Hokies, ‘Hoos prep for hardwood battle

Rivalry game takes on added significance with teams’ hot starts

Story by Chris Graham

It’s a rivalry game for the fans, but for UVa. and Virginia Tech, their meeting on the basketball court Thursday night at the John Paul Jones Arena isn’t so much about the rivalry.

“It becomes a bigger game because it’s a league game, and both teams are having some success, and both teams are fighting to stay alive and be relevant within the league,” said Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg, whose Hokies (15-3, 2-2 ACC) are looking to steal one on the road from Virginia (12-5, 3-1 ACC).

“It’s something that our kids are aware of, but it’s not like we’re an hour away from each other, and we’re seeing each other all the time. We understand how big a game it is, because they need to win their home games, and we need to find a way to break serve on the road,” said Greenberg, who teams are 5-7 overall against their in-state rivals, but have won three of the last four. 

“To everyone else surrounding the game, fans, alumni, students, it takes on an even greater significance. To the coaches, it’s the next game, and a game that we need to try to find a way to break serve and win on the road,” Greenberg said.

It will be the first UVa.-Tech game for first-year Virginia coach Tony Bennett, who is more focused on getting his team back on track after a 69-57 loss at Wake Forest on Saturday broke the Cavs’ eight-game winning streak than on the rivalry.

“Our key is to learn from where we really weren’t strong in that game and try to get better in those areas, and try to prepare for a talented, well-coached Tech team, and a rivalry that I’m sure will have a nice atmosphere. Our key will be just getting back to playing the quality basketball that we need to play and that’s required every night out in this league,” Bennett said.

Key to the effort will be figuring out a way to slow down Virginia Tech point guard Malcolm Delaney, the ACC’s leading scorer at 19.5 points per game, on the heels of a woeful performance against speedy Wake Forest point guard Ish Smith, who sliced and diced his way to a 21-point, six-assist stat line on Saturday.

“They’re both terrific guards. We didn’t do a real good job on Ish. He played really well and had his way with us in a lot of different phases of the game. Malcolm Delaney is a guy who can score the basketball, very talented. They use him in a lot of different ways. With players like that, you just got to do your best to make them earn the baskets,” Bennett said.

“That’s what I was disappointed about against Wake Forest. They did a great job, but we didn’t make them earn a lot of the baskets they had. Some of them were big-time plays, some of them were just breakdowns on our part,” Bennett said.

“A player like Delaney, you’re going to have to do your best to make him earn it and be mindful of where he’s at, and realize he can change a game around,” Bennett said.

Greenberg is similarly focused on UVa. sophomore forward Sylven Landesberg, who is fifth in the conference in scoring at 17.5 points per game, and like Delaney is the engine to his team’s offense both in terms of scoring and distributing the ball to teammates.

“When you prepare for Virginia, you start with Sylven, for sure, then you go to Mike Scott. They have a lot of different guys that can score the basketball. Sammy (Zeglinski) can make shots. (Mustapha) Farrakhan can make shots. (Jeff) Jones can make shots. You’ve got to be very aware of that,” Greenberg said.

Greenberg’s concern heading in: “They’re an extremely confident team right now. I think that they feel good about themselves, and they should. They’ve won a lot of games,” Greenberg said.


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