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Virginia coach Tony Bennett: ‘When we play right, we can be good’

tony bennett
Tony Bennett. Photo courtesy Atlantic Coast Conference.

Even in a normal year, it would have taken about to where we are now to get a feel for how good this Virginia basketball team could be – with three starters basically new to the system, two of them not even on Grounds this time last year.

Breaking news: this isn’t a normal year.

“I think we’re getting a feel for ourselves, but honestly, I don’t know if anybody can say, you know, I got a great picture, this is who we are,” UVA coach Tony Bennett said Monday. “We don’t want to think we’re too good, but we believe when we play right, we can be good. And I think it’s just a real spot to be in as you head into the stretch run.”

Um, yeah. This UVA team started the season as preseason #4 nationally, the preseason ACC favorite, and as of a week ago, it looked to be on track – sitting at 15-3 overall, 11-1 in the ACC, ranked seventh in the national polls.

But you could tell from watching the team’s most recent games that there’s still a work-in-progress element to the proceedings.

The defense has either been really good or really average. The offense, of late, has been bogged down, as teams seem to have figured out a secret to the sauce.

Georgia Tech, in a 57-49 loss to UVA on Feb. 10, held Sam Hauser to eight points, and Jay Huff to six, by basically daring 5’9” point guard Kihei Clark to be the closer.

Clark finished that one with 13 points on 5-of-13 shooting and six assists in 38 minutes. Hauser and Huff combined for 14 on 7-of-12 shooting, and the Yellow Jackets hung around into the late minutes.

Florida State used a similar strategy in the teams’ Feb. 15 matchup in Tallahassee, the key difference being the level of talent Leonard Hamilton has in his program.

Clark scored 12 on 5-of-7 shooting, but had just four assists – as Hauser (11 points, 3-of-7 shooting) and Huff (four points, 2-of-6 shooting) had quiet nights in the 81-60 loss.

What Josh Pastner figured out and Hamilton improved upon guided Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski in his game planning for this past Saturday night.

Huff (20 points, 9-of-15 shooting) and Hauser (19 points, 7-of-11 shooting) were able to get shots, but the third member of UVA’s Big Three, Trey Murphy III, had four, and only had two shots – a fast-break dunk, and a second dunk on a backdoor cut – in 36 minutes.

Clark had 15 points on 15 shots and just two assists in 38 minutes, and had his potential game-winning three blocked by Matthew Hurt inside of two seconds left in the 66-65 loss.

“Some teams are starting to do that. They’re starting to fan out and either they’re switching, they’re really locking on to Sam, Trey and Jay, and they’re saying, OK, we’re going to switch and then make Kihei and Reece (Beekman) finish over length,” Bennett said.

Bennett, this just in, knows how to coach (see: the banner hanging over his office).

The big thing hampering him and other coaches trying to fix things with their teams is, you know, this not being a normal year.

“All you can control is, you get your team as best as possible. You know, it’s so disjointed with where you play, who you play, when you play them on the road, teams playing more games, less games, so it’s so hard to say for anybody,” Bennett said.

Story by Chris Graham


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