Pregame: Virginia coach Tony Bennett, players talk NCAA Tournament

2018 ncaa tournamentVirginia coach Tony Bennett and UVA players Devon Hall, Isaiah Wilkins, De’Andre Hunter and Jack Salk talk with reporters in advance of the Cavaliers’ opening game in the 2018 NCAA Tournament.

Coach Tony Bennett

On his reaction to redshirt freshman guard De’Andre Hunter’s injury and true freshman guard Marco Anthony’s prospects on picking up extra minutes
“I think the game will dictate [Anthony’s minutes]. Obviously, I was really discouraged for De’Andre and for us. He had a heck of a year and I thought he really developed and helped us so much with his versatility, offensively and defensively. We talked a lot about that. But you can’t control the timing. Those things happen. And I think there’s enough in that room, and of course, as the old saying goes, next man up. You step up, and guys like Marco have to be ready. And just depending on how the game goes, you see how it goes. But it was an unfortunate thing and he seems to be handling it well. I think the guys, everyone, wanted him to be be a part of this. We’re glad he’s here, and we’re going to have to fight like crazy to keep going.”

On sophomore forward Mamadi Diakite’s role with Hunter out of the lineup
“Again, the game will dictate what you do, whether you’re playing more traditional. Guys like Mamadi, Marco, [fifth-year guard] Nigel [Johnson], those guys who have come off the bench for us (and De’Andre before) certainly have to be ready. With the team that we’re playing in UMBC, they spread the floor and they shoot the ball very well. Their four-men can play almost like a perimeter. So you have to be ready for that and it’ll just be how we’re defending and how they’re guarding us. I think you can’t say until the game gets going, but you’re hopeful that guys like Mamadi and Nigel and Marco will seize the opportunity and guys in the starting lineup will continue on.”

Senior Isaiah Wilkins

You’re the the No. 1 team in the country, the No. 1 seed in the tournament, does that put additional pressure on you or do you look at it more as respect?
“I think [Hall] covered most of it. At this point, I just think it doesn’t even matter anymore. If you’re here, then you won. It’s just time to show up and play.”

Your team was picked to finish sixth in the ACC, which that didn’t happen. So at what point do you think this season flipped?
“I never thought that was our mindset. We never looked at it, and thought “let’s finish sixth.” We’re a confident group and we believe in each other. So that doesn’t matter now and it didn’t matter before the season. It is what it is at this point.”

Guard Devon Hall

You’re the the No. 1 team in the country, the No. 1 seed in the tournament, does that put additional pressure on you or do you look at it more as respect?
“I mean all that unnecessary pressure, you guys make those. Um, we just try to get better every single day. Coach preaches that so we’re not really worried about the pressures or the targets on our back. We know the teams are going to come after us, so we just have to be ready.”

Your team was picked to finish sixth in the ACC, which that didn’t happen. So at what point do you think this season flipped?
“I agree with [Isaiah Wilkins]. I don’t think our confidence wavered at any point this season. We knew it was going to be some bumps and bruises but we learned as a group every single day. I think we just had the most confident in ourselves.”

Guard De’Andre Hunter

On breaking his hand
“I did not find out it was broken until three days ago. It hurt really badly during the Clemson game, as well as the North Carolina game, but I had to play. We did not know it was broken. I just figured it was sprained or something.”

On thought process after the ACC Tournament
“I thought getting some treatment would help, but my left wrist was not getting any better so I went to get it checked out.”

On teammates’ reactions
“They haven’t been saying much, they are kind of sad I am injured. They still have a lot of season to play. I will be happy when they get the “W” tomorrow.”

Center Jack Salt

On moving forward without De’Andre Hunter
“He has been great for us this season but we have to have the next man up mentality. It is not one man. It is a team and we need to step up.”

On getting ready for the first game
“It is exciting – it is the NCAA Tournament. We have one game guaranteed; we are going to go all in.”

On being the overall No. 1 seed
“That one seed does not matter at all – it is one game. We have one game to play, which is the game Friday. That result determines if we play again or if we go home.”

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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