White: Uneven Performance Opens Bennett Era
Courtesy: VirginiaSports.com Release: 11/13/2009
By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE -- If he'd turned around to look, Tony Bennett might have seen a pained expression on his father's face for long stretches of the second half Friday night.
"I'm sure he'll have some advice for me," Bennett said afterward, smiling.
His parents, Dick and Anne, were seated a few rows behind the home bench for their son's debut as men's basketball coach at the University of Virginia.
Throughout Dick Bennett's illustrious coaching career, his teams were known for their unwavering commitment to defense. Tony Bennett shares that philosophy, and his Cavaliers may one day excel in that part of the game.
But they're not there yet, as those who watched the Wahoos beat Longwood 85-72 will attest. Second-half defensive lapses marred the first of what Bennett hopes will be many victories at John Paul Jones Arena.
Asked what his mentor -- his father -- would think of the Cavaliers' defense, Bennett smiled and shook his head.
"I'm not going home," he said. "I'm staying in the locker room tonight. No, I don't think he'll be real proud of that defensive performance, but that's all right. He's an old retired coach. We don't have to listen to him, right?"
Dick Bennett and the other UVa fans in the crowd of 10,787 saw plenty to applaud in the first half. Virginia went into the break ahead 49-27 after shooting 58.6 percent from the floor and, equally important, holding Longwood to 40-percent accuracy.
In the second half, however, the Lancers hit 17 of 31 field-goal attempts (54.8 percent) and cut their deficit to eight before the Wahoos pulled away again.
"We definitely got way too comfortable," said sophomore swingman Sylven Landesberg, who scored a game-high 23 points. "We got lazy. We were taking things for granted, and they just started hitting shot after shot and getting themselves back in the game."
Bennett said: "We struggled a little bit defensively in the second half. That might be an understatement. They got us on our heels. They hit some tough 3's, but to give up that many points, that was discouraging. The guys did finish, but there's no secret, we've got a lot of work to do. It's going to be a long journey that way."
With two of his post players unavailable for the opener -- 7-0 sophomore Assane Sene is suspended for the first three games, and 6-9 senior Jamil Tucker is on a personal leave of absence -- Bennett started a smaller lineup. Down low was 6-8 junior Mike Scott. Surrounding him were four perimeter players: the 6-6 Landesberg, 6-4 juniors Jeff Jones and Mustapha Farrakhan and 6-0 sophomore Sammy Zeglinski.
All five scored in double figures, and Scott grabbed a game-high 13 rebounds. Virginia shot a torrid 60 percent from the floor, but its offense wasn't flawless. UVa finished with more turnovers (16) than assists (14). Eleven of those turnovers came in the second half.
In the locker room afterward, Bennett said, he threw a question at his players.
"I said, 'What do you think happened there in the second half. Do you think that was a good enough effort on the defensive end, the offensive end?' To a man they said, 'No, it wasn't.' They know we have to improve."
In Bennett's three seasons as Washington State's head coach -- he succeeded his father in Pullman -- his teams ranked among the nation's best in scoring defense and worst in scoring offense.
Fans who showed up Friday night expecting a game in the 50s might have been surprised to see the 'Hoos score 85, but Bennett's players weren't.
"His offense is not really slowdown like everybody's saying," Landesberg said. "He gives us a lot of freedom on the offensive end. He's just real strict on the defensive end. He wants things done his way, and we didn't do it in the second half."
UVa's inability to stop Longwood's post players, 6-7 Billy Robinson Jr. and 6-6 Antawn Carter, disappointed Bennett. Robinson and Carter were a combined 14 for 18 from the floor.
"They made it look easy at times to score against our defense," Bennett said. "It got porous. We got stretched."
At the other end, UVa made Longwood look bad on defense for much of the night. Farrakhan matched his career high with 17 points, two of which came on his first dunk as a Cavalier, and Zeglinski hit four 3-pointers. Jones, after a slow start, scored eight points in an efficient second half.
"Some of those looks we might not get as the season progresses," Bennett said, "but you have to take advantage of opportunities and play to your strengths when you can."
Still, he added, "I know and you know, we're not going to be able to just outscore people and race up and down, and our players understand that. But I think you have to ride hot hands and take opportunities when they're there. I also know your defense has to hold you in there."
UVa's next opponent -- Big East member South Florida -- figures to pose a greater challenge. The teams meet Monday night in Tampa.
"It's definitely going to be a test to see where we're at," Zeglinski said. "It's a quick turnaround, so we gotta learn from this and apply it to the next game."
His first game at UVa behind him, Bennett admitted he'd been a little nervous, "wondering how we were going to show here. Felt good at halftime and didn't feel so good in the second half."
Overall, though, it was an exciting night in a beautiful arena that he can't wait to see packed with fans, Bennett said.
"I'm excited for the future and know that there will be some growing pains. But I'm glad the first one is under our belts, and we'll just try to get better from it."
U.Va.‘s Bennett a winner in debut
By Michael Phillips
Published: November 14, 2009
Updated: November 14, 2009
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CHARLOTTESVILLE -- If last night was any indication, there won't be many games this year where fans can leave early to beat the traffic.
Virginia defeated Longwood 85-72 to open the Tony Bennett era after a second-half surge brought the Lancers within eight points late in the game.
"To give up that many points, that was discouraging," Bennett said. "There's no secret: we've got a lot of work to do, and it's going to be a long journey."
The defensive-minded coach had to make do with a four-guard lineup because center Assane Sene is suspended and forward Jamil Tucker is on a leave of absence. The result was a versatile Sylven Landesberg stepping up and scoring a game-high 23 points while playing four positions -- he said he has learned to adjust based on who's in the game.
Turnovers were a concern for Virginia, as the Cavs coughed the ball up 16 times. That, combined with offensive sluggishness in the second half, created a less-than-memorable opening-night victory.
"We were happy we got a win," Landesberg said. "But we all knew it wasn't a great win."
One bright spot for the team was freshman guard Jontel Evans, who admitted to nerves in his first game but on the whole played with poise and brought energy to the team, entering the game 12 minutes in as the momentum started to swing.
First Landesberg hit a 3-pointer, causing Longwood to use a timeout.
On the Lancers' ensuing possession, Evans was staying back on the man he was guarding when Bennett yelled at him to force the issue. After creating a turnover, the ball was fed to Landesberg for a dunk on the other end.
"That was a motivation call right there," Evans said with a laugh.
The coach said that he was looking for his freshman to make a play instead of being passive.
From that point, the long-ball shooters took over, with U.Va. making four consecutive 3s to cap off a 21-6 run that seemingly put the game out of reach going into the locker room.
For the most part, Bennett stuck to his starting five of guards Sammy Zeglinski, Landesberg, Jeff Jones, Mustapha Farrakhan and forward Mike Scott, who was rotated with Jerome Meyinsse because of injury. Freshmen Tristan Spurlock and Evans rounded out the eight players who saw action.
All five starters finished in double digits, led by Landesberg's 23.
It was a strong offensive showing, though one that may not be as easy to achieve against ACC competition.
"Some of those looks we might not get as the season progresses," Bennett said. "But you have to take advantage of opportunities and play to your strengths when you can."
