Tony Bennett summed it up best: "If we play like this in conference play, no, we're not ready for the conference. That's pretty obvious." With lowly Towson visiting John Paul Jones Arena to provide one last tuneup for the big games to come, the Hoos didn't come to play and endured a scare from the winless Tigers. Virginia got off to a slow start and never pulled away, eventually puttering to a 57-50 victory.
Coming into the game as 30 point favorites, the Hoos and their fans didn't expect much of a battle. Based on the talent disparity, the home team essentially had to just show up and collect the victory. And UVA successfully tested this theory, falling behind 10-2 early and failing to ever push their lead into double digits against one of the worst teams in the nation. Struggles existed on both sides of the ball, but showed mainly on offense, where UVA shot a combined 34.8%. A barrage of turnovers and more foul trouble for Mike Scott killed all early rhythm; combined with sloppy screens and lack of patience, the team could never get a run together to put Towson away.
Sammy Zeglinski saved the day, drilling 4 three-pointers as part of his 20 points, carrying the team as a foul-hindered Mike Scott has done in earlier games. Joe Harris added 17 points and a game-high 7 rebounds, though his uncharacteristically poor free throw shooting hurt. A casualty of the close game was Paul Jesperson's playing time; though Bennett hoped to get Paul significant time tonight, the close game led to his playing just 3 minutes without any other activity on the box score.
This team has shown the ability to play with any team in the country; however, its talent level and style of play mean that lesser teams have the potential to come out and give the Hoos a game too. Along with a #23 national ranking comes every opponent's best effort, and focus and mental toughness is essential. Though there wasn't much chance of Towson threatening to actually win, the game was certainly less than enjoyable to watch.
The win is the Cavaliers' 10th in a row and brings the team's record to 12-1, its best start since the 1982-83 season. Virginia finishes off its non-conference slate with a road game at LSU. These Tigers are in the midst of a nice run also, with a win over #13 Marquette highlighting a 7-game winning streak. LSU doesn't shoot the lights out, but they play tough defense, as evidenced by their 22nd efficiency ranking. This is a key test for both teams; I don't expect the team's performance against Towson to linger - look for a focused team to take the court in Baton Rouge.