CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Virginia guard Malcolm Brogdon calls a break for final exams “a double-edged sword.”
The No. 7 Cavaliers (9-0) have passed every test thrown at them this season, and head into the nearly two-week break off their two most impressive wins: at Maryland on Wednesday and VCU on Saturday.
“I think it’s good for us,” Brogdon said of the hiatus after Virginia beat the Rams 74-57, ending their 22-game home winning streak.
“We’ll be able to rest [our] bodies, be able to recuperate a lot. But at the same time, we don’t want to lose our momentum. We don’t want to lose our flow and our rhythm right now.”
The start is the best for the Cavaliers since the 2001-02 season, and the victories in College Park, Maryland, and Richmond, Virginia, served to highlight how much the team has grown — and learned — in the past year.
Virginia won the Atlantic Coast Conference regular season and tournament championships last season, the latter for the first time in 38 years, and reached the regional semifinals of the NCAA tournament before a nail-biter, 61-59 loss to Michigan State.
Experience gained in that success is helping greatly this season, coach Tony Bennett said, and was evident against the Rams. VCU pulled to within 59-55 with about six minutes left, and the Cavaliers responded with a 15-0 run.
“They’ve been there many times, and there’s no substitute for that,” Bennett said.
Nor is there a substitute for the positive reinforcement that continued winning brings.
“I think we’re playing better basketball every time we step out and I think it’s not coming from us having an expectation. It’s coming from us sacrificing a little bit for each other and just playing hard for one another,” said junior guard Justin Anderson, who led the way with 21 points against VCU.
“We don’t worry about the outcome. We don’t worry about who’s going to score what. We just try to win every single possession and play our defensive style game and just try to come out on top,” he said.
The Cavaliers have been among the leaders nationally in most defensive areas since Bennett arrived six years ago, and are getting even better at knowing when to push on offense, and when to pull it back.
“I tell our guys they can go to the next level as a team if they can find that sweet spot of being assertive, but with that level of patience that’s important for us” offensively, Bennett said.
Anderson said he knew nothing of VCU’s home winning streak, or that the Cavaliers had scored 15 consecutive points to fend off the Rams’ rally, but that only made him more impressed with the result.
“We just want to make sure whatever we did, we want to watch it on film, see what we could have done better and try to make it keep happening,” he said.