The Lancers had a surprise for the Cavs in the second half, as they continued to run with an increasingly apathetic U.Va. team.
Zeglinski struggled at times and finished with a game-high five turnovers, showing his susceptibility to Longwood's pressure defense, which encouraged the Lancers to keep applying it to the sophomore.
The game was close enough to keep the mostly student crowd of 10,787 on hand until the buzzer. With 1:38 remaining, Farrakhan (17 points) took a steal downcourt for an easy layup, then Scott logged a steal inside the paint, followed by a tip-in basket.
It was too late for the Cavs to make any big substitutions from the bench, perhaps a sign of things to come during the nonconference season, where Virginia will be viewed as a beatable team by a parade of mid-major and small-conference teams looking for a signature upset.
It didn't happen last night, though, and the Bennett era was off and running, save for the occasional trip-up.
Bennett debut a success
Virginia opens the season with a win despite a lackluster second-half effort.
By Doug Doughty
CHARLOTTESVILLE -- In his first game as Virginia men's basketball coach, Tony Bennett delivered on his promise not to hold the ball.
In their transition to Bennett's defense, the Cavaliers still have a way to go.
Sophomore Sylven Landesberg had a game-high 23 points and all five Virginia starters scored in double figures in an 85-72 victory over Longwood.
It was only the third time in Bennett's four seasons as a head coach that one of his teams has scored 85 points or more and the high came in double overtime when one of his Washington State teams defeated Southern Cal 88-86 in 2007.
The Cavaliers shot 60 percent from the field Friday night and outrebounded the Lancers 36-21, but Bennett was dreading a postgame meeting with his father, Dick, who was sitting several rows behind the UVa bench.
Dick Bennett is credited with originating the "Pack Line" defense that is the hallmark of his son's philosophy.
"I'm not going home," son Tony said. "I'm staying in the locker room tonight. I don't think he'll be real proud of that defensive performance.
"He's an old retired coach. We don't have to listen to him, right? ... I'm sure he'll have some advice for me."
Bennett had few complaints with a first-half effort that allowed the Cavaliers to take a 49-27 lead into the locker room. They outscored Longwood 23-6 in the final 4:08 before halftime.
A combination of 3-pointers, transition baskets off UVa turnovers and the inside scoring of Billy Robinson and Antwan Carter allowed Longwood to get as close as 62-53 with just over 10 minutes remaining.
Virginia junior Jeff Jones had eight points in a two-minute, 27-second span as Virginia extended its lead to 70-56, but the Lancers had one more rally in them, again making it a nine-point game at 72-63 on a Robinson bucket with 6:29 to go.
"We have a veteran team, we have high expectations for the season and I think we saw glimpses of that tonight," said seventh-year Longwood coach Mike Gillian, whose team finished 17-14 in 2008-2009.
Carter, a 6-foot-6 sophomore, had 18 points in 24 minutes off the bench.
For Virginia, Landesberg finished with his 13th game of 20 points or more in his brief college career, but Mustapha Farrakhan's 17-point night matched his career high.
It was only the third career start in 43 career games for Farrakhan, a 6-foot-4 junior who had not played more than 27 minutes before Friday night. He logged 31 minutes against the Lancers.
"It was great to be out there and have the opportunity to showcase my skills," said Farrakhan, who scored 17 against Virginia Tech last year, when he played 12 minutes but was 4-of-5 on 3-pointers.
With sophomore center Assane Sene serving a three-game suspension and senior forward Jamil Tucker taking a leave of absence, Bennett used only eight players.
Seven played 20 minutes or more, including freshman point guard Jontel Evans. The Cavaliers' other 2008-2009 UVa signee, Tristan Spurlock, got on the court for three minutes in the first half.
"I asked them in the locker room, 'What do you think happened there in the second half,' " Bennett said. "I said, 'Do you think that was a good enough effort on the defensive end and the offensive end.' To a man, they said, 'No, it wasn't.' They know they have to improve."
Bennett isn't sure that Virginia wants to trade baskets with other teams, particularly when the opposition gets stiffer, starting with a Monday night road game against Big East foe South Florida. But, the players see that they will have some freedom at the offensive end if they don't abuse it.
"His offense is not really slow-down, like everybody is saying," Landesberg said. "He's just real strict at the defensive end. He wants things done his way."
Uneven start for U.Va. in Bennett's debut
By Norm Wood | 247-4642
November 14, 2009
CHARLOTTESVILLE - — Though freshman guard Jontel Evans had a feeling he'd have a chance to play Friday night for Virginia in its season-opening 85-72 win against Longwood, he had no idea he'd spend half the game on the floor.
U.Va. (1-0) was led by guard Sylven Landesberg's 23 points, but Evans played well in his first college game. Evans, a 5-foot-11 Bethel High graduate, played 20 minutes off the bench, contributing four points, two rebounds, an assist and a steal. He made both of his shot attempts from the floor. Despite turning the ball over three times and committing three fouls, he received a positive opening night review from coach Tony Bennett, who was also making his debut on U.Va.'s sideline.
"The way (Longwood was) trapping and pressing, and his pressure on the ball helped us," said Bennett, who wasn't satisfied with his team's defensive effort after Longwood shot 55 percent from the floor in the second half and outscored U.Va. 45-36. "I thought he gave us a nice lift in the first half. He got a (steal). He was very quick and got to the lane. For a first day under the lights — for our whole team, but really for him — I thought he did a nice job."
U.Va., which shot 60 percent from the floor, went on a 22-6 run in the last 4:08 of the first half to take a 49-27 halftime advantage. Guard Sammy Zeglinski, who scored 14 points, connected on three 3-pointers to key the run.
Evans entered the game for the first time with 8:09 left in the opening half, replacing guard Mustapha Farrakhan. Evans' role wound up being more than just a courtesy appearance.
"I never expected that many minutes coming in as a freshman, but I got them," Evans said. "Coach called my name and he depended on me to do what I do — that's play defense, not turn the ball over and create for other people."
When Evans entered, U.Va. was leading 22-15. He played for the remainder of the first half and cracked the scoring column before halftime.
With U.Va. leading 36-23, Evans tipped the ball away from Longwood's Dana Smith and Evans broke toward the basket on the other end of the floor. Farrakhan, who scored 17 points, fed Evans for an uncontested layup with 2:50 remaining.
"We talk to (Evans) through practice every day," said Landesberg, who also had six rebounds to help U.Va. finish with a 36-21 rebounding edge. "I'll go to him and tell him 'You've got to learn to be more of a leader. You're the point guard. We've got to follow you, so you've got to have a voice on the court.' Just doing things like that I think is helping him come along with his leadership role and just playing with us. He's taking control."
Longwood (0-1) shot 48 percent from floor for the game and was led by Lancers center Antwan Carter's 18 points off the bench and forward Billy Robinson's 13 points. Carter and Robinson made a combined 14 of 18 shots.
Early in the second half, Evans gathered a pass from Landesberg on the left wing and nailed a jumper from just inside in the 3-point arc with 14:51 left to boost U.Va.'s lead to 56-37. Longwood proceeded to go on a 13-0 run in a little over two minutes, trimming the deficit to 60-50 with 11:01 left.
