After rolling to a 6-0 start in the friendly confines of John Paul Jones Arena, the Hoos had their first chance to prove themselves in a hostile atmosphere, as they traveled to Eugene to take on a solid Oregon team. Plenty of factors pointed toward this being a tough game to put forth our best effort: While the Ducks are a good, if not great, team, UVA has struggled on West Coast trips in the past and rust from an extended exam break threatened to be a factor. However, despite a slow start, Virginia pulled away in the second half to win 67-54 and improve to 9-1 for the first time since the 2003-04 season.
The continuing ability to overcome early struggles is a mark that this team is a good one. Whether because of the long trip or vertigo from Oregon's, err, interesting court, the Hoos initially failed to get comfortable on both sides of the ball. Defensively, a few lapses in transition resulted in easy points, a Tony Bennett nightmare, and lack of position, as well as a little home-cooking from the officials, led to early foul trouble for Mike Scott, Assane Sene, and Akil Mitchell. Offensively, Mike Scott's stint on the bench seemed to disrupt the rhythm also; after passing around the perimeter for the length of the clock, Akil Mitchell, Assane Sene, and Jontel Evans all were forced to take long jumpers they had no business shooting. Despite the sloppy play, going into halftime down by just two points and maintaining confidence for the second half were key.
After the break, Virginia simply imposed their will and properly played their style of game, one that we won't often lose in. An early 7-0 run resulted in a lead that the team wouldn't relinquish, as they took the air out of the ball in the last 10 minutes to eliminate any hope of a comeback. Mike Scott led the way with 17 points and 13 rebounds (in only 28 minutes), an efficient performance in which he really had the jumper going. His 5 boards on the offensive end were particularly impressive; though Bennett's system typically results in low offensive rebound totals, UVA pulled down 9 tonight in 28 overall chances (in comparison to Oregon's 6 for 36 showing).
Joe Harris, playing back in the region of his Chelan, Washington home, had 15 points, and Jontel Evans put up 12, using some sweet floaters to finish, adding 5 assists to 3 turnovers. Malcolm Brogdon contributed 9 points and 6 rebounds off the bench.
Overall, UVA's offensive balance was on display tonight, and it all started, as usual, with Mike Scott. Last night, he showed the ability to finish at the rim, gather second chance points, hit mid-range jumpers, and pass out of double teams to open shooters - what else could one ask for? (Besides avoiding the 2 quick fouls he picked up, one on an E.J. Singler flop...the Singler legacy lives on!) The ability to buckle down and get stops in tight games always seems to be there, though those close games could be avoided with earlier and more consistant intensity.
Also in the "work to improve" department: The lack of front-court depth means Assane Sene and Mike Scott can't give the refs any reason to call fouls (even if Sene's possession of arms is seemingly reason enough sometimes). KT Harrell missed the only shot he took in limited minutes, as his struggles continue to be a concern. Look for him to get more playing time in the upcoming cupcake games to allow him to work out of his funk and develop back into the contributor he was last year.
While Wahoo fans celebrated a key out-of-conference win, Oregon coach Dana Altman was less thrilled and didn't hide it in his post-game comments. I'm not sure whether he is a terrible sore loser, or just forgot the language of "coach-speak," but he definitely didn't waste time with any usual requisite compliments.
Regarding UVA's defense, ranked 6th nationally by KenPom, he opined "We made their system look good but it's not that intricate of a defense to break down." When asked about Mike Scott's performance, Altman responded "All-ACC? I wasn't that impressed. Our defense was poor and we didn't block out well. The way we played that stat line doesn't surprise me." The full comments are here - be sure to note the Ducks's official site's creative spelling of our coach's name! These statements are at the very least unbecoming of a head coach, and just plain embarrassing to see from the face of a respected program.
(12 PM Update: goducks.com has corrected their original spelling of "Toni Benet")
(4:30 PM Update: Annnnd they've taken the postgame quotes down from their site. Here's a screenshot, courtesy of ESPN's Eamonn Brennan)
Virginia will finish their 2-game west coast swing, a likely nod to Joe Harris's roots, Wednesday in Seattle. You may recall the Redhawks stunning the Hoos at JPJ last year, so vengeance is definitely in order. Despite a 5-game skid, Seattle University isn't the biggest pushover we'll face, and avoiding snoozing on the road in this 10:10 PM matchup is vital.
Check out Brian (Leung)'s earlier wrap of this game as well for more thoughts on the 67-54 win in Eugene.