Health clouds UVA outlook heading into ACC play
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 SPORTS) -- In the preseason Tony Bennett said the key for Virginia was finding their identity, but after recent losses the Cavaliers had to do some searching for that identity.
"Trying to find our identity and getting back to what we do and just getting back out here and having fun," senior forward Jayden Gardner said, "These two losses haven't been fun for the team, so we just got back to work, getting back to what we do and playing our style of basketball, Virginia basketball."
UVA bounced back with a win over Albany to close non-conference play, doing so without star guard Reece Beekman. Bennett said Beekman is still not at 100 percent, so the team decided to hold the junior out to give him more time to rest his injured right hamstring.
Beekman will be re-evaluated before Virginia travels to face Georgia Tech on New Year's Eve. The matchup will be the Cavaliers fourth ACC game before the new year and Bennett knows they need Beekman 'as close to 100 percent as possible' heading into the full conference slate.
"That's college basketball, you guys get tired of me saying it, that line is not that," Bennett said, "If we're not right anybody will play with us and if we're right, we'll play with anybody and that's just reality."
On paper, UVA scheduled 'one of the toughest' non-conference schedules during Bennett's 14 seasons. The numbers hold up with Virginia currently ranked at No. 9 in ESPN's strength of record metric. The tough early season slate was built with ACC play on the mind with games expected to be a grind as the conference turns their focus inward.
"We know what our identity has to be, we know we're not there all the time, but just being able to build that consistently, a consistent identity as a team is going to be important for us going into ACC play," Franklin said, "Teams are going to be scouting more and things like that, be more ready, so we just got to hone in on what we do best."
With a win on Saturday, Tony Bennett will match Terry Holland for the most wins by a Virginia coach at 326. If Bennett and the Cavaliers want to add a bunch more wins to the total, health will be a driving factor.
"The schedule was real strong in the non-conference and I hoped it prepared us," Bennett said, "But we have to be at full-strength for the most part to really make a run at this and that's what we're going to try to do."