Interview: UVA basketball coach Tony Bennett

bennettUVA basketball coach Tony Bennett talks with reporters after the second-ranked Cavs defeated Virginia Tech, 69-57, on Saturday.

 

On Virginia’s 12-0 run: “We needed to do that. Virginia Tech battled hard and did a good job. As you can see, when we played them there, they have four guys, sometimes five, who can all put it on the floor and they stretch you out. You’re playing against guards, so there are some tough matchups. They hit some tough shots, and a couple of those shots that [Adam] Smith hit you had to live with. I thought we responded in the second half with our defensive tenacity and soundness and then made some big baskets. It always comes down to guys making a big shot, getting a big stop, a few blocks. I thought Isaiah [Wilkins] gave us a nice lift defensively because of their mobility, that’s why I went with him, and I needed to give Anthony [Gill] a rest.”

On London taking his facemask off for the second half: “At half time he decided to take off his mask. There was a play at the end of the first half down in the corner where he was diving for the ball, and there was a jump ball and I think he might have re-broken his nose so he just said, ‘screw it, I’m going to play without the mask,’ and he banged out a few threes. It’s such a delicate thing, a broken nose, but it was tough of him to respond like that, and just step up out there and play. We needed everything he had for sure.”

On both teams’ rebounding: “They got nine offensive rebounds, they shot nineteen threes, and we shot thirteen. There are going to be some long rebounds, but they did get a few. We always try to get on the glass against them. We feel like if they’re going to play that small, then we have to try to capitalize on it. I think we got a couple of key offensive rebounds. We probably didn’t hurt them as much as I thought we would, but the fact that we knocked down a shot, Evan [Nolte] hitting his big shot, and London [Perrantes], we needed that because they condense and jam the lane so much. You have to hit some outside shots and sometimes our best offense against the zone was to just throw it up there and get the offensive rebound. I thought Darion [Atkins] was pretty active, Anthony is always active and Mike [Tobey] didn’t play much but he had a couple offensive rebounds.”

On the success of the past two seasons: “I’m thankful for sure. I read a quote to our guys after the game in the locker room and I think it captured this group as well as anybody. A guy sent it to me a couple of days ago in an email and he said that when he was coming up as a coach, his philosophy was about this. When I read it I said, ‘that is these guys.’ The quote says, ‘it’s amazing what can be accomplished when no one cares who gets the credit.’ If that doesn’t embody these guys, in terms of their ability to play for each other, to be unselfish, to do the dirty work and then to see what they’ve accomplished.”

On the team’s ability to reach its goals: “We had our sights on trying to at least be good in the conference season and see if we could do it again, and we at least got a piece of that, we’ve got a couple more games to try to get something out-right. So I’m very thankful because these guys have just bought in, played their guts out and it’s contribution of everybody, from Coach [Mike] Curtis, our strength coach, to Ethan Saliba with all the injuries, and the players, we call them the ‘green machine,’ the scout team, all the staff. That’s pretty special. Did I expect it? Probably not. Am I very thankful? Absolutely. To be a part of it at an institution like this is what I had hoped for, and I’m glad at least that we’re in this part of our goals in the conference season. We stepped to it and we weren’t afraid to go get it.”

On Darion Atkins’ senior night: “Very good effort tonight. I don’t know if he should’ve gotten the T, I guess he pulled up on the rim, I probably lost my cool a little bit on that one, I just didn’t want that moment to be taken away. But, his mobility and becoming effective with his offensive touches and moves is significant. He’s really embraced that defensive stopper to blow up ball screens, block shots, and bother them. He’s really bought in. I’m so proud of him because his story is a really good story. Darion, to wait his turn, and then look at this. I’m not saying he didn’t want to play more early on, but to experience what he has gotten to experience in this last year, I’d think he would say some of the hardship was worth it to be in this spot. Obviously, there is more to go but that means a lot for me. That’s what you coach for, to see those stories happen.”

 

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uva basketball team of destiny

Team of Destiny: Inside UVA Basketball's improbable run

Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, by Jerry Ratcliffe and Chris Graham, is available for $25.

The book, with additional reporting by Zach Pereles, Scott Ratcliffe and Scott German, will take you from the aftermath of the stunning first-round loss to UMBC in 2018, and how coach Tony Bennett and his team used that loss as the source of strength, through to the ACC regular-season championship, the run to the Final Four, and the thrilling overtime win over Texas Tech to win the 2019 national title, the first in school history.



 
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