The Cavalier Daily
Serving the University Community Since 1890

Cavs' defense, depth prove deadly for Keydets

There's something missing from the Virginia men's basketball team this season, and Cavalier fans couldn't be happier. Last year's squad lacked the confidence that comes with having a bench full of strong substitutions, and fans grew accustomed to seeing the same five or six players on the floor. But what a difference a season makes. This year it's hard to keep track of the plethora of athletic ability with which the bench is brimming.

Need proof?

Just ask VMI Coach Bart Bellairs to describe the biggest factor in the Keydets' 41-point loss last night and you'll get something fans last year thought they would never hear.

"They were so deep," Bellairs said. "They kept subbing All-Americans for more All-Americans. The talent just kept coming at us."

Depth, a luxury that was clearly absent in last year's squad, will prove to be invaluable this season, as players can get much-needed rest. Last night's game saw all 15 players on the Virginia roster get playing time, with all but three putting points on the board.

That depth left the Cavs less winded, and allowed them to play more aggressively when out on the floor.

"When you're going into the game you know you're only going in for about five minutes and then you'll be able to rest," Virginia swingman Willie Dersch said. "So you want to give it your all when you're out there and contribute while you can."

Improved confidence is another major benefit of this team's deeper roster. Free from the burden of playing the entire game, several Cavs said they find substantial relief in the knowledge that an injury or foul trouble doesn't mean the game is over.

"It's a big relief because you know you have talent on the bench and the players are there to back you up and that give us a lot more confidence," second-year forward Chris Williams said. "Our confidence comes mainly from our strength in numbers."

That kind of strength was something VMI was missing last night. Star forward Nick Richardson was held to a mere eight points and only two blocks, and the Keydet offense suffered without his production. Also with backup point guard Renard Phillips sidelined by injury, VMI had to turn to a number of green Keydets that never stood a chance against the solid Virginia man-to-man defense.

"Our primary focus is defense," Williams said. "A lot of offensive opportunities come from having a strong defense so we concentrate on defense first."

Last night strong defense meant 30 VMI turnovers, 15 steals and eight blocked shots, three of which were rejected by Cav first-year Jason Rogers. Virginia co-captain Donald Hand and first-year Roger Mason led the team in larceny with three steals apiece.

While the abundance of talent on the Virginia roster is translating into less playing time for everyone, no one seems to mind the change.

"I doesn't bother me that I don't play as often this season," Williams said. "I'm comfortable with it as long as we win."