After Evans and Landesberg came off the floor, Longwood climbed even closer behind 3-point shots from E.J. Dawson and Martiz Washington, making the score 64-56 with 9:40 left. Jeff Jones, who had six of his 10 points in a 21/2-minute second-half span, helped U.Va. push its lead back to double digits after Longwood's big run.
Landesberg returned with 7:56 left, and Evans came back with 7:12 remaining. Evans played the rest of the game and U.Va. never led by less than nine points in the final 9:19.
It wasn't a perfect maiden voyage for Evans. U.Va., which got 12 points and 13 rebounds from forward Mike Scott, led 60-39 when guard Kevin Swecker stole the ball from Evans about 45 feet from the basket.
Swecker scored a layup with 13:07 left to slice U.Va.'s lead to 60-41. Five seconds later, Evans turned the ball over again when he was called for a carry in the backcourt.
"It was just miscommunication with me and Sammy," said Evans, who had about 10 family members in attendance. "Two turnovers – I said 'Ahh, that's not good.' It was a little embarrassing, but it was OK."
Rugged defense, Bennett's calling card, AWOL
November 14, 2009
As premieres go, Tony Bennett's was as humble as his heartland roots. No A-list celebs arriving in Hummer limos, signing autographs on a red carpet and sampling caviar in private suites.
No, from the subdued crowd to the skittish performance, Bennett's debut as the University of Virginia's basketball coach Friday isn't headed to any highlight DVDs.
Unless it's Longwood's. The Lancers jarred the home team with an early second-half rally before the Cavaliers' pedigree prevailed in an 85-72 victory.
"I was a little nervous wondering, 'How are we going to show here?' " Bennett said.
For a program that fired its coach after a 10-18 season and was picked to finish 11th in the ACC, Virginia showed as expected against a fledgling Division I opponent.
Led by Sylven Landesberg and Mustapha Farrakhan, the Cavaliers shot 60 percent and owned the backboards. But the defensive presence that was Bennett's staple as Washington State's coach, and the calling card of his father's teams, was AWOL.
"He was sitting behind the bench, and I heard a couple of shouts," Bennett said of his dad, Dick. "I'm sure he'll have some advice for me."
Advice about defense, no doubt. In the second half, Longwood shot 54.8 percent, committed only five turnovers and trimmed a 22-point margin to eight.
The Lancers were most effective inside, where the Cavaliers were without 7-foot Assane Sene, who is serving a three-game suspension for violating an unspecified team rule. Longwood's Antwan Carter and Billy Robinson Jr., combined for 31 points on 14-of-18 shooting.
"It's hard on a player," Bennett said of transitioning to his defense. "It's hard on a coach. You just have to keep grinding. … They made it look easy at times to score against our defense. "
But good, bad or indifferent, these coach unveilings reveal little.
The Cavaliers won their debuts under Dave Leitao, Pete Gillen and Jeff Jones, and eventually, each was given the bum's rush. Jones lasted eight seasons, Gillen seven and Leitao four, the latter's brief tenure speaking to the angst, anger and impatience swirling within and around the athletic department.
Bennett has banked beaucoup goodwill with his energy, charm and five-man recruiting class. Much like his background — mid-major star at Wisconsin-Green Bay, NBA role player, Washington State coach — Bennett's first signees are an eclectic bunch, hailing from diverse locales and programs.
Forward Will Regan probably is the most conventional of the group, last season's Buffalo News player of the year and a Western New York all-star for the Nichols School, alma mater of former Duke All-American Christian Laettner.
Bennett tapped western connections for guard Joe Harris of Chelan, Wash., and forward James Johnson of Wildomar, Calif. He and staff went south for forward Akil Mitchell of Charlotte, N.C. and guard K.T. Harrell of Montgomery, Ala.
Harrell and Johnson did not play high school basketball last season due to transfer regulations in their states, but recruiting Web sites such as Rivals.com and Scout.com still tout Bennett's class as among the top 15 nationally, remarkable for a coach who wasn't hired until late March.
Yet even as Virginia officially announced the class Friday, the scope of Bennett's challenge was again evident as ACC rival and reigning national champion North Carolina landed the nation's top-rated prospect: forward Harrison Barnes of Ames, Iowa.
So while Bennett stocks Virginia's roster with players more suited to his system, perennial contenders North Carolina and Duke reload with talents such as Barnes and guard Kyrie Irving of Elizabeth, N.J. Indeed, Rivals rates the Cavaliers' class No. 12 nationally but fifth in the ACC behind North Carolina, Duke, Wake Forest and North Carolina State.
The enthusiasm surrounding Bennett is a welcome respite from the don-your-Hazmat-suit mood infecting the football team, which hosts Boston College this afternoon and soon will jettison Coach Al Groh.
Leadership changes for your marquee programs in such proximity are unusual and create optimism and turmoil. The last time Virginia endured dual switches was in 1974, when Sonny Randle took over football from Don Lawrence, and Terry Holland replaced Bill Gibson in basketball.
But there's no question, the prevailing mood surrounding basketball is upbeat, Friday's modest crowd of 10,787 notwithstanding.
"What you have is someone who's proven to be an outstanding coach," Longwood coach Mike Gillian said of Bennett.
"There's no doubt we've got a lot of work to do," Bennett said. "It's going to be a long journey."
Bennett era starts with win
By Whitey Reid
Published: November 14, 2009
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Almost immediately after taking his seat at the podium for his post-game press conference on Friday night, Virginia coach Tony Bennett was asked about his team’s defensive letdown late in its easy 85-72 victory over Longwood.
So much for letting the new guy ease into things.
“We struggled a lit bit in the second half — that might be an understatement,” said Bennett, breaking into a wide smile. “They got us on our heels. They hit some tough 3s, but to give up that many points — that was discouraging.
“But it’s no secret we have a lot of work to do. It’s going to be a long journey that way.”
Bennett, the former Washington State coach who was hired in April to replace Dave Leitao, got his Virginia tenure off on the right foot in front of a crowd of 10,787 at John Paul Jones Arena. There were some rough patches, but for the most part, Virginia looked as good as could have been expected.
UVa (1-0), behind 23 points from Sylven Landesberg and 17 points from Mustapha Farrakhan, defeated Longwood in the season opener for both teams.
Longwood (0-1) was led by Antwan Carter’s 18 points.
Virginia’s defensive performance was very uneven. The Cavs held the Lancers to 40 percent shooting in the first half, then allowed them to shoot 55 percent after the break.
Bennett admitted to a few pre-game butterflies.
“I was a little nervous, wondering, ‘How are we going to show here?’
“I felt good at halftime, didn’t feel so good in the second half as the lead was getting cut into.
“But I’m excited for the future. I know there will be some growing pains, but I’m glad the first one is under our belt. We’ll just try and get better from it.”
Virginia, which plays at South Florida on Monday night, took control of the game in the latter stages of the first half. Leading 22-18 with less than 8 minutes to play, the Cavaliers closed the stanza on a 27-9 run. The spurt was highlighted by a Mike Scott dunk, 3-pointers by Farrakhan and Sammy Zeglinski, and a put-back basket from Jerome Meyinsse.
