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Virginia begins road trip

Bennett eyes consistency as team prepares for slew of powerhouse opponents

Eighteen days, six games, three ranked opponents and roughly 10,000 miles. The players on the Virginia men's basketball team have a long road trip ahead of them.

"We're gonna learn a lot about ourselves coming up in the next game," coach Tony Bennett said. "This stretch is impressive for anybody. It's a lot of road games, so it'll challenge us, but we'll just keep learning, keep trying to prepare and see where we're at."

The Cavaliers' first game of the trip tips off tonight against Stanford at 10:30 p.m. in Palo Alto. The Cardinal, headed by a promising young coach in Johnny Dawkins, enters 2010-11 looking to improve upon last year's sub-.500 season and to fill offensive holes left by departed players - a story that sounds remarkably like Virginia's.\nLast season, the Cardinal were led by the backcourt pair of guard Landry Fields, who led the Pac-10 in scoring and ranked second in Player of the Year voting, and guard Jeremy Green, a second-team All-Pac-10 performer who broke the school record for three-pointers made in a single season and returns this year as a junior.

With Fields off to greener pastures in the NBA, Dawkins, now entering his third year, must find a replacement. One potential candidate is junior forward Josh Owens, who sat out last year because of an undisclosed medical condition. Owens, now healthy, is a front-runner to fill the scoring hole. Initial signs have been positive - Owens scored 16 points and grabbed 11 rebounds during the Cardinal's exhibition game against Cal State Monterey Bay and added eight points during the team's season-opening 64-48 victory against San Diego.

Stanford's crop of six incoming freshmen, ranked No. 16 by Rivals.com and No. 15 by Scout.com, may match up well with freshmen guards KT Harrell, Billy Baron and Joe Harris.\nVirginia has worked to integrate its core of young talent into the lineup. Two games into the season, the Cavaliers have posted nearly identical performances. They led by single digits at halftime against both William & Mary and USC Upstate, put up two strong second-half performances and defeated both teams by 20 or more points. Still, Bennett is concerned with his team's defensive struggles and offensive consistency.

"We've got our plate full with a lot of things," he said. "You're seeing some of the inconsistencies in games, not just from game to game but in the game, there are moments of inconsistency. For a team that hasn't had a lot of success where things are very new to them, you can get a little discouraged at times. We've got to right the ship, and we were trying to do that."

Players also recognize that things need to change if the Cavaliers are going to be competitive in a conference that includes last season's national champion, Duke.

"We definitely can't afford to have slow starts because good teams will take advantage of that," sophomore guard Jontel Evans said. "We have to come out the gates swinging. We can't get knocked down in the first round, we gotta come out swinging."

Evans and the rest of the squad will begin play in the EA Sports Maui Invitational against No. 17 Washington Monday. Depending on the outcome of first-round play, Virginia then will face either No. 12 Kentucky or Oklahoma. The eight-team tournament field also includes Connecticut, No. 2 Michigan State, Wichita State and host Chaminade.

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