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Eight points, seven rebounds, one block and five fouls in 13 minutes. Sophomore center Assane Sene's return to the court from a three-game suspension to start the season was not always pretty, but the 7-footer certainly made his presence felt as Virginia defeated Oral Roberts 76-55 Saturday afternoon, winning its second straight game by more than 20 points.

"I told him, 'Don't foul,' but he didn't listen to me," junior forward Mike Scott said. "Assane plays with a lot of energy - it's just great to have him back."

Sene made his first appearance of the season with 6:46 left in the first half and Virginia (3-1) leading by just six points. The Golden Eagles (2-2) had already connected on six of eight three-point shots, effectively stretching the Cavalier defense.

"I thought Assane helped us where we didn't have to trap the post," Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. "We could play a little bit more 1-on-1 in the post, stay at home on shooters and then rebound a little better in the process."

Pulling the weight offensively for Virginia during the first half was junior guard Mustapha Farrakhan, who scored all of his 13 points in the period. After delivering a wretched 1-for-9 shooting performance in Virginia's 66-49 road loss to South Florida, Farrakhan has gone 6-14 from the field and 4-8 from the three-point line in the last two games at home against Rider and Oral Roberts. The latter matches were part of the Cancun Challenge tournament, in which the Cavaliers will resume play tomorrow in Mexico.

"Just trying to stay with it, don't lose any confidence on my jump-shot," Farrakhan said. "I definitely didn't have a good shooting night against South Florida but I just try to put that game behind me and just continue to play. Just have a short term memory when it comes to games like that."

Farrakhan also recorded a game-high four assists. He exhibited his improved ball-handling skills throughout the game, particularly when he stole the ball early in the first half, ran the fast break and dished a perfect pass to a trailing Scott, who finished at the rim.

Riding a slew of threes and eight second-chance points, however, Oral Roberts kept the game close heading into halftime, trailing 41-35.

The second half would tell a different story.

After the Golden Eagles cut the lead to three in the opening minutes of the period, sophomore guard Sammy Zeglinski nailed a three from the right wing that began a 21-4 run for Virginia.

"When the ball got rotated, I thought the looks really opened up - all kinds of looks, different kinds of offense," Bennett said. "And certainly you gotta have some guys take the lid off, and Sammy did that."

The ball movement centered around Bennett's effective blocker-mover strategy, which features three blockers or screeners roaming the perimeter. These blockers set up cuts to the hole by the two movers, including Farrakhan and sophomore guard Sylven Landesberg.

"We're running some more three-out, two-in," Bennett said. "We're just trying to get good spacing on the floor, give guys opportunities to use the dribble and get some paint touches off the pass or the dribble. That's sort of what we're doing with some sets, and sometimes when we get going a little faster, we get sloppy, we try to reel 'em in and get the right guys shots."

The result was another balanced offensive attack, with four players scoring in double-figures for the second time in the early season.

"The more guys you can get touching the ball and scoring, the harder you are to defend," Bennett said. "I hope that'll stay consistent, and again, using more of a traditional lineup - we went with two bigs, we got a few more second chance points, instead of four guards who don't get on the glass as much on the offensive end, and we need that."

But it was Virginia's defensive performance in the second half that allowed it to pull away from the Golden Eagles. After Oral Roberts shot 63.6 percent from the three-point arc in the first half, the Cavaliers effectively eliminated the Golden Eagles' perimeter scoring.

"We were just more alert to that, it was almost like we were daring [Stokes] to shoot - whether we got stuck on a screen, 'cause we got stuck on some screens early and we had to be more alert helping when our guys get screened, but not getting hit," Bennett said. "We say, 'Don't be a screen magnet,' and I thought we fought a little better through screens and got to shooters quicker and tried to be a little more pesky on the ball."

In addition to shutting down Oral Roberts' outside shooters in the second half, Virginia maintained its pressure on Oral Roberts' most dangerous threat, Dominique Morrison. The sophomore forward scored a career-high 31 points in the Golden Eagles' previous game against Stanford, but was held to only seven points on 3-15 shooting in Saturday's game, mostly because of Farrakhan.

"Mu took that challenge and just tried to make [Morrison] earn as much as possible," Bennett said. "I thought Mu's quickness and his just - he was just constantly there - in front of him, making the guy get shots over the top of him, wore on him."

Farrakhan's individual effort was buttressed by the pack-line alignment behind him. With Farrakhan guarding Morrison on the perimeter, the other four Virginia defenders sagged inside the three-point line to clog the lane and limit Morrison's penetration.

"You just know that it's always somebody behind you that has you covered, so we just gotta play on-the-ball defense and everybody else in the pack," Farrakhan said. "Kinda made it simple for us to follow this very aggressive defense."

The squad's execution on defense the last two games suggests the players have bought into Bennett's system. But the coach knows the program is still a work in progress, one that could be particularly tested against No. 4 Kentucky should the Cavaliers and Wildcats both advance at the Cancun Challenge. Virginia takes on Stanford tomorrow, while Kentucky goes against IUPUI before the teams' potential showdown.

"It's baby steps," Bennett said. "Just don't go back to ground zero. There might be some setbacks but let's just make sure we're inching in the right way - just keep knockin', see if we can push that door open"


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