UVa led 49-27 at the break.
Farrakhan’s performance was one of the most surprising. The grandson of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan tied his career-high in points with 17, including the first dunk of his college career. The slam came off a long fast-break pass from Jeff Jones.
“I was just trying to be aggressive,” Farrakhan said. “If I got the ball and didn’t have a shot, I’d pass it. If they were playing too close, I’d try and get around them and create for others. I was just trying to make the game simple.
“I really wasn’t trying to think too much.”
In the second half, the Lancers were able to cut into Virginia’s lead, but could never get any closer than eight points.
“I think everybody got a little cobwebs out,” said Landesberg, who also had six rebounds and four assists. “There are definitely some things we need to work. In the second half, we got a little too comfortable and let them come back.”
Virginia played the game short-handed. The Cavaliers were without sophomore center Assane Sene and senior forward Jamil Tucker. Sene was suspended for the first three games of the season by Bennett “for conduct detrimental to the team,” while the school announced on Wednesday that Tucker was taking an indefinite personal leave of absence from the team.
Both Sene and Tucker were viewed as key contributors. Without the duo — both of whom were in the arena in street clothes — Bennett turned to a small-ball lineup.
The former NBA guard for the Charlotte Hornets paired Landesberg, Farrakhan, Zeglinski and Jones with Scott. Senior big man Jerome Meyinsse was the first off the bench. The other members of Bennett’s eight-man rotation were freshmen Jontel Evans and Tristan Spurlock. Senior guard Calvin Baker also sat out while recovering from knee surgery.
“I think we’ll probably need to be flexible that way,” said Bennett, when asked about his small lineup. “It helps you in some ways and it’s a challenge in some ways.
“I’d love to say, ‘Hey, that’s our starting lineup and we’ve got it set for all year.’ But I think it will change.”
Bennett called his Virginia debut “exciting.”
“The arena is just beautiful,” he said. “You walk in and look around and it’s the first time you see all the ring lights — it’s just such an atmosphere.
“I could imagine it when it’s full, and I hope we’ll see that.”
A family affair at the JPJ
By Jerry Ratcliffe
Published: November 14, 2009
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The Tony Bennett Era of Virginia basketball got off to a successful start on Friday night, but not without a struggle.
After months of critics wondering how Wahoo fans would react to a Bennett offense that would keep final scores in the 40s, Virginia had 49 by halftime before rolling over visiting Longwood, 85-72.
Anyone who knows the Bennett family also knows that it’s smothering defense, not offense that gets their blood pumping. If there was any major disappointment in the season opener, it was that Longwood shot 55 percent in the second half and was within less than 10 points a couple of times down the stretch.
Tony Bennett didn’t like that phase of the game at all, nor did his father, Dick, who was sitting behind the UVa bench.
“I heard a couple of shouts,” Tony Bennett chuckled in his post-game press conference. “I’m not going home ... I’m staying in the locker room. I don’t think he’ll be real proud of that defensive performance. I’m sure he’ll have some advice for me.”
Rumor has it that the elder Bennett was still doing some coaching from his perch in the stands. What? You expect a guy who has coached his entire life to just sit there?
According to one Virginia assistant, Dick didn’t want to come to the game because he knew he couldn’t just sit there and relax.
This was the same guy who celebrated heartily the day his son got the Virginia job. You’ll remember the story. Dick was playing golf and the group had gone to the 19th hole for some refreshments after their round when ESPN’s crawl line displayed that UVa had named Tony its new basketball coach.
Needless to say, the next round was on Dick Bennett.
No wonder the elder statesman couldn’t keep from fidgeting. He was the guy who revitalized Wisconsin basketball with his “Pack-Line” defensive system.
There’s work to do
There wasn’t a whole lot of defense being played in the second half of this game.
In a five-minute stretch late in the first half, the Cavaliers built their lead from a mere three points to 15, then more on the strength of three consecutive shots from Bonusphere from point guard Sammy Zeglinski (two of ’em) and Mustapha Farrakhan for a 49-27 advantage.
The defense was pretty decent the first 20 minutes, holding the Lancers to 40 percent and shutting down Longwood’s three most dangerous long-range scorers in the process.
However, neither Bennett liked what they saw as Longwood hit 17 of 31 shots in the second half, including hitting 60 percent from beyond the arc.
All in all, though, things were a success as UVa won its opener in front a decent crowd (the official statistics listed 10,787).
The new coach, who is 4-0 in openers (having won his three at Washington State), admitted he was a little nervous before the game, wondering how his team would show.
He certainly knew defense might be a problem. He was so aggravated with his team’s lack of defensive intensity in a recent practice that he stopped the action, gave them a good chewing-out and walked out of the gym.
“But I’m excited for the future. I know there will be some growing pains,” Bennett said, “but I’m glad the first one is under our belt. We’ll just try and get better from it.”
If he doesn’t, Dick might be coming out the stands.
White: First Recruiting Class Delights Bennett
Courtesy: VirginiaSports.com Release: 11/13/2009
By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE -- UVa's new men's basketball coach didn't finish putting his staff together until the second week of April, by which time many of the top prospects in the Class of 2010 had committed to other schools.
Undeterred, Tony Bennett and his assistants -- Ritchie McKay, Ron Sanchez and Jason Williford -- went out and landed one of the nation's most highly regarded recruiting classes.
Five players, all 12th-graders, signed this week with UVa: 6-4, 205-pound guard K.T. Harrell of Montgomery, Ala.; 6-6, 205-pound guard Joe Harris of Chelan, Wash.; 6-9, 220-pound post player James Johnson of Wildomar, Calif.; 6-7, 215-pound combo forward Akil Mitchell of Charlotte, N.C.; and 6-8, 220-pound power forward Will Regan of Williamsville, N.Y.
"As a whole, real solid," Bennett said Thursday at John Paul Jones Arena, where his team opens the season Friday night against Longwood.
"To get this job in April and really be behind in recruiting with the 2010 class, and then to be able to get involved with players of their caliber and their character speaks volumes about what the University of Virginia has to offer. We're very thankful to be able to sign this class. It embodies a lot of what we want this program to be about, and it'll be an addition to what's here, and then we've got to keep adding on to it."
Rivals.com ranks the class 11th nationally. Scout.com has it at No. 14. Harrell is ranked No. 35 in the Class of 2010 by Rivals, and Johnson, Harris and Regan are Nos. 99, 114 and 143, respectively.
"I don't get too caught up in the rankings," Bennett said. "You can't pay too much attention to preseason polls or with rankings of teams or recruiting rankings, because the proof will be in the pudding how they develop. But if some people respect the players, it's not a bad thing. It's good to know some people acknowledge that there are some good players in this class."
Bennett took a few minutes after practice Thursday to discuss each of his latest recruits, in the order they committed:
* Regan: "He's really excited about coming and trying to start something new and being part of building up a program," Bennettt said. "It's similar to what we've tried to sell whenever we've gone [to a new school]. You sell that vision of, 'Look, you're going to be the first recruiting class of this staff's.'
