Home One game at a time: UVA not looking past Belmont in NCAA Tournament

One game at a time: UVA not looking past Belmont in NCAA Tournament


uva basketballLess than three minutes left in the first half, top seed UVA trailed #16 seed Coastal Carolina by 10. Fans watching on TV across the country thought they were witnessing the first 1-16 upset in NCAA Tournament history.

“I remember Coastal Carolina. They hit some tough shots, their ability to just play so many possessions. We always talk about trying to win the majority of those possessions. You’ve got to rely on that experience. You want to be as ready as you can,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett told reporters on Thursday, on the eve of the Cavs’ second-round NCAA Tournament game with Belmont.

UVA is the #2 seed in the East Regional this year, and a 17.5-point favorite over the #15 seed Bruins, the Ohio Valley automatic qualifier.

With the experience with Coastal Carolina still fresh in mind, it’s safe to say the ‘Hoos aren’t looking past Belmont, which enters tournament play on a seven-game winning streak.

“Watching them over the course of this season, they’re a team that likes to get up a lot of threes, they shoot it at a good percentage, and they play a fast motion offense with a few sets,” said UVA junior guard Malcolm Brogdon. “The challenge they present to most teams is that they play four guards, five guards. For a lot of teams, it’s hard to match up, but for us, we play the Pack-Line defense. We have a lot of mobile bigs, like Anthony (Gill), who can guard most players on the floor. So I think we will present a good challenge for them.”

A challenge for Virginia will be getting second-team All-ACC guard Justin Anderson back to 100 percent. Bennett said Thursday that Anderson will likely still be wearing a protective splint on his left hand. Anderson had surgery on the broken pinky finger on the left hand after injuring it in UVA’s Feb. 7 win over Louisville, and just returned to action in the ACC Tournament last week after missing time due to that injury and an appendectomy.

Bennett said it’s not fair to ask if Anderson is 100 percent yet or not, but he does feel the junior will be more prepared this week after getting action in two games in the ACC Tournament and then a full week of practice.

“He only had two days of practice after being off over a month with his hand injury heading into the ACC Tournament,” Bennett said. “So these practices that we had leading up were valuable from a stamina and conditioning standpoint. And just even a feel standpoint in terms of playing and getting the reps in game- or practice-like settings. So we’ll just see how it goes. I’m hopeful that he will be further along than he was after those two games in the tournament and keep building on that.”

Virginia played well in Anderson’s absence, winning seven in a row before losing the regular-season finale on a last-second shot at Louisville. But with that loss, and the loss to UNC in the ACC Tournament, some are now questioning if the Cavs are limping into the NCAA Tournament.

“We know where we stand, regardless of how many games we lost in the last week or so,” junior forward Anthony Gill said. “We know what we’re capable of. It’s just up to us to go out there and do it. Everybody says they don’t like our style of play and stuff like that. We know who we are, and that’s how we’re going to win games, and that’s the only way we’re going to win games, is to play defense like we do.”

With the lesson learned from Coastal Carolina last March, defensive intensity from the opening tip will be key against Belmont on Friday.

“When you get to this stage, you’re going to have to play and play well. Every team is dangerous at this point, and we understand that. And in the case of Belmont, they can hit shots with hands in the face, but if we want to be good, we’re going to have to make them hit most of those shots, bothered shots. Just to be steady, but ready. You can’t feel your way into everything,” Bennett said.

– Story by Chris Graham



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