Virginia’s off to a 2-0 start after Monday night’s 74-54 win over South Carolina-Upstate. Freshman Billy Baron came off the bench with another great performance, putting up 14 points, 3 assists, 3 rebounds, and 2 steals in 25 minutes of playing time. But with perhaps the toughest road schedule in the country coming up and subpar first-half performances, there’s reason to proceed with cautious optimism.
The good news is that Virginia is where it’s supposed to be right now: 2-0 over a couple of teams that likely get paid to visit John Paul Jones Arena (despite William & Mary’s ACC-slayer role of last year). The bad news is that it’s taken serious halftime adjustments for the Cavaliers to get there.
The ‘Hoos may have defeated William & Mary handily at 76-52, but at the half, Virginia had a mere one point lead, 28-27. Against USC Upstate, the 20-point final advantage was only 3 points at the half, 31-28. Not exactly the performance you’d expect against a couple cakewalks, and head coach Tony Bennett and his players know this.
"Certainly the competition steps up," Bennett said. "You can't afford to come out sluggish."
"We definitely can't afford to have slow starts, because good teams will take advantage of that," said sophomore point guard Bub Evans, who had his first double-digit scoring game of his career on Monday night. "So we have to come out of the gates swinging. We can't get knocked down in the first round."
Virginia doesn’t have much more room for error in that regard, as the team heads into a 6-game stretch on the road that will get them well over 10,000 frequent flyer miles. The ‘Hoos first travel to Stanford for a Thursday night contest, followed by three games starting Monday in Hawaii at the Maui Invitational, against Washington, either No. 12 Kentucky or Oklahoma, and a third to-be-determined team in a field that includes No. 2 Michigan State. Before returning to JPJA, the Cavaliers still have to play at Minnesota in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on Nov. 29, and Malcolm Delaney and the Hokies in Blacksburg on Dec. 5 in both teams’ ACC opener.
Virginia will be lucky to come out of that stretch above .500, though with the way Baron and Evans have been playing, it is certainly possible, assuming the Cavaliers can put together a full 40 minutes rather than the final 20.
"I love playing with [Evans]," Baron said Monday night. "He gets it out and goes. We feed off of each other defensively. He can penetrate so well that I know he can find me and that really helps to open up our offense."
The feeling was mutual.
"He really can light it up, as y'all have seen," Evans said of Baron. "He makes it easy on me. He is a great guard, all I have to do is drive and kick it out and he will hit his open shots."
See the duo in action (nickname to be determined) this Thursday at 10:30 ET on FSN.