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College Basketball: Balanced attack carries Cavaliers

HIGH SHOT PERCENTAGE HELPS DEFENSIVE-MINDED

VIRGINIA ROUT WAKE FOREST

BY TAFT COGHILL JR.

CHARLOTTESVILLE—When the University of Virginia basketball team is clicking offensively, the Cavaliers can be difficult to beat.

Their defense is second in the nation in points allowed per game. So when the Cavaliers shoot 70 percent from the floor, as they did in the first half against Wake Forest on Wednesday night, opponents can be in for a long evening.

That was the position the Demon Deacons found themselves in as No. 19 Virginia cruised to a 68–44 Atlantic Coast Conference victory in front of 10,786 at John Paul Jones Arena.

Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett said the efficiency his players showed last night offensively and defensively is “what you practice for.”

“Tonight was one of those nights,” Bennett said, “when the offense and defense came together.”

It certainly came together for senior forward Mike Scott. Scott made all nine of his field-goal attempts en route to a game-high 19 points. He sat the bench the final 12 minutes of the game as the Cavaliers (19–4, 6–3 ACC) built a lead as large as 33 points.

Scott said he was lamenting a 58–55 loss to Florida State on Saturday, and that served as motivation against Wake Forest (11–13, 2–8).

“I think against Florida State, we had a lot of empty possessions. We committed 20 turnovers. I committed seven,” Scott said. “Tonight, we just took care of the ball, ran some good offense and got everyone going.”

Bennett said Scott was “in the zone” as he burned the Demon Deacons with an array of outside shots. But he wasn’t alone. Sophomore guard Joe Harris connected on three 3-pointers in the first six minutes of the game. The Cavaliers built a 28–19 lead before they closed the half on a 12–0 run to take a 21-point advantage into intermission.

“That’s exactly what we needed in terms of coming off the loss to Florida State and winning this game,” freshman guard Malcolm Brogdon said of the fast start. “The momentum took us into the second half and we were able to win this game.”

Scott added two early second-half baskets to complete his perfect night.

The Cavaliers have been short-handed much of this season because two of their backups decided to transfer, and starting center Assane Sene is out until at least early March with a right ankle injury. That’s why Bennett was thrilled to rest Scott and other starters most of the second half.

“Whenever we can get rest for some of our key guys,” Bennett said, “it’s a good thing.”

Virginia’s victory snapped a six-game losing streak to Wake Forest.

It was the 10th time this season the Cavaliers have held an opponent under 50 points. That type of defense has become the norm under Bennett.

But last night, Virginia had five players score in double figures for the first time all season. Harris contributed 11 points, while Brogdon, sophomore forward Akil Mitchell and junior point guard Jontel Evans added 10 each.

“They made shots and they just kept making shots,” Wake Forest second-year coach Jeff Bzdelik said. “That defused our energy. Our players got down on themselves a little bit and it just kept going. When it keeps going like that, it’s hard to stop.”

The Cavaliers now turn their attention to a trip to No. 5 North Carolina on Saturday at 1 p.m. The Cavaliers have suffered two three-point losses on their other two trips to ranked opponents this season (at Duke and Florida State).

“We’ve just got to get ready and start preparing for what will be a big game for us,” senior guard Sammy Zeglinski said. “We’re excited for the challenge. We’re going to need everybody to contribute.”

Taft Coghill Jr.: 540/374-5526

tcoghill@freelancestar.com

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