After an impressive Big Ten-ACC Challenge triumph against No. 14 Michigan Tuesday, the Virginia men's basketball team looks to extend its winning streak to five games when it welcomes Longwood to John Paul Jones Arena at 1 p.m. Saturday.
Minus a disappointing 57-55 loss against TCU at the U.S. Virgin Islands Paradise Jam, the Cavaliers (6-1, 4-0 home) are off to a roaring start to the 2011-12 season and now have a victory against a ranked opponent under their belt. The 70-58 win against the Wolverines was a statement game for a Virginia program which had yet to truly challenge itself against a tournament-worthy team.
"We should take some confidence from it," coach Tony Bennett said of the big home win. "The beautiful thing about college basketball is that that's just one game, and we'll build on it."
The Cavaliers hope to keep the ball rolling on Saturday and avoid a letdown against Longwood (2-5, 0-3 away), which is unaffiliated with a conference. The Lancers, a decidedly underwhelming opponent on paper, have recorded just two wins in seven games against less-than-stellar competition and have surrendered an average of more than 80 points per game this season.
Against the luckless Lancers, opposing teams have averaged 41 rebounds per game while shooting nearly 50 percent from the field. Barring an unforeseen meltdown, expect the Cavaliers to pile on the points while controlling the paint with senior forward Mike Scott picking up where he left off against Michigan.
Scott has put up impressive numbers so far this season, his last with the program, and recorded his second straight double-double and third of the year against the Wolverines. Scott mauled multiple Michigan big-men with his power and patience in the post, and his 18-point, 11-rebound performance earned rave reviews from analysts across the country - not to mention from his own teammates.
"We wanted to get it to [Scott] down low," senior guard Sammy Zeglinski said. "I don't think they can handle him down low; he was making great decisions."
Both Scott and sophomore guard Joe Harris, who tied Scott with a team-leading 18 points, will look to pace the Cavaliers to their fifth straight win.
Despite Longwood's defensive troubles, however, Virginia will have to prove its muscle on its own half of the court as it take on a senior-heavy team which averages 72 points per game and boasts one of the nation's best assist-to-turnover ratios.
With senior center Antwan Carter and senior guard Jeremiah Bowman leading the way, the Lancers almost compensate for their porous defense with their proficient play on offense. The Cavaliers will have to play tight defense, particularly on the perimeter, and will look to the play of guards Harris, Zeglinski and junior Jontel Evans to stifle a Longwood offense which scores a third of its points from beyond the arc.
The Lancers have launched an average of 23 three-point attempts per game, and despite the perimeter pressure inherent in Bennett's patented pack-line defense, the Lancers will likely look to those long-range shots Saturday.
With an experienced and trigger-happy offense rolling into Charlottesville, the Cavaliers cannot afford to let up or the Lancers will blow up the scoreboard with their distance shooters. Still, Virginia carries momentum after knocking off a highly ranked team, and with its top players currently playing at their best, Bennett's squad believes it can take care of business against an under-manned Longwood team.
"You can be beat by anybody, and our guys understand that." Bennett said. "That's why [we've] just got to keep going"