"Will's a physical, cerebral, intense player. He's played some 5, he's played some 4. I called him a glue guy. He's a heady player, but very physical. He plays with extreme effort and knows his game, understands his game."
Regan attends Nichols School in Buffalo, whose graduates include Christian Laettner. Regan chose Virginia over such schools as Providence, Maryland, Stanford and Arizona State.
In 2008-09, Regan became only the seventh 11th-grader to be named player of the year in western New York. Others who have been so honored include Laettner and former Syracuse star Jonny Flynn.
* Harris: "We had been recruiting Joe Harris at Washington State, so I aware of him," Bennett said. "He came to [UVa's elite] camp, and I think he was floored when he saw the Grounds, saw the facilities and learned more about what Virginia was about. And then there was the lure of the ACC. And the relationship we had built was positive.
"Joe's a very complete, skilled guard. He's up to 6-6, over 200 pounds now, so he has some good size. Very good shooter. Plays some point guard in high school, at a smaller level, but he's a complete guard, which we like to have.
"Being a coach's son, he comes from a basketball background, and he just is real excited about this opportunity as well."
Harris chose UVa over Washington State and San Diego
* Harrell: "K.T. is a very complete guard as well," Bennett said. "He's a very talented, explosive, strong, athletic guy who's complete, though. Again, he's a multiple-position guard. Like the others, he has tremendous character.
"And when you talk about a leap of faith, he committed without seeing JPJ or seeing the University. He just felt a connection with the staff and, again, was excited about the ACC and really bought into that vision of, 'Yeah, I want to come and try and help bring Virginia back to respectability.'
"He's a tough, physical player who plays both ends of the floor and is unselfish. All of them are unselfish players."
Harrell turned down such schools as Arkansas, Auburn and Mississippi State.
* Johnson: "He's an athletic, long, bouncy, rugged player who, as his skill level improves and he polishes up his game, could be very dangerous," Bennett said. "But he's a relentless player and a lively player.
"And he's so hungry to improve. He has a burning desire, like every one of these guys, to be a better player." Bennett added with a smile: "He says he's taller than 6-9 now, but I don't know."
The big redhead, whose sister attends Liberty University, picked UVa over Arizona and California. Like Harrell, Johnson was unable to play high school hoops as an 11th-grader because of local transfer rules.
* Mitchell: "Real young for his grade," Bennett said. "Excellent student with excellent character. A nice athlete who's very multi-dimensional. Skilled player in terms of he can shoot the 3, put it on the floor, guard people. Complete player.
"Can play the 4, probably can play some 3. He's real hungry for this opportunity. He just wants the chance. And if the wires connect on him, I think he will surprise people."
Mitchell, who won't turn 18 until June, attends Charlotte Christian School, whose graduates include brothers Seth and Stephen Curry. Mitchell also considered George Washington and SMU before committing to UVa.
Bennett's closing thoughts on his first class?
"I'm just real thankful for it. It's not easy when you have five scholarships right out of the blocks. It can be difficult to get inroads into kids, and I think we were fortunate in the fact that, for example, K.T. and James both didn't play high school basketball their junior year and were sort of under the radar and came onto the scene late. Had they played and been on the AAU circuit the year before, I don't think we would have been in the same position.
"But again, we just happened to fall into those situations where we saw them, people told us about them and then we followed up and pursued hard. And if you can get someone to see what this place has to offer, you're going to have a chance if you get them here."
Virginia Coach/Player Quotes
Courtesy: VirginiaSports.com Release: 11/13/2009
Head Coach Tony Bennett
On the emotions of his first game at Virginia:
"It is exciting. The arena is just beautiful, you walk in and look around and see all the ring lights for the first time. There is such an atmosphere. I was thankful for the opportunity and a little nervous about how we were going to show. I felt good at halftime and did not feel so good in the second half as they were cutting into the lead, but I am excited for the future. I know there will be some growing pains, but I am glad the first win is under our belt."
On the struggle in the second half:
"We struggled a little bit defensively in the second half. That might be an understatement - they had us on our heels. It is no secret that we have a lot of work to do, and it is going to be a long journey. As a credit to them, they run good stuff and they know how to score the ball, but they made it look easy at times to score against our defense."
On what went well tonight:
"We did not turn the ball over a ton early in the game. At times the extra pass was made and guys got rhythm plays. We probably could have gone inside to Mike [Scott] more, but when we needed a bucket we got him a few touches, and I thought that was important. We have to keep building on those things."
On the starting lineup and whether it was a reaction to Longwood's lineup:
"Yeah, we will have to be flexible that way. I would love to say that is our starting lineup and we have it set for the year, but I think it will change. South Florida has a couple really big guys inside, and that will present a challenge.
On Jontel Evans playing 20 minutes in his first game:
"The way they were pressing, his pressure on the ball helped us. I thought he gave us a nice lift in the first half, a couple steals, and he is very quick and got into the lane. For the first game under the lights for him, I thought he did a nice job. It happened quickly, he hit a little trouble in the second half, but he came back and I think he knocked down a shot after that. I thought we needed his ball handling on the floor against that kind of a team."
On Sylven Landesberg and his performance:
"He did a good job. He can get to that lane, he draws fouls, he creates shots and is certainly a nice weapon to have. If we go small he has to guard a 4, and that requires different action like helping on ball screens.
Defensively we still have to get better. I told the guys, "what do you think happened in the second half, do you think that was a good enough effort on the defensive and offensive ends?" And to a man they said that it was not. They know they have to improve. We need tremendous focus, energy and toughness and that is what we are trying to build."
Sophomore Guard Sylven Landesberg
On starting the season with the win:
"I think everyone was a little timid coming back and shaking the cobwebs off, but it was fun to play out there. There are definitely things we need to work on, but I think on the defensive end in the first half we were pretty strong. The second half we got a little too comfortable and let them come back."
On second half play:
"We definitely got way too comfortable, played lazy, and started taking things for granted. They made shot after shot and worked their way back into the game."
On Longwood's scoring:
"The coaches told us that they would be able to get some points up, so we just tried to close out every shot."
On Coach Bennett's "slow-down" offense:
"His offense is definitely not as slow as people say. He gives us a lot of freedom on the offensive end, but keeps it strict on defense. We did not play our best in the second half, but he does give us offensive freedom."
On playing South Florida next week:
"They are definitely a good team coming out of the Big East. We just have to look at the tape and continue to improve."
Sophomore Guard Sammy Zeglinski
On starting the season with a win:
"I thought in the first half we came out with a lot of energy and played good defense for the most part. We kind of took our foot off of the pedal in the second half and they were able to run their offense a little more. That can be attributed to a lack of focus more than anything, but we will watch the film and try to get better."
On Coach Bennett's "slow-down" offense:
"Coach Bennett's offense is very opportunistic, and when Longwood was able to pressure us people had to cut to the basket, make big plays and hit the open man. We tried to make that extra pass, and we hit some shots tonight."
On playing South Florida next week:
"It will definitely be a good test to see where we are as a team. It is a quick turnaround to play Monday, but we will learn from this game and apply it to the next game."
