Cavaliers host Tigers
Strong defenses face off in critical conference contest for No. 19 men
The Cavaliers (17-3, 4-2 ACC) edged North Carolina State 61-60 last Saturday to notch their second-straight win and remain within a game of catching up to ACC leaders Duke, North Carolina and Florida State. During last week's game, coach Tony Bennett's squad sputtered offensively, connecting on just four second-half field goals. The Wolfpack (15-7, 4-3 ACC) also out-rebounded Virginia by a staggering 40-20 margin, giving Bennett and his rebounding squad cause for concern heading into the meat of the ACC schedule.
"[We're] coming off of a hard-fought game against NC State where we were fortunate to come away with a victory," Bennett said. "Certainly it showed us some areas we need to improve on to continue to be successful. They really took it to us on the offensive glass ... they hurt us on the interior."
The team will "have to go to work on those areas" in preparation for facing Clemson tonight, Bennett added.
The Tigers (11-9, 3-3 ACC) defeated Wake Forest 71-60 at home last Saturday.
Clemson has yielded only 59.7 points per game this season, second only to Virginia's mark of 50.6 points.
While the Cavaliers have relied on a slow-tempo offense to limit opposing teams' offensive opportunities, the Tigers prefer an up-tempo game where they can take a high volume of shots. Coach Brad Brownell's group complements the Cavaliers' plodding offensive pace with its ability to force turnovers and impel teams to take ill-advised shots. Bennett sees parallels between the two teams' stout defensive strategies.
"Each of us wants to make the other work for real quality possessions or quality shots," Bennett said.
Clemson is suffering an unusually mediocre start to its campaign after averaging 16 wins through its first 20 games during the last five seasons. In addition to losing an excess of talent in the last two years, including All-ACC players Trevor Booker and K.C. Rivers, the departure of coach Oliver Purnell to DePaul University before this year has also played a role in the drop-off. Purnell took Clemson to postseason tournaments in six of his seven years, an unheralded achievement at a school not normally known for its basketball prowess.
Virginia is also experiencing an unusual year - its season has been uncharacteristically spectacular. In their third season led by Bennett, the Cavaliers are having their best season since 2006-7, when the team last reached the NCAA Tournament. The squad's 14-1 start was the best since the 1981-82 season, which featured three-time national college player of the year Ralph Sampson.
While this year's team doesn't have a player of Sampson's caliber, its stellar seniors once again rescued the Cavaliers against N.C. State. Senior forward Mike Scott and senior guard Sammy Zeglinski combined for 30 of Virginia's 61 points with Zeglinski regaining his touch from behind the three-point arc with a 4-for-5 performance.
More importantly, Scott and Zeglinski steadied Virginia in the raucous environment of the RBC Center.
"I think the experience of being in some settings on the road and having some veteran guys certainly helped," Bennett said. "I think [Scott and Zeglinski] were used to that [situation.]"
Virginia will need their upperclassmen to continue to produce at home if they want to hit shots against a tenacious Clemson defense.
The game will start tonight at 7 p.m.