Cleveland St.-Virginia Preview
Virginia is determined not to let an extended layoff stunt a strong start to the season.
Looking to go 10-0 for the first time in 14 years, the sixth-ranked Cavaliers return to action Thursday night against visiting Cleveland State.
Idle since a 74-57 victory at VCU on Dec. 6, Virginia players and coaches have spent the prolonged break trying to fit in practice time between final exam and study sessions.
"You make the most of it," coach Tony Bennett said. "You learn as you go through it. We think we have a decent formula to handle it."
Leading the nation in scoring defense (47.4 points per game) and ranking third in defensive field-goal percentage (32.1), the Cavaliers are in position to open with 10 straight wins for the first time since 2000-01.
After beating then-No. 21 Maryland and previously ranked VCU by a combined 28 points in consecutive road games, the Cavaliers are likely chomping at the bit to return to game action.
"We don't want to lose our momentum," guard Malcolm Brogdon said. "We don't want to lose our flow and our rhythm right now.''
Bennett has been able put his squad though some hard, physical practices during the break in hopes of not losing the edge it's maintained from last season's 30-win team that won the ACC regular season and tournament championships.
''I think we're playing better basketball every time we step out and I think it's not coming from us having an expectation," said guard Justin Anderson, who averages a team-leading 15.8 points.
"It's coming from us sacrificing a little bit for each other and just playing hard for one another."
Anderson scored a season-high 21 points against VCU, and is 17 of 28 from the field while hitting half of his 10 3-point attempts in the last three games.
The Cavaliers expect to have starting forward Darion Atkins back after he missed the VCU game with a sore back and ribs. The senior averages 6.1 points and 5.9 rebounds.
As Virginia looks for a 34th straight regular-season home victory over an unranked opponent, Bennett remains cautious about facing a Cleveland State squad that held then-No. 6 Louisville to its fewest points of the season in a 45-33 loss to the Cardinals on Nov. 26.
"They are a hard-nosed defensive team," Bennett said of the Vikings. "We have to respect that."
Coming off an 86-40 rout of NAIA Mount Vernon Nazarene on Monday, Cleveland State (5-5) has allowed an average of 54.0 points while splitting its last six contests. The Vikings, however, have averaged 57.6 points during their last five games against Division I opponents, and shot better than 41.1 percent once during that span.
Averaging a team-high 19 points, CSU guard Trey Lewis scored a career-high 32 and tied the school record with nine made 3-pointers against Mount Vernon.
The Vikings have dropped four straight against ranked opponents since a 71-58 win at then-No. 7 Vanderbilt on Nov. 13, 2011 - their only victory in 17 games against top 10 teams.
Virginia won the only other meeting, 76-65 on Nov. 25, 2009 in Mexico.