Junior Guard Mustapha Farrakhan
On his dunking ability:
"I just got the opportunity out there tonight, and Coach Curtis has been working with me on my stretching so I definitely give credit to him."
On more playing time this season:
"I am taking it one step at a time. Coach believes in me and my talent, so I just want to be a solid player for him and let the game come to me."
"It feels good to be out there playing. I used to just play sparingly, and it was hard to showcase what I bring to the team. I like having the freedom, but we know there are things we need to tighten up too."
On playing without sophomore Assane Sene and senior Jamil Tucker:
"Obviously they are both very vital to the team. They bring a lot of energy to the team, and we look forward to having them back."
Longwood Player/Coach Quotes
Courtesy: VirginiaSports.com Release: 11/13/2009
Longwood Coach Mike Gillian
"Let me start by saying that at Longwood we have done so much for the big picture in such a short period of time that the opportunity to play at this level is extremely important to us. The opportunity to play at places like Virginia and Virginia Tech and the other state institutions is extremely important to us. We hope to one day have this game being played at Longwood. There are parts of our masterplan to build a smaller version of what you have here and we would love to have that opportunity in the future. In getting ready for tonight, we have a veteran team so we have high expectations for this season. I think there were glimpses of that during the course of the game tonight in the effort these guys have put into being here. So on one side, we were certainly prepared to talk about something that has not been done before, but on the other side we can talk about what an honor it is to play the game and do something that will hopefully prepare us for the rest of the season."
On the differences in the second half:
"There are certain things we need to do to be successful, we need to defend the perimeter very well and we have to defend the three-point line well. We were top-50 in the country last season in three-point field goal percentage defense and you wouldn’t know that in looking at the first half. That run in the first half that made it 24-18 to the halftime score included wide open three-point shots and if we give those up we are simply not going to be successful. Also, we need to force some mistakes when we’re playing pressure defense. It is what we built our philosophy on and we ended forcing 16 turnovers, but only five in the first half. We were in the top five in the country in turnover margin last year in a conventional way – not by playing half court defense and doing some trapping. We need to do that to be successful and I think we did that a little more in the second half. Honestly, we have three guys here right now – Dana Smith, Kevin Swecker and a new guy, Aaron Mitchell – and we need those guys to be good. In the first half they had zeros across the board. We have nice complements to them as everybody saw. I think that will lead to us having a wonderful year, but in this environment we really need all those guys working at the same time. The second half was a little more indicative of how we play and what we need to do to be successful."
On Carter and Robinson:
"Those two guys last year playing that position combined for close to 25 points and 14 rebounds a game. If that was one player, that one player would be starting on an ACC team. Those guys are good players, high character kids, work hard, push each other in practice. I challenge them to be good. They know what they’re doing and they’re capable of doing it. We’re going to have to play them together some during the course of the year, but what you saw tonight is what they’re capable of doing and they need to be capable of doing that in order for us to win games. You match their stats up against the other guys, I think that’s pretty favorable night in and night out."
Guard Billy Robinson Jr.
On getting the first game out of the way:
"It feels good to get the first game out of the way. It's good to see what we're doing offensively and defensively."
On preparing for the first game:
"We just do two things, try to play hard and have fun."
On the various Virginia runs:
"We were just leaving some people open. We have to do a much better job on the transition game. That's what went wrong tonight."
On being one of the youngest teams in Division I:
"It's tough. We've got kids that still have stuff to learn. But, we've got a good amount of seniors, too."
On progressing through the season:
"Hopefully, learn from this experience and keep building on each game."
Courtesy: VirginiaSports.com Release: 11/13/2009
VIRGINIA 85, LONGWOOD 72
• Virginia won its season opener for the 12th consecutive year
• Virginia won its home opener for the 13th consecutive year
• Virginia had five players score in double figures for the first time since 2/15/09 (vs. Clemson)
• Mike Scott (12 pts, 13 rebs) had his 11th career double-double
• Jontel Evans and Tristan Spurlock made their Cavalier debuts
PLAYER CAREER HIGHS
• Mustapha Farrakhan tied a career high with 17 points
Ryan Earns Career No. 700, No. 14 UVa Defeats UMBC
BALTIMORE - Virginia head coach Debbie Ryan earned her 700th-career victory as the Cavaliers defeated UMBC, 68-57, on the road Friday night in the season-opener for both teams.
Ryan joins six other active coaches with 700 wins and becomes the 12th to ever to accomplish the feat. Ryan's career record now stands at 700-298.
"I'm proud for the University of Virginia and I'm proud for my players," Ryan said. "Those wins belong to the players, the coaches who have coached with me, the administration and the University of Virginia."
In the first half, UMBC (0-1) guard Michelle Kurakowski was 7-for-10 from the field for 17 points to lead the Retrievers. Chelsea Shine had eight points and China Crosby had seven, as the teams were tied 34-34 at halftime.
"UMBC came out with their guns loaded and I thought they had a good gameplan," Ryan said. "When we were able to change the tempo of the game we were able to make a difference and get some separation."
Virginia (1-0) had to wait until the seven-minute mark of the second half to get that separation, when a jumper by Monica Wright put the Cavaliers up, 49-48. From there, Virginia went on an 11-0 run to take a 60-48 lead on a fast break lay-up by Wright with 3:21 left in the game.
The Cavaliers held on for the 68-57 win. Wright scored all of her 15 points in the second half, while Shine finished with 12 points and seven rebounds and Crosby had nine points and four rebounds.
Virginia's home-opener is Sunday (Nov. 15) vs. Manhattan. Tip-off from John Paul Jones Arena is 2 p.m.
Where’s the beef? On BC’s line
By Michael Phillips
Published: November 14, 2009
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CHARLOTTESVILLE At first glance, it's a bit of a mismatch. Virginia's Nate Collins is listed at 6-2, 290 pounds. Boston College's offensive linemen average 6-6, 305, for a scale-tipping total of 1,525 pounds.
But if it is a mismatch, nobody bothered to tell Collins.
"I don't feel like a guy, just because he's a few inches taller than me, is better than me," he said. "I feel like I have a chip on my shoulder."
Whatever the motivation is, the performances Collins has turned in so far this year have been quite big, as he's leading the team in sacks and tackles for loss, and has picked up ACC player-of-the-week honors in weeks 7 and 8.
"For him to have those two games back to back was pretty amazing," lineman Matt Conrath said.
More than most people, Conrath has an appreciation for the work Collins is putting in next to him in the trenches, though others are starting to notice as NFL buzz builds for Collins.
That buzz will only heighten the anticipation of today's matchup.
The Eagles' offensive line allows them a number of different looks, including a variation on the wildcat they've deemed "the bazooka."
BC running back Montel Harris has nine 100-yard games the past two seasons, a time where the line has remained virtually unchanged - four of the five starters were on the team last year.
Virginia coach Al Groh said that when he was an assistant with the Patriots, he knew of the team and its size.
"That's their style. That's what they're built for," he said. "I was very familiar with how they were playing, and that's how they've been for quite some time.
"They've historically had good success getting the big, physical players out of the Northeast, and have supplemented that with quite a few players from Florida and Texas."
