UVa head coach Tony Bennett met with the media after Sunday night's win over UNC. The key for the Cavaliers in Bennett's eyes is the health of the roster moving forward.
Tony Bennett photo courtesy of VirginiaSports.com
Below is a transcript from today's ACC teleconference courtesy of ASAPSports.
BENNETT: Just had a game last night against North Carolina, and you're in conference play and everything steps up, so just trying to get ready for Wake Forest. Watching them, I know they're improved, and hopefully we can be ready to go. It was good for us to have Jontel, played him kind of shorter increments, and that was positive, and then Akil Mitchell didn't practice leading up to our game last night but was a warrior and played with a pretty good sprained ankle, so that was helpful. We certainly needed everybody in last night's game, and that will be continuing to be the case.
Q. What is sort of the plan for bringing Jontel along? You mentioned short increments last night. You sort of have to stretch him out a little bit, and will he continue to come off the bench for a while?
BENNETT: You know, Jontel, we've been very conservative. He had a fifth metatarsal -- had a screw put in his fifth metatarsal. He's had two minor setbacks, and I think we've been real conservative with him, didn't rebreak it or anything but just aggravated it, and we've tried to be conservative both times it happened. He's now at the three-month mark where he-- from his original surgery or from his original injury, and that's-- at that point, I'm not saying you're completely done healing, but you're in essence from what I understand, you have what you have.
Hopefully we can build him up and he can get more, and again, just keep progressing with his foot and go by symptoms, and really hope that stays strong and is good for his senior year.
Q. This is a question that's quite an obvious one, but how does he make everybody else better when he's on the floor?
BENNETT: Yeah, well, one, he's been there. He's a senior. And he'll put probably more -- well, certainly more than anybody we have, he puts pressure on the offensive end, he'll put pressure on the defense by he can get to the paint. He's a guy that certainly people are going to lock and trail on, our shooters, and do that, and Jontel has an ability to either get to the rim himself or touch the paint off the dribble and create for other people. And I think his strength and his quickness make a difference for us.
And then defensively when he's right, he's still got some work there, but he can guard the ball, and again, knows the system well. It's just always to have a good plan of attack for us. Teven Jones has done a nice job for us, but I think from Jontel's standpoint, he's always had a strength for breaking his guy down off the dribble and be able to get him there, and then that takes some pressure off the other guys.
Q. Could you talk about the depth you have on this team, which I guess has enabled you to kind of hang in there with Jontel out and Malcolm missing the season? I guess you've got another-- Gill, red shirting, and yet it seems like with all that you have a lot more options than last year.
BENNETT: Yeah, you know, when we're healthy, there are, and I think our first-year guys, our freshmen, have played a big role in that. They've gotten tremendous experience, and they've been thrown into the fire because they've had to, and that's helped. Whether it's been Teven Jones or Evan Nolte, even Taylor Barnette, Mike Tobey, Justin Anderson, those guys, there's five freshmen right there that have played at different times and given us valuable minutes and will continue to, and then now that Jontel is back, and well, Akil, he's always been there, but that just gives you that depth that allows you to play guys, hopefully give guys breaks, play harder longer and be a little more diversified with what you have. And my hope is that those young guys are getting better as they get experience.
But it's a -- when you face injuries, you have to have some depth or it can just really get you, and my hope is that, again, you always hope you're through with those. But the guys have responded well in the absence of some of the key guys, and well, Malcolm being red shirted or out this year, and Jontel missing the majority, the guys have stepped up for him.
Q. Following up with I think less than 72 hours before your next game, do you kind of dread coming in the morning and getting the report from Saliba?
BENNETT: Yeah, he and I have -- I'll tell you what, I didn't give him credit after the game -- the postgame. He did a great job of getting Akil's ankle ready. I think there might have been eight treatments in that short amount of time, so he did a great job. But he'll -- whenever he calls, I'm hoping he's just calling to tell me everything is okay or someone has got a cold, but I always kind of hold my breath when we talk.
But you know, it is what it is, and hopefully the guys will do the best we can to treat him well and be conservative with him, give him the time that they need. Yeah, I'm hoping -- I haven't talked to Ethan yet, that Akil's night was good and Jontel has responded well. I talked to them both after the game, and they said they felt good, so that was a positive there.
Q. Along those lines, do you expect Akil to maybe not practice heading into the Wake Forest game, or have you thought that far ahead yet?
BENNETT: Again, last night after the game.
Q. Can you talk about the dynamic, you guys play one of the more patient tempos in the country. North Carolina came into that game playing the fastest tempo in the country. How do you slow down a team that wants to play quickly?
BENNETT: I think, again, and I've said this before, any team that plays against Carolina, when you listen to the coaches and you talk about it, it's first on transition defense trying to make them play against your defense that's set, and that's -- there has to be a sense of urgency to that. So it's just getting back. When a shot goes up you've got to send the guys that you designate to the offensive glass. Hopefully you get some of those, but the ones that aren't, they've really got to work on getting back as quickly as possible and everybody has to fly back and really try to build a wall with your defense and get them set up and stopped because if they got rolling, they're so effective. So that's definitely a priority.
And then offensively you just try to take good shots. It doesn't mean that you don't take opportunities with fast breaks, but you never know what will give you a chance against a talented team like them. At times we probably had some silly turnovers that cost us some buckets on the other end, and then the second half we did not turn it over as much, and that also plays into -- certainly transition defense does, but taking care of the basketball does, too, but not letting them get out on fast breaks.
Q. If you were coaching against you guys, would speeding you up be a way to try to do it? I look at your numbers, and not many teams have succeeded in doing that.
BENNETT: You know, I think you've got to -- I think every coach looks at their team and says what gives you the best chance to be successful, and you've got to look at your personnel, and then use your system accordingly or adapt, I guess, your system, and coach it to the best of your ability.
Q. Coming into conference play you guys have the worst strength of schedule of any of the conference teams in the non-conference portion. Did you have concerns about what was going to be coming? Did you talk about goals or ambitions, I guess, for the ACC portion of the schedule?
BENNETT: Well, you know, conference season it certainly steps up, it's more physical, and part of that was our own doing. We didn't get to Madison Square Garden. That was the hope. And that's when you play in those tournaments you've got to beat them. We got beat by Delaware and then we didn't get to advance to play what would have been Michigan, Kansas State or Pitt, which we knew was very strong. Again, when we went on the road and played some teams and some of those teams that we had early in the season, it's a little bit of a crap shoot. You think they're going to be stronger maybe than they are or they have injuries, so things like that happen. So I think it's a little skewed.
But of course conference play, the talent of the teams in your league, you know that you're going to have to be ready every time-out, and just you want your guys to be as ready as possible, and we've shown that when we're locked in we can play effectively, and when we're not, we'll certainly struggle like a lot of teams do, and that's been a lesson that we've learned the hard way in not getting to go to Madison Square Garden and being beaten by some teams that have played better than us when we've gone against them in Old Dominion and George Mason on our first opener.
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