in the game. He touched the paint more and he got in there and made better decisions. He had five steals, and I thought he locked in there and guarded. When he settled in on [Keifer] Sykes, that made a difference,” Bennett said. “We were going to let him finish the game, but I thought it would be good to get Teven in there. As I mentioned before, hopefully [Jontel will] keep getting better and better, but his ability to put pressure on the defense and get to the paint, especially after the ball rotates, makes a difference for us. That’s where you saw Darion, Akil, and those guys getting some easy buckets.”
Evans said he was disappointed with his play at Wisconsin so he wanted to have a better game this weekend.
“Honestly, I was frustrated with myself. It was very selfish of me, because we got a great team win and my team did really well. But, all I could think about was how I didn’t play well,” Evans said. “Today I took that right step into playing well again.”
The Cavaliers are taking those right steps too. UVa has won five straight games to improve to 6-2 on the season.