The star of this season's line might be senior center Matt Tennant, who has been named to the Lombardi Award watch list.
For U.Va., the linemen say the key will be to stay alert and focus on reducing costly mistakes.
"They're big and physical, so we'll have to be very technically sound," Conrath said. "They'll test us on every play."
Collins said he was looking forward to the matchup but for a different reason - he's from New York, and Boston College is about as close as the Cavs get to his home.
Unfortunately, the way the schedule worked, the game will be played up there next year, at a time when Collins could be playing on Sundays.
A possible pro career is something for him to think about after the season. For now, he's enjoying his success.
"I just feel like I'm grasping the defense and loving football more and more every single day," he said.
Groh focuses on victories
Virginia football players hear speculation about Al Groh's job, but not from Groh himself.
By Doug Doughty
From the outside, it appears that motivation could be lacking for a Virginia football team in the throes of its second three-game losing streak of the season.
Certainly, the players have to be aware of the speculation concerning ninth-year head coach Al Groh.
If so, they're not hearing about it from Groh.
"He's Coach Groh doing what he does," said Rashawn Jackson, the Cavaliers' leading rusher. "He's focused on winning. He's not worried about anything in the future."
Jackson's comments followed a miserable Wednesday night practice in the rain. The Cavaliers, who entertain Boston College at 3:30 p.m. today, practiced outside because that's what they do. And, UVa doesn't have a suitable indoor practice facility.
"We're at work," wide receiver Jared Green said. "We can't dwell on things outside of work."
Much has been made of the dwindling crowds at Scott Stadium, but threatening weather may have contributed to that. The forecast is much more promising today, with a high of 67 degrees and mostly cloudy skies.
More promising than Groh's future.
"I think we're all aware that wins and losses don't just affect us emotionally and personally," said Aaron Clark, a fifth-year linebacker from Rockbridge County who serves as one of the Cavaliers' co-captains.
"There's a bigger picture out there. It's not just in our apartment. There's an organization here that is looking for wins as well. We all understand that what we do on the field is going to affect lives other than our own.
"So, we've really got to focus and do better."
After an 0-3 start, the Cavaliers won three games in a row and appeared to be on the verge of a second straight undefeated October. That was before back-to-back home losses to Georgia Tech (34-9) and Duke (28-17).
Virginia had a 17-12 lead on the Blue Devils with under four minutes remaining, but gave up a 42-yard touchdown pass on third-and-9. The Cavaliers' malaise continued last Saturday at Miami, where they were outscored 28-0 in the second half and lost 52-17.
Boston College (6-3, 3-2 ACC) was picked last in the ACC's Atlantic Division but remains a championship-game contender. The Eagles are one-half game behind division front-runner Clemson but have not won a road game all season.
Virginia, on the other hand, has lost four home games at a venue where it was once nearly unbeatable.
Moreover, the Cavaliers (3-6, 2-3) entered the week with each of their top two quarterbacks, Jameel Sewell and Marc Verica, listed as questionable on an injury report released Thursday night. Questionable, by ACC standards, means 50-50.
UVa entered the season as one of three programs in Division I-A with two quarterbacks who had each passed for 2,000 yards in a season. Boston College's starter was a 25-year-old freshman, David Shinskie, who was playing professional baseball when the summer started.
Now, the Eagles may have an advantage at quarterback. In a matchup with 2008 All-ACC quarterback Russell Wilson, Shinskie passed for 293 yards in a 52-20 victory over N.C. State.
"I think everybody's intrigued by the story of the 25-year-old former pitcher," Groh said. "This is like a redshirt senior getting his first chance to start. We could only wish for such a fortuitous knock on our door one day."
When he isn't throwing to Rich Gunnel, who is on pace to break the BC career receptions record, Shinskie will be handing off to sophomore running back Montel Harris, who would go over 1,000 yards for the season with 70 today.
Groh didn't talk about Harris early in the week, "but only because I wasn't asked," he said. "He's a terrific player, very dangerous."
Harris' elusiveness stands out.
"He's very slithery," Groh said. "While he's moving, he has a chance to wait [for a hole to open] and when he kicks it down a gear, he just shoots through the hole. I wouldn't say that we've had anybody who's as limber and loose."
Defender deftly moves to end
By Norm Wood | 247-4642
November 14, 2009
Somewhere buried amidst a pile of college memories, Nate Collins has a dusty old picture that reminds him of what the University of Virginia's roster could've looked like this season.
In the picture, he's standing on the 20-yard line at Scott Stadium along with U.Va. tight end Joe Torchia, former U.Va. defensive end Sean Gottschalk and linebacker Mark Herzlich. It was taken the weekend of Sept. 5, 2005, when all four players were seniors in high school on a visit to Charlottesville for the Western Michigan game — and all of them were U.Va. commitments.
Life has taken quite a few detours since the picture was snapped. Gottschalk took a leave of absence last year from the team. Herzlich ended up changing his mind about his college plans after taking a visit in December '05 to Boston College (6-3 overall, 3-2 Atlantic Coast Conference), which plays today at U.Va. But Herzlich has had to deal with more challenging twists and turns than most college kids are required to handle.
In May, Herzlich announced he'd been diagnosed with Ewing's Sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer. After earning ACC Defensive Player of the Year honors last season, he's sitting out this season while he fights the disease. He appears to be winning his struggle and vows to return to the field next year. His story is one that still profoundly affects Collins, who is now a starting defensive end for the Cavaliers (3-6, 2-3).
"It's one of those things that when you see it on TV and you hear about it, you're like 'What? Are you kidding me?' " Collins said of Herzlich's diagnosis.
To honor Herzlich, all of U.Va.'s players decided to donate their per diems to Herzlich — a contribution that will total about $1,500. In addition, U.Va.'s student council has teamed with a U.Va. spirit group to raise $9,494.94 for Herzlich. All of the money will go to an organization called Uplifting Athletes, which works with college athletes to help raise money to fund research of rare diseases.
"It's one person right now, and the whole NCAA is helping him out," Collins said. "It's a good deal. … (Herzlich's cancer diagnosis) was something that was unexpected — it can happen to anyone. Just to see all the help this one kid is getting from all different kinds of teams that are trying to come together and just showing there's more to life than football, it's a good deed. We felt like we wanted to be part of it. That's why we chose to do it as a team."
While Collins hasn't had to face nearly as many life hurdles in his college days as Herzlich, there still have been obstacles to clear on the field. At 6-foot-2 and 290 pounds, Collins would be considered a bit on the short side to be an effective college or pro nose tackle, but that's where he spent his first three seasons at U.Va.
He moved in the spring from tackle to defensive end in U.Va.'s 3-4 alignment. Though he has played both positions this season, he has spent the majority of his time at end, and has excelled. He leads all ACC defensive linemen with 60 tackles. He's tied for fifth in the conference with five sacks, and he's eighth with eight tackles for losses.
"He's always had that type of overall athletic skill," U.Va. coach Al Groh said. "We have discussed that had the personnel situation been otherwise when he came here, he might have started at end."
