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Squad hosts Winthrop

Bennett likely to give young players minutes, rest veterans after Sunday

After winning his third season opener in as many seasons Sunday, coach Tony Bennett hopes his team can bring an undefeated record to this weekend's U.S. Virgin Islands Paradise Jam. That means following up Sunday's convincing 75-38 victory against South Carolina State with a similar success tonight when Virginia (1-0) hosts Winthrop at 7 p.m. at John Paul Jones Arena.

Bennett acknowledged that these early season matchups against unfamiliar teams make in-depth game planning difficult; however, he stressed that early in the season, it is more important for teams to find their identities.

"At this stage of the game, not a whole lot changes," Bennett said. "Most teams are trying to establish who they are, and I think our guys understand that. If there's anything specific, we'll prepare for it with Winthrop ... and make sure [we're] fresh physically and mentally, and prepared."

A big part of Virginia's identity under Bennett this year is experience - ideally coupled with health. Two seniors, forward Mike Scott and guard Sammy Zeglinski, missed substantial time last season with injuries. Cavalier coaches and players alike eagerly anticipated an entire season with both at full strength, but that hope already seems like wishful thinking after Zeglinski rolled his ankle during a Nov. 5 preseason scrimmage against Baylor and missed the entire South Carolina State game, while Scott bowed out early during the second half Sunday as a precautionary measure.

"I tweaked my foot a little bit," Scott said. "We're playing five games in [seven] days. In a game like that, I probably don't need to be out there. That's how people get hurt."

Neither injury appears serious, and given that ACC play is another two months away, Bennett can afford to rest his starters and get younger players plenty of valuable minutes against lower-caliber competition.

Zeglinski's ankle "is coming along well. It's just a matter of when he can tolerate it," Bennett said. "We gotta get him back soon ... From what I understand, this is just a classic ankle sprain and he should be OK."

In the meantime, Bennett will lean on the four-guard rotation of junior Jontel Evans, sophomores Joe Harris and KT Harrell and freshman Malcolm Brogdon against the Eagles (0-1). Harris and Harrell led the Cavaliers with 13 points apiece Sunday against the Bulldogs, and Brogdon - one of four newcomers for Virginia - made the most of his 22 minutes by contributing nine points and four assists.

"I was a little nervous and a little timid, but I felt like I got better," Brogdon said. "I think nerves are a one-game thing. I think I'll be nervous [tonight] but it'll be a different kind of nervous, the kind of nervous I get before each game, which means it's going to be a good game. I'm excited about it."

Winthrop finished 19-14 overall and 12-6 in Big South play last season, but after winning the conference tournament, the Eagles fell to UA-Pine Bluff during the opening round game of the NCAA Tournament.

Winthrop returns its top two scorers from 2010, senior guard Reggie Middleton and senior center Matt Morgan, but stumbled to a 71-59 home defeat against Eastern Kentucky Saturday as the Colonels held the one-two punch to 22 combined points and limited the Eagles to 36.2 percent shooting from the floor.

To contain the potentially dangerous duo despite a lack of familiarity with the Eagles' offensive sets, Bennett has his players focused on themselves and the elements within their control - particularly team-wide communication.

"Especially when you don't have a lot of film to watch on them, you just have to go out there and play," Harrell said. "You have to talk a lot more, because you don't know all of their plays. We have to be ready to communicate, play hard and come to work and be focused."

The Cavaliers may not have much to plan for against Winthrop, and they may also be feeling good after amassing the largest margin of victory during Tony Bennett's Virginia tenure Sunday. As tempting as it may be to look past the Eagles and ahead to the start of a tropical four-game tournament Friday, Harrell and company understand the importance of valuing each game as a measuring stick for season-long success.

"Not only me but everybody on this team has this mentality where we want to get better every time we step onto the floor," Harrell said. "We don't look at the opponent; we evaluate ourselves and how we play"