Challenge for Cavaliers: Play best basketball down stretch

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 SPORTS) -- Just two weeks remain on the regular season schedule for the Virginia men's basketball team. The Wahoos will play three of their final four games at home, including visits from Georgia Tech and Pitt this week.

UVA improved to 22-4 overall -- and held onto its share of a three-way tie atop the ACC standings at 12-2 -- with Saturday's 64-52 win at Louisville. With that win following last Monday's 64-58 victory over Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, the Wahoos climbed a spot to No. 2 in the latest national polls on Monday afternoon.

With the postseason on the horizon -- the ACC tournament tips off in two weeks from Tuesday in Charlotte -- UVA coach Tony Bennett agreed on Monday that this stretch run of the regular season can become a grind. Overcoming that grind is the next challenge for his team.

"Sometimes you mix things up, but you still have work to do," Bennett said. "And I think experienced, veteran players understand that. Sometimes for the newer guys or a first-year, you're saying, 'Boy, we've been going for a while. This is long.' And there's an adjustment period that way. But you want to try to play your best basketball throughout the year, but certainly as the season winds down."

Led by DeAndre Hunter, UVA played its best basketball in the second half of Saturday's victory at Louisville. The Cavaliers overcame a 10-point halftime deficit to win that game by a dozen. Last Monday, Virginia had a three-point lead at the break at Tech -- but Bennett was not pleased with the way his team was playing, and laid into his players at halftime.

Bennett also lost his cool with his team during a second-half huddle at North Carolina two weeks ago, in a game the Cavaliers' rallied to win 69-61. Following the win at Virginia Tech, junior guard Ty Jerome remarked that he couldn't recall Bennett yelling at the team prior to this season.

"I don't know if he thinks we're more capable than the past few years, or he's more frustrated with us," Jerome said. "I don't know what it is."

On Monday, Bennett explained that with the level of veteran experience the Cavaliers have on the roster this season, he does hold the team "at high account."

"I think there's a level of experience and poise that is only attainable by experience that they have," Bennett said. "They've been in so many different situations. Facing adversity, facing success. And dealing with all that in the moments in games, on the road, at home.

"I have trust in them in that regard, because I've seen them in those spots. And when we haven't done well we've, I think, addressed it and tried to grow from it."

Georgia Tech visits JPJ on Wednesday. Pitt will be in Charlottesville for just the second time as an ACC school on Saturday. The Yellow Jackets haven't won at John Paul Jones Arena since 2008, while Pitt's last win at UVA came in 1974.

The two teams start the week a combined 6-23 in ACC play this season. These next two games will be UVA's only meetings against the two schools this regular season. Bennett is a combined 18-3 against them.

But with the top seed in the ACC tournament still very much in play these final two weeks, Bennett says his team cannot take a break in its approach.

"Just be ready to play," he said. "We're in a race for the conference, and every game is significant."



 
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