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COLLEGE BASKETBALL: Cavs show they can ‘be serious’
CHARLOTTESVILLE—Virginia men’s basketball coach Tony Bennett had an explanation for his team’s three losses prior to a 35-point defeat at Tennessee Dec. 30.
The Cavaliers were competitive in setbacks to VCU, Wisconsin and Green Bay, but Bennett couldn’t justify the debacle against the Volunteers.
“We couldn’t hide from that,” Bennett said. “You couldn’t. All those other losses you could’ve said it was close. It was just this. It was just that. But when that thing’s staring you in the face against a good team, don’t get me wrong, that makes you say, ‘All right, who are we going to become? Are we going to be serious about this?’”
Bennett has received his answer the past two games. The Cavaliers responded with a 12-point win at Florida State to open the Atlantic Coast Conference schedule last Saturday.
And Wednesday night Virginia notched its second straight win as it cruised to a 74–51 ACC victory over Wake Forest in front of 10,114 at John Paul Jones Arena.
It was Virginia’s 100th win at JPJ, which opened in the 2006–07 season.
“As you can see these last two games, we’ve gone back to what we do best, which is playing with confidence,” Virginia freshman point guard London Perrantes said.
The Cavaliers (11–4, 2–0 ACC) used a balanced scoring attack and stifling defense to blow out the Demon Deacons (11–4, 1–1), who were coming off an upset win over North Carolina on Sunday.
Sophomore shooting guard Malcolm Brogdon led four players in double-figures with 14 points. Senior guard Joe Harris and sophomore swingman Justin Anderson, a Westmoreland County native, scored 11 apiece, while Anthony Gill contributed 10.
Harris, a preseason all-ACC selection, returned after missing nearly all of the Florida State game with a concussion.
“He was good [Tuesday] in practice and responded well and looked like he didn’t miss a beat out there,” Bennett said.
Harris helped the Cavaliers get off to a blistering start. They jumped out to an 11–0 lead with nine of the points coming off of Wake Forest turnovers.
Demon Deacons coach Jeff Bzdelik said his team lacked mental and physical toughness from the start.
“Give Virginia a lot of credit,” Bzdelik said. “They started the game in a way that just took our heart right out of us.”
The Cavaliers’ lead eventually grew to 26–9 before Wake Forest made its only push of the night.
The Demon Deacons cut their deficit to 29–20 on two Devin Thomas free throws before the Cavaliers closed the half on a 12–4 run to increase their advantage to 41–24 at intermission. The burst was punctuated by Harris’ 3-pointer at the buzzer.
The Cavaliers never trailed and led by as many as 32 in the second half.
“Once we got up by maybe 20 we thought we had broken their back a little bit,” Brogdon said. “We just tried to stay on the gas pedal even after halftime.”
The Cavaliers shot 50 percent from the field and from the 3-point line (7 of 14). They recorded 17 assists on their 26 baskets.
They’ll see if they can continue their run Saturday when they visit N.C. State. They’ll stay in North Carolina for a trip to Duke on Monday.
Gill said the Tennessee game may have been the “kick in the tail” the team needed after entering the season with NCAA tournament aspirations but flopping in every opportunity to earn a signature victory.
“I think that game will motivate us the rest of the season,” Perrantes said. “I think it’s going to always be in the back of our minds.”
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