While he still considers his natural position to be defensive tackle, he hasn't griped about the move to end. He said he looks forward to the task of lining up against BC tackle Rich Lapham, who, like most offensive linemen who cross paths with Collins, will have a significant size advantage at 6-8 and 322 pounds. It's another opportunity for Collins to prove himself.
"It's one of those things, like everyone says, where small people have a chip on their shoulder," Collins said. "I feel like on the football field I have a chip on my shoulder. I just feel like I can play any old position. I feel like no guy just because he's a few inches taller than me is better than me necessarily at this position. Since I am a little vertically challenged, I just try to work at fundamentals and things like that that'll help me out, because I don't have that extra two or three inches that other guys might have and can use to their advantage with their arm length and their reach."
It’s now or never for Cavaliers
By Jay Jenkins
Published: November 14, 2009
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Everything seems to have come in threes.
Whether it is Virginia’s two losing streaks, the Cavaliers’ lone winning streak or Boston College’s dismal road record, the number stands out entering today’s showdown at Scott Stadium.
For Virginia (3-6, 2-3 ACC) another three-game winning streak is a must. Without that turnaround, the Cavaliers and coach Al Groh will spend the holidays at home for the third time in four seasons.
Boston College (6-3, 3-2) has grander visions — the Eagles need to win out and have Clemson lose one of its final two games — one of which is against Virginia in a week — to claim the ACC Atlantic Division championship.
“This game here, this will be the second of four games in November in which we play a team that has their designs on winning nine or 10 games,” said Groh, who has played the nation’s ninth-toughest schedule. “In fact, if that came true for all the teams in November it could quite possibly bring to six the total of teams we play this year that have their designs on winning nine or 10 games or more.”
The Eagles’ success was certainly not expected — they were picked last in the preseason poll in the Atlantic. But the defense has flourished, ranking No. 32 in the country in total defense, and the offense has relied on a powerful rushing attack.
“They have clear-cut ideas of what system they want to play, what kind of players fit into that system,” Groh said. “They develop a lot of familiarity with the players themselves, and I think everybody on our staff would say that [BC is] a visually pleasing team to watch play.
“In other words, they’ve got a system, they’re very fundamentally sound in their scheme.
“They’re very fundamentally sound in their execution, they have certain things that they want to accomplish and they’re going to play the game on those terms.”
Virginia has not been able to say the same of late. The Cavaliers have been outscored 114-43 during their current three-game slide and have often had to scrap their original offensive plans for games after falling behind by double-digit margins.
One of those losses, last week’s 52-17 drubbing at Miami, came without starting quarterback Jameel Sewell.
A bruised sternum, a nagging ankle injury and an injured shoulder held the senior out of action, but he returned to practice this week.
How effective will the southpaw signal-caller be?
“How’s he been holding up?” Groh asked. “Great.”
That does not mean he will definitely play, however, but last week’s starter, Marc Verica, is also on the injury report.
“I just mean he’s holding up,” Groh said. “I don’t exactly know what ‘holding up’ means. I’m glad it doesn’t mean [holding up a] 7-11.”
Christian’s death helped change game
By Jerry Ratcliffe
Published: November 14, 2009
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Say a little prayer for Archer Christian before this afternoon’s Virginia football game against Boston College.
One hundred years ago, the 18-year-old freshman halfback was enjoying his best game as a Cavalier until tragedy struck in the second half. Christian bounded into the line and never got up.
According to newspaper reports from the Nov. 13, 1909 game, Christian was taken to the sidelines, barely conscious, and spoke his final words.
“Oh, I’m suffering, Pop,” he told the trainer. “Please do something for me.”
Moments later he was into a coma, rushed to Georgetown Hospital, where doctors performed brain surgery. With his mother by his side, Christian died the following morning of hemorrhaging in his brain.
The events that followed threatened the existence of college football and permitted the University of Virginia to take a historical lead role in reshaping the way the game was played.
Thousands of UVa students and others walk past University Chapel each day, unaware that a tribute to young Christian rests inside. In an alcove on the right, near the front of the chapel, hangs a white marble tablet engraved with these words:
“In memoriam. The tablet is erected by the comrades of Archer Christian, a student of this university who at the age of eighteen years, from injuries received on the football field, died November XIV, MCMIX. When youth dies for loyalty’s sake, the hallowed memory of love abides.”
Christian’s tragedy came two weeks after the death of a U.S. Military Academy football player, which meant opponents of the brutal game were already up in arms about whether the sport belonged on college campuses.
Certainly, young Christian was a rising gridiron star. Playing for Virginia, which at the time ruled the Southern football world, he had kicked a field goal and scored UVa’s third touchdown to put his team ahead 21-0 in the third quarter.
With five minutes remaining in the game, the Virginia back was mortally wounded with a cerebral hematoma. Accounts of the events varied from a New York Times article that insisted Christian died from the brutality incurred by the “mass play,” a practice where players were pushed, pulled, piled on until they couldn’t advance the ball any further, to reports that the halfback simply carried out a regular running play straight through the line.
The New York Times ran the story on its front page in its Sunday edition, and also carried an editorial urging college presidents to suspend football until the mass play was outlawed.
Christian, who came to UVa from Woodberry Forest, became the center of controversy on whether football should be banned. Both UVa and Georgetown called off remaining games that season. In fact, according to John Sayle Watterson’s book, “College Football,” Georgetown’s faculty abolished football indefinitely.
That ban was eventually lifted, however it may have impacted how seriously Georgetown considered the game from that point onward.
Virginia president Edwin Alderman was terribly upset with Christian’s death, but fought the outcry to end the sport. Alderman, who also served as president at both North Carolina and Tulane, believed football was important to student morale in small towns such as Charlottesville.
Instead of abolishing the game, Alderman led the charge to reform it, change the rules to make it a safer game and planned with UVa’s director of athletics, Dr. William Lambeth, to study and experiment with potential rules changes to improve the game and remove some of the brutality, eliminating the mass play strategy.
Lambeth, considered the “Father of Virginia Athletics,” experimented with various rules with UVa’s own players to come up with a better, safer way to play college football. His work went along with that of a seven-member committee appointed to reform the game of college football.
Soon, they proposed to end the mass play, which had caused several deaths on the collegiate and high school level. They didn’t stop there, also introducing a rule that required seven players on the line of scrimmage and that pushing or pulling the ball carrier would be illegal.
While those proposals were debated for months, different interpretations were introduced by coaches Alonzo Stagg and Walter Camp. The fact that the University of Virginia led the way in reform perhaps saved the sport of football and made it a better game for future generations.
Had it not been for Alderman’s foresight, had he caved in to outcries to abolish the game and had not resisted the call to banish the game — even from some of his own alumni — who knows if we would be watching Virginia host Boston College this afternoon at Scott Stadium?
Today, Georgetown’s football field, then called Hilltop Field, is now named Copley Lawn, much like UVa’s Lawn. It is no longer where Georgetown plays football.
Instead, it is a grassy area in front of Georgetown University’s main entrance, directly in front of the school’s oldest landmark, Healy Hall.
So, if you’re near UVa’s Corner or walking through campus near the Rotunda today, pause for a few moments to visit Archer Christian’s memorial in University Chapel.
Say a little prayer for Christian.