Disbelief swept the faces of many Wahoo Nation fans watching last night's game against Miami. Did Virginia really just jump out to an 8-0 lead? And at what point during the game will the 'Hoos self-destruct? After all, we've gone through over a decade of disappointment under former head coaches Pete Gillen and Dave Leitao (admittedly, there were gems of excitement in there). Current head coach Tony Bennett had an answer: We're not. The Cavaliers maintained composure throughout the evening in a 75-57 rout of No. 23 Miami.
Virginia (11-4, 3-0 ACC) increased its winning streak to seven and are off to a 3-0 ACC start for the first time since 1994-95, when they went 4-0. The Cavaliers are the only unbeaten team in the ACC, and are now 3-0 against ranked teams this season (No. 18 Georgia Tech, No. 24 UAB).
"We all want the same thing," Sylven Landesberg said. "We all want to keep winning, we love the feeling and we want to keep going with it. We just keep going into practice the same way, practice hard, and we go into games the same way. We don't take anything for granted."
Indeed, Landesberg, who put up 18 points last night, has now scored 18 or more points in each of the last five games. He's put up double digits in every game this season.
When asked about the turnaround from last season to the present, Bennett had this to say: "I think they are a year older and a little more mature, and they’re hungry with good character. They want to do well. Our first two games in the ACC, you go to that point and it could have gone either way. Momentum is a strong thing and I think they are riding it."
But Bennett is not in the business of comparing this year to last year's. He's focused on the one thing he's preached all season: defense.
"I’d like to talk about that first half defensively. That is what I was waiting to see in the first half. I thought that offensively we weren’t great, but defensively it was one of our better performances in terms of how active we were stopping them in transition and making them work. That’s what I want to keep seeing."
Virginia had only 9 turnovers while forcing 12 from Miami. This has been an ongoing point of success for the 'Hoos, who are ranked third in the country in fewest turnovers a game.
"I think UVa did a great job playing defense," Miami head coach Frank Haith said. "Teams have done that to Dwayne (Collins) before in terms of doubling in the post and I thought he rushed some things – shots – turned the ball over. UVa did a nice job of creating that."
Freshman Jontel Evans made his first career start for the Cavaliers in order to give Bennett that extra defense boost he was looking for.
"He can really ignite our defense. When you have a point guard who can set your defense, bring that kind of energy, and make it hard on the ball handler – and he wasn’t even going down the floor like he usually does to pick up the ball– but he was meeting it."
Virginia saw four players hitting double digits in scoring last night. In addition to Landesberg, Mustapha Farrakhan put up 13 points, while Mike Scott and Sammy Zeglinski put up 10 a piece.
"[Farrakhan] is a pretty complete guy when he gets his outside shot going," Bennett said. "He is quick off the dribble and he is looking to make the extra pass. I am really challenging him to use his quickness defensively to bother the ball and keep people in front."
Haith was impressed with the Virginia squad. "They have good personnel and they are playing very confident as a team right now. They shoot the ball incredibly – coming off screens. Sammy Zeglinski is a good player, Jeff Jones is a good player, (Mustapha) Farrakhan is a good player - all those guys are players."
The win was, of course, a big win. Virginia made a statement against No. 18 Georgia Tech earlier in the week, but last night the Wahoos really announced their presence in the ACC, a presence that will be tested over the coming two weeks as the ACC schedule gets exponentially tougher.
The players weren't the only ones announcing their presence last night. A season-high 11,413 fans made it to John Paul Jones Arena, loud and proud.
"It was nice to see that many orange shirts," Bennett commented. "It was a lot warmer in there; I know I was sweating. I think our kids felt that and that certainly helps."
Sophomore guard Zeglinski said: "That was ridiculous. I don't remember it being that loud in a long time. It was awesome. I didn't want the game to end. The crowd, the whole night was so loud. They really fueled us tonight."
With the recent announcement of $10 tickets for all of the remaining home games except for Duke, Bennett, Zeglinski, and company can expect an even larger -- and louder -- JPJA crowd.
Virginia plays the rescheduled game against UNC-Wilmington on Monday night.
"One of the things that Coach Bennett preaches to us is humility," senior center Jerome Meyinsse said. "Don't get too high, don't get too low."
Landesberg added, "Winning is a lot of fun."